Book of Abstracts
11th IFOAM Scientific Conference
11-15 August 1996, Copenhagen, Denmark
1) Lipangwe Organic Farm, Matale, Ntcheu, Malawi 2) Agriculture and Food Security Unit, Christian Service Committee of the Churches in Malawi, Limbe, Malawi
Malawi cannot survive without sustainable agriculture given that agriculture is the major employer and foreign currency earner of the country. Over 80% of the population depend on agriculture for their livelihood. However, the smallholder agriculture sector, on which about 75% of the population subsists, is seriously threatened by further reduction of farm sizes (due to subdivision of customary land), lowered soil fertility and increased soil erosion (Government of Malawi, 1987-96). The situation is exacerbated by rise in cost of essential agricultural inputs. Per capita food production in Malawi declined by 15% between 1980 and 1987, a period in which, on the average, low income countries managed to increase their per capita food production by more than 10% (NDP 1991).
Since Malawi gained its independence in 1964, promotion of the use of inorganic fertilizers and improved crop varieties has been the main objective of most agricultural projects resulting in, inter alia: erosion of indigenous genetic resources, predominance of monocropping systems and loss of soil structure as a result of depletion of organic matter. In a bid to improve agricultural productivity the Ministry of Agriculture has for the past three decades always had staff-managed demonstration centres throughout the country to demonstrate recommended agricultural practices. Most of these demonstration centres have concentrated on high-external-input technologies, not representative of typical smallholder conditions, resulting in low adoption rates.
In 1995, in the southern part of the central region of Malawi, a group of determined Malawian smallholder farmers, with crop productivity levels far below subsistence, in the face of deteriorating soil fertility and escalating prices of essential farm inputs, set out to provide themselves hands-on experience and demonstrate to others selected organic soil improvement practices. They established a small farm on a steep undulating landscape for the purpose of demonstrating benefits of organic farming.
In both 1995/96 cropping season (a dry season with af total annual rainfall below 500 mm) and 1996/97 (a season with above average rainfall), farmers observed that crop performance at the farm was much beter than those of surrounding farms. Application of both liquid cattle manure and dry manure to a major staple food crop, maize (Zea mays), produced noticeable differences in comparison to that applied with nothing. The difference between maize applied with inorganic fertilizer and that applied with manure was hardly noticeable.
Government and NGOs involved in agriculture brought over 1.200 farmers on five different occasions to observe benefits of organic farming and learn some simple organic farming practises. All farmers who visited the farm were so convinced that they were motivated to try the practice in their own farms.
Experience at Lipangwe Organic Farm suggests that smallholder-managed demonstrations that demonstrate affordable technologies are more attractive to smallholder farmers. More of such farms would serve to encourage farmers to adopt organic farming and indeed other low-cost technologies.
Government of Malawi (1987): Statement of Development Policies 1987-1996. Government Printer, Zomba, p.22.
UNDP (1991): Human Development: From Poverty to Self-Reliance. Advisory note on the Government of Malawi - UNDP Fifth Country Programme (1992-96). United Nations Development Programme.