WHERE WE WORK
Start Year: 1998
End Year: 2006
Country Program Director/Coordinator: Dr Jose Antonio Valencia
History and Primary Activities:
The SG 2000 Malawi Program began in late 1998, in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation and its regional agricultural development divisions (ADDs). Dr Jose Antonio Valencia was transferred from SG 2000-Nigeria to lead the Malawi Program.
When SG 2000 arrived in Malawi in 1998, the country was coming off several years of catastrophic food insecurity, greatly aggravated by droughts but also due to low crop yields in maize, the major staple food in Malawi, which has one of the highest per capita consumption rates in the world. A huge 3-year food safety net program was being launched – funded primarily by the government of Malawi, the European Union, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), and the World Bank. Under this program, farmers were to receive free of charge, a “starter pack”, which includes the seed (maize, legume) and fertilizer needed to plant 0.1 hectare. A massive logistical effort was mounted to distribute 1.8 million starter packs to farmers. SG 2000-Malawi set out to backstop the government’s effort through implementing a training and demonstration program for field officers and farmers.
Management Training Plots – The Management Training Plot (MTP) served as the cornerstone for training and reorienting farmers – as well as frontline extension staff, subject matter specialists, and researchers – through practical, hands-on participation. More than 300 frontline extension workers have received in-service training, emphasizing early preparation and optimum planting designs, fertilizer use, weed control, and crop protection. Working with smallholder farmers, they in turn established nearly 30,000 MTPs (90% in maize).
SG 2000/ADD co-ordinator (centre), demonstrates maize technology to farmers and field assistants at an MTP in Blantyre
The MTPs were 0.1 hectare in size, the same as the national starter pack program, but differed significantly in the crop management package that it demonstrated to farmers. SG 2000-Malawi believed that the starter pack’s implicit recommendations for plant population density and fertilizer application would give inadequate yields. Because most landholdings in Malawi are very small, high maize yields are needed to secure a family’s supply of its staple food crop, while allowing some land to be devoted to other crops and agricultural activities.
Even in the face of free starter packs, SG 2000-Malawi adhered to its policy that participating farmers had to repay the cost of inputs supplied to them. Because farmers received excellent hands-on training in crop management, they were motivated to repay the SG 2000 input loans in order to remain in the program (loan recovery was consistently above 80%). MTP farmers obtained average yields of 5.1 t/ha, twice as high as the average starter pack plot yield of 2.6 t/ha and four times the national average.
SG 2000-Malawi built upon excellent recent research and extension work, especially in maize and grain legumes production, and soil fertility restoration and maintenance. Key partners were the Malawian national research organization, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and The Rockefeller Foundation.
Conservation tillage (CT) technology that reduces erosion, conserves moisture, and reduces labor requirements was also a priority for the program. CT training was conducted in each of the five participating ADDs. Over several seasons more than 200 conservation tillage demonstration sites were developed. Farmers were enthusiastic about the impact of conservation tillage, given the laborsaving benefits and improvements in soil fertility.
As a result of the nationwide use of fertilizer plus improved seed and sufficient rainfall, the maize harvests in 1999 and 2000 were the largest in Malawi’s history. However, ample supplies severely depressed maize prices, making high-yielding production practices unprofitable for farmers. Yet the improved maize yields provided a glimpse of the technological possibilities, even as price declines underscore the urgent need to diversify production and add new crops to the farming systems.
In the 2000/2001 season, the project implemented 3,366 maize MTPs in five ADDs. Demonstration of upland rice, soybean, cowpea and pigeon pea was also added to the program. The season was disappointing, characterized by flooding and plant disease problems. As a result, Malawi faced a deficit of about 400,000 tons of grain and serious malnutrition problems in parts of the country. The low grain yields that were still being obtained by most of Malawi’s smallholder farmers remained a serious concern.
Introducing QPM – A large demonstration program was made to popularize the use of quality protein maize (QPM) and show its competitiveness. As a result, 50,000 hectares were being planted to QPM by 2005.
Dr Borlaug talks to former Malawi Minister of Agriculture, Gwanda Chakuamba, before last year’s Malawi workshop “Promoting Sustainable Food Security Through Partnerships
The need for public/private partnerships – “All of the pieces were there for a rapid expansion in national food production and a reduction of rural poverty“, said former SAA President Dr Norman Borlaug. “What was needed was to put these technological pieces together into a coordinated program of public, private and NGO cooperation.”
Malawi’s growing private sector, including dynamic private seed and fertilizer enterprises, were able to do much to support the government’s smallholder agricultural development programs, once properly mobilized.
SG 2000-Malawi pointed to the low and improper use of fertilizer and improved seed, the failure of extension to deliver technological messages effectively to farmers, the lack of rural infrastructure to market inputs and outputs at affordable prices, and poor market information systems as the key constraints to success in transforming smallholder agriculture.
Refocusing on post-harvest issues – During the 2001/02 season, SG 2000-Malawi became more active in post-harvest handling and technology issues. SG 2000 farmers were losing up to 30% of the grain they harvested, with much of this loss due to the larger grain borer. SG 2000-Malawi thus promoted crop protection measures to control this devastating insect.
Students at Bunda discussing a maize project by one of the students
SAFE Program – The SAFE program was launched at Bunda College, which is one of the five constituent colleges of the University of Malawi, in 2005 to contribute towards the agricultural development efforts of Malawi through the production of qualified human resource in the field of agricultural extension required to raise agricultural production and productivity. While the SAFE program in Malawi faced a challenge of low enrollment of students in the program due to lack of scholarship from the government at times, about 70 students took part in the program.
Maize production increased by more than one million tons during the 1988-2006 period that SG 2000-Malawi was actively promoting improved technologies. The bumper 2006 maize harvest was the cause for much celebration in the country. National yields had rebounded and were approaching 2 t/ha. Widespread adoption of improved crop management practices recommended by the Program was evident.
By the time SG 2000-Malawi ceased its operations in late 2006, it had laid a firm foundation for the government and such organizations as the Millennium Villages that continued to support the country’s agricultural development. The government of Malawi adopted the SG 2000 maize MTP recommendations for all of its crop demonstration work. The value of science-based agricultural technologies in the hands of smallholder producers was convincingly demonstrated, as was the need to strengthen the skills of frontline extension staff and subject matter specialists. The importance of effective post-harvest handling (especially storage) and agroprocessing, farm enterprise diversification, and smallholder access to stable and efficient input and output markets are also notable Program legacies.