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Harvest time in southern Africa

Concern Worldwide has been implementing a new method of farming in Malawi and Zambia for the past year: conservation agriculture. It is thought to be an important step in the fight against hunger. Harvest time is upon us and we will soon see the results of this new method.

Staple food

The month of May is harvest time in southern African countries like Malawi and Zambia. The maize crop, which is probably better known in Ireland as corn, is crucial for the survival or farmers as it is their staple food. 

New farming techniques

For Abraham Wonta and his staff from Concern, this year is particularly important as they have been trying out some new methods to improve the crop yield. In Malawi and Zambia, Concern is at the end of its first year trying a new approach called conservation agriculture. We have carried out this approach with four hundred farmers. If the results are good, this will be extended to another 6,000 farmers over the next two years.

Key principles

Conservation agriculture is about planting the seed exactly where it is needed, rather than upsetting the soil by ploughing. Another key element is protecting the soil from the sun, wind and rain by covering it with mulch. Weeds must also be kept in check. Abraham says:

It’s been quite a challenge getting it started as we had to get the crop planted last November in time for the rains. And of course it wasn’t just the usual ploughing and planting, it was a completely new method we were trying.

Reaping rewards

Much has been achieved in a short time: 110 hectares were planted with not just maize, but also groundnuts, soya beans, cowpeas and sunflower. Estimates show there will be a 50% increase in the size of the harvest this year. If this holds true, it will have been well worth the effort. But it is still early days yet and we will have to wait and see.