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The Tiyeni Deep-Bed Farming System: A Field Manual

The Tiyeni Deep-Bed Farming System
A Field Manual
Promong sustainable farming in Malawi
The Tiyeni Deep-Bed Farming System: A Field Manual
by Alan Dixon, Evans Mukumbwa, Godfrey Kumwenda & Isaac Chavula
Copyright ©Tiyeni 2017
For more informaon about Tiyeni, contact:
Promong sustainable farming in Malawi
Isaac Chavula (Senior Manager):
Godfrey Kumwenda (Training Department):
Tiyeni Malawi
PO Box 429
Tiyeni UK
Manor Farm
Chipping Norton OX7 5YL
Cover photo: Ivy Trindade, Tiyeni Farmer
1.0 What is Tiyeni? 5
2.0 Tiyeni and Conservation Agriculture 9
3.0 Implementing the Deep-bed Farming System 13
3.1 Preparing for Tiyeni 15
3.2 Installing the Deep-bed Farming System 16
3.2.1 Preparing the Land: Breaking the ‘Hard-pan’ 16
3.2.2 Contour Marker Ridge Construction 17
3.2.3 Deep-bed Construction 26
3.3 Soil Fertility: Preparation and Management 28
3.3.1 Soil Testing 28
3.3.2 Fertilizing the Soil 28
3.4 Planting and Cultivation 32
3.4.1 Crop Spacing 32
3.4.2 Agroforestry 33
3.4.3 Crop Rotation and Intercropping 34
3.4.4 Crop Residues 34
3.4.5 Mulching 36
3.4.6 Weed Control 36
3.4.7 Harvesting 37
4.0 Sustaining the Deep-bed Farming System 39
4.1 Follow-up Activities 40
5.0 Monitoring and Recording 41
5.1 Why Monitor? 42
5.2 What do we Monitor? 42
6.0 References and Further Reading 45
6.1 References 46
1What is Tiyeni?
Founded in 2005, Tiyeni is a charity and non-
governmental organisaon dedicated to supporng
the development of sustainable and resilient
livelihoods among farmers in Malawi, through
providing training and extension support in its unique
deep-bed farming system.
The deep-bed farming system incorporates elements
of ‘conservaon agriculture’ techniques and oers an
alternave to tradional agricultural pracces in the
region, which in recent years have been characterised
by declining crop yields and food insecurity. This has
occurred as a result of various socio-economic and
environmental factors, including:
declining soil ferlity – caused by the lack of
aordability of arcial ferlisers, or farmer
access to livestock manure;
increasing soil erosion – caused by destrucve
husbandy pracces that facilitate increased
surface runo; a World Bank report in 1992
suggested that Malawi loses 20 tonnes of soil per
year per hectare by erosion;
climate change and ooding – farmers are
struggling to adapt to increasingly unpredictable
weather across central and southern Africa.
Malawi suered major ooding and drought
events in 2015 and 2016, which have had a
major impact on soil erosion, crop producon
and food security;
populaon pressure – Malawi’s populaon
growth rate is currently around 3%; the
populaon doubles every 30 years while the
amount of good quality arable land is declining.
Tiyeni builds farmers’ resilience to these pressures
and impacts through extension of its deep-bed
farming system package, which incorporates a range
of non-destrucve environmentally, economically
and socially sustainable land management pracces:
contour terracing with closed ridge and furrows
– reduces soil and water loss from culvaon
plots, and encourages groundwater recharge;
breaking the hard pan prior to culvaon –
ensures a deeper roong depth;
deep and wide beds are constructed – ensures a
deeper roong depth and minimises soil erosion;
zero llage and restricted access to the deep
beds – minimises soil compacon and the
mineralisaon of organic maer;
mulching – reduces evaporaon from exposed
beds and increases soil ferlity maer;
composng – farmers learn how to create good
quality compost from animal manure and crop
residue, so that these can be added to the beds;
intercropping and agroforestry – maize can
be grown alongside dierent vegetables or
leguminous plants;
o-farm piggeries – are sources of animal
manure and income.
Tiyeni works by responding to requests for training
and extension from community members, who will
seek the designaon of a ‘demonstraon garden
from their community leader. Tiyeni will then train
lead farmers’ in the deep-bed farming system by
helping them implement this in their designated
demonstraon garden. Lead farmers are subsequently
responsible for disseminang the deep-bed farming
system further and training ‘extension farmers. Aer
the training, Tiyeni provides follow-up support and
advice for a period of three years aer which self-
suciency is achieved.
To date, Tiyeni has established 34 demonstraon
gardens and trained over 1000 farmers in the deep-
bed farming system in the Mzuzu area. In those
areas where the deep-bed farming system has been
adopted, farmers report a signicant and sustained
increase in crop producon (usually more than
double the convenonal yield of maize) which has
had a dramac impact on food security and livelihood
resilience. As the benets of the deep-bed farming
system have become clear, and word of its success
has spread throughout the region, there has been a
signicant increase in demand for Tiyeni’s training.
This eld manual has been developed as a resource
for farmers and technical sta who have an interest in
adopng Tiyeni’s deep-bed farming system as a means
of increasing crop producon in a sustainable manner.
The aim is to provide the user with a background and
context to the Tiyeni method, as well as detailed
step-by-step guidelines for its eld implementaon.
It should, however, be regarded as a starng point,
and the authors strongly encourage users to
crically reect and feedback their experiences of
engaging with the material presented here and their
implementaon of the deep-bed farming system in
the eld, so that Tiyeni can connue to share the
experiences of its ‘community of pracce. Indeed,
we welcome any comments and suggesons for
improving this manual and the training pracces
2Tiyeni and
Conservation Agriculture
In Malawi, the tradional ridge and furrow
system pracsed by the majority of the populaon
is characterised by crops being grown annually on
raised seed beds through the connuous hoeing and
llage of the land. This system is widely regarded
as being both labour intensive and environmentally
destrucve, and evidence suggests that it leads to
signicant problems of soil compacon and erosion,
the loss of organic maer, a reducon in water
inltraon, and consequently a decline in crop yields
over me (especially in the absence of chemical
inputs) (Materechera and Mloza-Banda, 1997;
Ngwira et al, 2013).
In contrast, The Tiyeni deep-bed farming system
draws on many of the ideas and concepts behind
Conservaon Agriculture (CA), an approach originally
developed in the Americas but promoted widely
across sub-Saharan Africa in recent years, since it
... an approach to managing agro-ecosystems
for improved and sustained producvity,
increased prots and food security while
preserving and enhancing the resource base
and the environment.
(FAO, 2015)
At its core are three key principles:
1) Minimal soil disturbance
Connuous or mechanised llage of the soil (ridge
and furrows) cause mineralisaon, compacon
and erosion. The loss of organic maer aects the
physical structure of the soil and together with the
compacon caused by repeated tramping and llage,
reduces signicantly the availability of plant nutrients
and water availability. The structural change to the
soil also reduces root depth and formaon, again
resulng in degraded condions for crop producon.
By reducing the amount of soil llage and trampling
(by humans or livestock), a looser soil structure can
be maintained which promotes water inltraon,
organic maer accumulaon, and root growth. Seed
planng under condions of minimal llage usually
involve the direct placing of seeds in slots in the bed.
2) Maintaining permanent soil cover
Connuous exposure of the soil to sun and water
can similarly increase soil desiccaon, compacon,
erosion and the loss of organic maer. The use of cover
crops or mulching can protect the soil against these
impacts, while also promong a micro-environment
that supports the growth and development of
benecial soil organisms. Insects, fungi and bacteria
aid the decomposion of crop residues and support
humus formaon through biological llage. The
outcome is soil that retains its organic maer and
water, while sustaining biodiversity.
3) Crop rotaon and diversicaon
Crop rotaon is widely regarded as having a posive
impact on agriculture. Dierent crops have dierent
growing requirements in terms of root depths,
nutrient demands, and the biological acvies
associated with these. Crop rotaon helps ensure a
constant recycling of nutrients (oen enhanced by the
use of leguminous plants), a diversity in soil structure,
and it reduces the risk of problems associated with
persistent weeds, pests or diseases. Furthermore,
crop rotaon and diversicaon reduces the risk of
total crop failure, and hence has a key role to play in
enhancing livelihood resilience.
There is increasing evidence from around the world
that CA approaches can, in many circumstances, lead
to enhanced livelihood security and environmental
sustainability, and as of 2015 an esmated 157
million hectares of farmland globally had adopted CA
methods (FAO, 2015). Malawi is currently esmated
to have around 65,000 hectares of CA, the majority
of which has been promoted through the acons
of NGOs and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food
Security (parcularly through the Farm Income
Diversicaon Programme). Recent studies on CA in
Malawi (see Concern Universal, 2011; Ngirwa et al,
2013; Andersson and D’Souza, 2014) have highlighted
the way in which the adopon and spread of new CA
methods across the country have been inuenced
by the country’s unique social, economic, polical
and environmental context. One size does not t
all, and what constutes CA pracce in dierent
parts of Malawi, can dier considerably to what are
considered CA methods even in neighbouring Zambia,
Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Mozambique. Typically,
where CA farming is being pracsed in Malawi, there
is a focus on the use of herbicides, minimum llage,
agro-forestry and inter-cropping (rather than crop
rotaon) (Andersson and D’Souza, 2014).
It is within this context that Tiyeni’s deep-bed method
has emerged as a good example of a regional
adaptaon of the principles and pracces of CA.
Tiyeni’s method has gradually been developed and
modied over me through technical and scienc
input, but also through eld tesng and consultaon
with farmers who constute its community of
3Implementing the
Deep-bed System
Community discussions
Allocation of demonstration garden
Breaking the soil ‘hard pan’
Contour ridge construction
Pegging the contour
Build marker ridges
Plant vetiver grass
Deep-bed Construction
Create furrows
Create raised deep-beds
Close furrows
Create footpaths & field
Soil testing
Start compost / manure
Planting and cultivation Fertility management
Agroforestry planting
Manure application
Recording & Monitoring
Deep-bed maintenance
Figure 1 – The various stages of planning and implemenng the Tiyeni deep-bed system.
3.1 Preparing for Tiyeni
The implementaon of the Tiyeni deep-bed farming
system within a community usually occurs through
the following steps:
Interested farmers contact Tiyeni representaves
(eld ocers or the Tiyeni Oce) and submit a
formal request for assistance;
Tiyeni organizes a meeng with those farmers
in the presence of the Village Development
Commiee (VDC) headed by the Group Village
Headman (GVH);
The GVH and chiefs allocate land for a
demonstraon garden where farmers learn and
implement the deep-bed farming system;
The demonstraon garden acts as a training area
for the deep-bed farming system for a period of
one year (one full culvaon cycle);
Tiyeni provides knowledge, skills and equipment,
while farmers voluntarily provide me and
labour within the demonstraon garden for
approximately 2 hours per week;
All produce / yields are retained by farmers.
Since 2016, Tiyeni has also provided training and
support directly to agricultural extension workers
within government and NGOs. Tiyeni aims to
train agricultural sta so that they can establish a
demonstraon garden in each EPA, which can be
used as a training resource and a focal point for the
wider disseminaon of the deep-bed farming system
to farmers.
Farmers request Tiyeni
Land allocated for
demonstration garden
Tiyeni trains ‘lead
Extension Farmers
Disseminate Tiyeni techniques and train ...
Other Farmers
Lead Farmers
Work collectively in
demonstration garden
Showcases deep-bed farming system
Provides a training resource
Receive Tiyeni starter package and
adopt deep-bed system
Disseminate Tiyeni techniques
Figure 2 – How Tiyeni is established within a community.
3.2.1 Preparing the Land: Breaking
the ‘Hard-pan’
Annual ridging by hand-hoe is the common method
of land preparaon in Malawi. Use of this system
year aer year has resulted in soil compacon which
greatly aects the quality and quanty of crops
Stage one of the deep-bed farming system, therefore,
requires deep llage of the land using either a pick-axe
or hoe (double-digging) to a depth of 30cm in order
to break the ‘hard pan’ of the subsoil. This allows:
deeper root growth;
soil aeraon;
easier percolaon of water;
easier construcon of contour ridges and deep
beds later in the process.
The best me in Malawi to break soil compacon
is May – July when the soil is sll moist;
As long as the culvaon beds (see below) are
not trampled or compacted heavily during eld
operaons, breaking the hard-pan only needs to
be done aer ve or more years.
Ideally, any grass, crop residues or leaves should
be added into the soil during the deep-llage
and le to decompose for at least six months
prior to culvaon. Burning crop residues should
be avoided.
Figure 3 – Tradional ridge and furrow culvaon showing the compacted ‘hard pan’. Figure 4 – A pick axe is ideally suited to breaking the soil’s ‘hard pan’.
3.2 Installing the Deep-bed Farming System
Figure 4 – A pick axe is ideally suited to breaking the soil’s ‘hard pan’.
3.2.2 Contour Ridge Construction
Soil erosion is a major problem in Malawi resulng in
loss of the top soil and decline in land producvity.
On steep land in parcular, soil erosion is exacerbated
when culvaon ridges are not level and do not
follow the contour of the land. In these circumstances
rainfall can run o the adjacent furrows very rapidly
resulng in soil erosion and water loss (Figures 5a and
In contrast, Contour ridges and terraces ensure that
the culvated area is level and not prone to the rapid
runo of rainfall which causes severe soil erosion.
Instead, rainfall stays in the land and inltrates into
the soil (Figures 6a and 6b).
The process of contour ridge construcon involves
several stages:
a) Pegging the contour of the land
Materials Required:
1 Line level (A level costs about K1, 000 and
can be used by 50 farmers in one season with
a minimum of 10 seasons lifespan)
3 metre string
2 straight – twin – scks (2m long)
1 knife
1 hammer or 1 stone;
3 people
Measuring tape (100m)
100 – 200 pegs / ha
Figure 5a – Non-contoured ridges channel high velocity runo, causing soil erosion.
Figure 5b – A non-Tiyeni garden with open-ended ridges. An esmated 20 tonnes of soil per
hectare per year are lost from these farms.
Figure 5a – Non-contoured ridges channel high velocity runo, causing soil erosion. Figure 6b – Contour ridges collect rainfall runo, and providing ditches are closed at the
end, they ensure water stays in the eld.
Figure 5b – A non-Tiyeni garden with open-ended ridges. An esmated 20 tonnes of soil per
hectare per year are lost from these farms.
Figure 6b – Contour ridges ensure water stays within the furrows and deep-bed.
Seng up the line level
Trim the ends of the two scks to make them
Cut a groove around each sck at exactly same
height (ideally the neck height of the person who
will read the line level);
Hang the level between 2 knots ed in the centre
of this string;
Set the 2 scks upright on a level surface with
the string ght. The bubble will be perfectly on
centre (if done correctly).
Figure 7 – Correct string placement (above) and perfectly level line (below).
Figure 7 – Correct string placement (above) and perfectly level line (below).
Note also that the marking and pegging of a
contour line is more accurately if done prior
to deep llage of the land. Harrowing may be
required if the land is already ploughed.
Find the starng point in your land
When marking contour ridges always start at the
top corner of the eld that you are culvang
(note that all the culvaon should occur below
this point). In the example below, a starng point
higher than that indicated would not be feasible
due to the steep slope of the land above.
Figure 8 (above) – The starng point for pegging the contour ridge.
Figure 9 (above) – The Line Level. A level surface (contour ridge) is indicated when the
bubble remains in the middle as shown above.
Figure 10 – The process of pegging the contour ridge.
Figure 11 – A pegged contour ridge.
b) Building contour marker ridges
Having established the route of each contour ridge,
the next step is to build a ridge that follows the
contour, at a height of 0.5m. The marker ridges simply
serve as a guide to re-align deep beds parallel to
them, again to maximise soil and water conservaon.
The marker ridge is the foundaon of the Tiyeni
demonstraon garden; if it is not constructed
(strengthened) properly the rest of the garden will
suer and be washed away by the run-o during
heavy rains.
Figure 12 – Locaon of contour marker ridge relave to pegs.
Figure 13 – A completed marker ridge.
Figure 12 – Locaon of contour marker ridge relave to pegs.
c) Planng Vever grass on marker ridges
Vever grass (Veveria zizanioides) has long been
used in conservaon agriculture systems around the
world, where eld research suggests it can have a
signicant impact on soil and water conservaon:
The roots of Vever grass grow exclusively
downwards to a depth of up to 4 metres. This
helps stabilise soil terraces and ridges, and
prevents erosion by wind or rainfall runo;
Water is retained in the soil where vever grows,
since the roots reduce the speed of subsurface
water ow;
Vever grass can be used for mulching, which
increases water inltraon and reduces
evaporaon from culvaon beds;
Vever leaves can be used to feed livestock;
Vever aracts species of stem borer, and diverts
these pests away from food crops;
Vever can be used for thatching materials,
construcon and cra making.
Within Tiyeni’s deep-bed farming system, vever
grass should be planted on the upper side of the
marker ridges. Space the Vever at 10cm or one
hand palm apart.
3.2.3 Deep-bed Construction
Culvaon beds are constructed adjacent to the
marker ridges, ideally between August and October,
in the layout shown in Figures 14 - 16.
Figure 15 – The deep-bed immediately aer the marker ridge.
Materials Required:
Hand hoe
Shovel (oponal)
Sck of 1m
Sck of 50cm
Sck of 30cm
Figure 16 – Layout of the deep-bed system.
Figure 14 – Cross-seconal view of the deep-beds.
Figure 15 – The deep-bed immediately aer the marker ridge.
Figure 16 – Layout of the deep-bed system.
a) Furrows
Lay down a stick of 50cm to mark the 1st furrow from the marker ridge;
Dig the soil to one side along the marker ridge. As you scoop the soil to
one side, a furrow is made parallel to the marker ridges;
Other furrows of 50cm wide are done the same way (25cm wide soil to
one side and 25cm to the other side).
Contour marker ridge
with planted Vetiver
b) Raised Deep-bed
Using a 1m long stick, mark the width of the bed;
One side of a bed is already made as you were
constructing the
1st furrow above (a);
Scoop the soil upwards parallel to the marker ridge.
The mound or bank formed becomes the raised
The beds are typically 15m to 25m in length.
c) Closing the furrows
Close the furrows every 15-25m to avoid
water runoff and soil loss;
Avoid treading on the beds (to avoid soil
compaction) for a period of 5 years.
d) Footpaths and field boundaries
Where furrows are closed, these areas can be used as footpaths
across the field.
Field boundaries can aggravate the formation of rills and gullies if
not well constructed, hence raising the furrow ends above the
level of surrounding fields can prevent water draining in and out.
Both footpaths and field boundaries have to be 50cm wide, slightly
above the beds.
Raised Deep-bed
Closed furrow ends
Field boundaries
Figure 14 – Cross-seconal view of the deep-beds.
3.3 Soil Fertility: Preparation and Management
3.3.1 Soil testing
The quanty and type of ferlizers required for the
same crop may vary from soil to soil and from eld to
eld on the same soil. The use of soil improvement
methods without rst tesng the soil is like taking
medicine without rst consulng a physician to
establish what is needed! Therefore, Tiyeni advocates
soil tesng prior to the applicaon of any ferliser
and planng. The method is as follows:
Collect 1kg of topsoil samples from not less than
5 places in one eld;
Mix all of the 5kg soil sample together and send
a 1kg sample for tesng;
Similarly, collect 5kg samples of subsoil from the
same locaons, mix together all the samples and
send 1kg of the subsoil mixture for tesng.
Each sample should have the following labels:
a) Name of Farm
b) Type of soil sample (top soil or sub soil)
c) What to analyse
d) Your address / telephone number
Tesng Centres include:
Lunyangwa Agricultural Research Staon
(Northern Region)
Chitedze Agricultural Research Staon (Central
Agricultural Research Extension Trust (ARET)
Bvumbwe Agricultural Research Staon
(Southern Region)
3.3.2 Fertilizing the Soil
The standard ‘blanket’ manure and ferlizer
applicaon for farms that have not undergone soil
tesng involves a three stage process:
1. The applicaon of 2 handfuls of manure in
planng staons of maize no later than 1 month
before planng. Manure and soil need to be
thoroughly mixed to avoid damage to seeds and
2. A basal applicaon of 5 x 50kg bags of Bokashi
manure (see below) mixed with 1 x 50kg bag of
NPK per 1 acre (0.4ha) maize eld. This ferlizer
mix should be applied between planng staons
at crop emergence using cup number 22 (found
in all shops of ATC);
3. A top dressing of 5 x 50kg bags Bokashi manure
mixed with 1 x 50kg bag of Urea for 0.4 ha (1
acre) maize eld. Apply between planng staon
2 weeks aer applying basal using cup number
22 or apply top dressing before the 28th day
from the date of planng maize.
Box 1 – Methods of composng and manuring.
Compost making is an essenal part of Tiyeni’s deep-
bed farming system, “…you look aer the land and
it will look aer you… you feed the garden and it will
feed you”.
Bokashi manure
Bokashi is a Japanese word meaning ‘fermented
organic maer’. It derives from tradional Japanese
composng methods that involve the mixing of
food waste with soils, with the key ingredient being
‘ecient microorganisms’ (yeasts and bacteria)
which aid fermentaon and the producon of rich
soil nutrients. Research has shown that in many cases
bokashi manure can produce the same increases
in soil ferlity and crop producon as arcial
ferlisers. Because it uses local waste products
found in and around the farm, bokashi manure is
both environmentally friendly and low-cost. The
producon process takes between 2 and 3 weeks.
Materials require for 1 standard heap
Animal manure = 3 pails
Plant wastes = 4 pails (maize stalks /
dry grass / green leaves)
Virgin soil = 3 pails
Water = 20 - 30 litres
Yeast rich materials:
- Masese = ½ pail
- Bokashi = 1 pail
- Yeast = 1 teaspoon
Ash = ½ pail
Maize bran = ½ pail
Charcoal = ½ pail
1. Cut the plant wastes into small pieces (< 5cm);
2. Mix the materials;
3. Pour water on the mixture, unl all is moist (not
too wet or too dry);
4. Make a pile of mixture in a shed.
Cover the pile with grass/banana leaves to prevent
overexposure to sunlight which can kill the
microorganisms in the manure.
Tiyeni suggests the building of small Bokashi sheds
(see below) near the demonstraon garden, where
the bokashi mixture can be le to ferment or stored.
Bokashi can be used as basal ferlizer and as
top-dressing ferlizer;
A handful of Bokashi is usually applied to each
Mix 1 bag NPK ferlizer with 5 Bags of Bokashi as
basal ferlizer for 1 acre of maize.
Also mix 1 Bag ferlizer Urea with 5 Bags of
Bokashi as top dressing ferlizer for 1 acre of
maize. (1 acre = 0.4 ha).
Figure 17 – A typical bokashi shed
Figure 18 – A Tiyeni farmer making bokashi compost.
Box 2 – Mbeya manure
Mbeya manure consists of a mixture of convenonal
ferliser, maize husks, chicken or pig manure and ash
mixed together with water.
Materials required for 1 standard bag
Ferlizer = 5kg
Manure = 1 pail
Maize bran = 1 pail
Water = 5 litres
1. Mix all the above and pour water to moist;
2. Put the mixture above in a bag containing a
plasc inside (ferlizer empty bag);
3. Tie the bag ghtly.
Aer 14 days, the manure will be ready for use/
Apply as we do with inorganic ferlizer to each plant.
If you made the Mbeya manure from 5kg NPK ferlizer
apply it as basal and if it was from Urea, apply it as
Figure 18 – A Tiyeni farmer making bokashi compost.
Box 3 – Liquid manure
The aim of making liquid manure is to be able to
provide crops with adequate plant nutrients where
you have failed to apply compost/ferlizer. Liquid
manure is usually ready within 1 – 2 weeks and is easy
to make and apply.
A) Poultry liquid manure
2 litre empty bole
Chicken droppings
1. Fill the bole halfway with chicken droppings;
2. Pour water into the bole so that it is up to ¾
3. Leave to stand for one week.
Dilute 20 mes the amount of liquid manure.
Apply 1 tea cup to each plant.
B) Human urine
The most widely available and cheapest form of
manure, although oen shunned by farmers!
place the urine in containers, cover, and allow to
rest for up to two weeks.
Vegetables - 1 Litre urine to 4 litres water
Maize - 1 Litre urine to 2 litres water
Banana - 1 Litre urine to 1 litre water
Fruit trees - apply a tea cup to each plant every 2
Box 4 – Plant tea
A strong sck
A drum painted inside
Green leaves
Water (1/2 drum)
1. Chop green leaves;
2. Place the chopped green leaves into a drum;
3. Fill the drum with water;
4. Cover the drum to prevent evaporaon;
5. Sr with a strong sck every 3 days.
Aer 14 days:
Dilute 1 tea plant content to 2 of water
Apply diluted tea to the roots region
Use the leaf remains as mulch
3.4 Planting and Cultivation
3.4.1 Crop Spacing
Having complete construcon of the deep-beds
(Secon 3.2) and applied soil ferlity measures
(Secon 3.4), the deep-beds should now be ready for
planng. Deep-beds have a much higher water holding
capacity than standard tradional ridges, hence
planng has to be done with the rst rains without
hesitaon (November – December). Guidelines for
the spacing of dierent crops within the deep-beds
are shown in the following tables:
Planng rows spacing = 75cm
Planng staon spacing = 25cm
Number of seeds / staon = 1seed
One bed for supplying with 4 rows (2 rows per
Planng rows spacing = 45cm
Planng staon spacing = 5cm
Plant 1 seed per staon (3 rows per bed)
Beans (dwarf)
Planng rows spacing = 37.5cm
Planng staon spacing = 15cm
Number of seeds per staon = 1 seed (3 rows
per bed)
Planng rows spacing = 75cm
Plang staon spacing = 15cm
Plant 1 seed per staon (2 rows per bed)
Beans (climbing)
Planng rows spacing = 75cm
Planng staon spacing = 15cm
Number of seeds per staon = 1 seed (2 rows
per bed)
3.4.2 Agroforestry
Agroforestry involves land use management so that
trees or shrubs are grown around crop culvaon
systems. On the farm it usually involves the planng
and incorporaon of species that provide socio-
economic or environmental benets. These include:
Soil ferlity – species such as Tephrosia vogelii
and Sesbania sesban have been proven to have a
posive impact on the yield of crops (parcualrly
maize) grown around them due to their nitrogen-
xing capacity;
Organic pescides – the juice from the leaves of
Tephrosia vogelii are poisonous to many insects,
and sh.
Fodder for animals – leaves of some agroforestry
shrubs are palatable to livestock, and can
therefore enhance meat and milk producon;
Fruit – papaya, mango and banana are commonly
planted in or around farms, therefore providing
alternave sources of income;
Timber and fuelwood – growing wood on farms
reduces the pressure on natural forested areas;
Ecosystem services – research suggests that on-
farm trees and shrubs add to biodiversity, help
stabilise the soil, enhance water inltraon, act
as windbreaks, and sequester carbon.
For these reasons, agroforestry is a key part of the
Tiyeni deep-bed farming system. Tiyeni encourages
the planng of several species between December
and January (see right; Figure 19).
Image source: hp://
Tephrosia spp.
Sesbania sesban
Faidherbia spp.
Cajanus cajan (Pigeon pea)
3.4.3 Crop Rotation and
Crop rotaon is the pracce of growing a series of
dierent types of crops in the same area in successive
seasons. In the deep-bed farming system crop rotaon
between legumes and cereal crops is encouraged
(Figure 18 and Figure 19). Intercropping with legumes
(e.g. groundnuts, beans or soya) can be pracced
where land is limited. Plant spacing and arrangement
varies depending upon the crop variees adopted.
Crop rotaon:
gives various nutrients to the soil. A tradional
element of crop rotaon is the replenishment
of nitrogen through the use of green manure in
sequence with cereals and other crops;
consequently brings about an increase in the
producon of food grains;
migates the build-up of pathogens and
pests that oen occurs when one species is
connuously cropped, and can also improve soil
structure and ferlity by alternang deep-rooted
and shallow-rooted plants;
helps in weed control and pest control. This is
because weeds and pests are very choosy about
the host crop plant, which they aack. When
the crop is changed the cycle is broken. Hence,
pescide cost is reduced. Northern Leaf Blight is
a good example of a disease that has increased
over the last several years, and can be reduced
by rotang maize and soybeans.
Note: A combinaon of conservaon llage pracces
and crop rotaon has been shown to be very eecve
in improving soil physical properes.
3.4.4 Crop Residues
All crop residues should not be taken away or burnt,
but incorporated in the beds. Legumes such as beans
and soya have to be harvested using a sickle so that
the roots remain in soil. This improves soil ferlity.
Figure 19 – Crop rotaon in the eld.
Figure 20 – Layout of the deep-bed farming system during culvaon.
Figure 19 – Crop rotaon in the eld.
Contour marker ridge with
planted Vetiver grass
Tephrosia spp.
Deep penetration of roots is facilitated by the loose
decompacted soil in the deep-beds.
During the rains water accumulates in the furrows
Here the deep-beds have a typical multicropping arrangement where maize is
grown alongside leguminous plants (beds are also rotated between growing
Water infiltrates the adjacent beds
The Tiyeni deep-bed system during cultivation
Figure 20 – Layout of the deep-bed farming system during culvaon.
Figure 21 – Maize mulch on the surface of the deep-beds.
3.4.5 Mulching
Mulching involves leaving a loose covering of organic
material (e.g. maize stalks) on top of the culvated
raised dep-beds (Figure 21). This layer should be
5-7cm thick. The advantages of this include:
Protecng the soil from the direct impact of rain
Maximizing water percolaon;
Protecng the soil against water and wind
Reducing water loss from the soil by evaporaon;
Maintaining conducive soil temperatures for
germinaon and growth of crops, and to support
soil organisms;
Encouraging termites to digest the mulch so
that dry cellulose is taken down into the ground
which acts as a ferlizer;
suppressing the germinaon and growth of
3.4.6 Weed Control
All crops planted in the deep-bed farming system
will suer from weed compeon during the rst 6
weeks aer germinaon. Weeds need to be removed
throughout this period by:
Pulling weeds while standing along the furrows;
Using a small-weeding-hand hoe without
trampling on the beds (which would cause
Note that crop rotaon helps to control some weeds,
e.g. sunower helps reduce the growth of witchweed
(Striga spp.) in a eld where maize was culvated
Cover crops also help to control weeds and pests,
while also increasing soil ferlity.
3.4.7 Harvesting
Tiyeni’s deep-bed farming system is in high demand
by farmers because it has demonstrated a consistent
increase in crop yields, compared to tradional
farming pracces.
The system retains moisture in the beds so much
that dry spells have no eect;
The system allows water to percolate into subsoil
where the crop roots are;
It allows roots to grow deep and reach for the
It enhances soil ferlity;
Plant populaon is increased by 25%.
Yields of up to 9,000kg per hectare for maize are
aained by subsistence farmers praccing deep
bed farming system;
Yield loss due to late planng of hybrid maize is
not there because beds retain much moisture
with rst rains and farmers plant without
All crop residues are le to rot in the beds (no
burning or carrying them home);
Only right type and amounts of ferlizer are
applied basing on soil tesng results;
Harvesng when completely mature / dry.
Figure 21 – Maize mulch on the surface of the deep-beds.
Box 5 – Operaonal meframe of the deep-bed farming system.
May – July Deep llage
Storage of seeds and food
Open day exchange visits
Field days
Time Acvies Responsibility
Tiyeni Sta
Government Extension Sta
August – October Marker ridges
Deep-bed construcon
Organic ground cover
Compost making
Manure applicaon
Storage of seeds + food
Tiyeni Sta
Government Extension Sta
November – December Planng (crops; vever; Agro-
forestry, cover crops)
Ferlizer / manure applicaon
Crop Management in general
Government Extension Sta
Tiyeni Sta
January – April Harvesng
Open Day (Naonal event on
deep-bed system)
Incorporaon of crop residues
Repairing beds with root crops
– groundnut, nzama, sweet
Government Extension Sta
Tiyeni Sta
4Sustaining the Deep-bed
4.1 Follow-up Activities
The sustainability of the deep-bed farming system is
based on farmer appreciaon of the technology itself.
This means that it takes a complete growing season
for the farmer to make an informed decision to adopt
the technology or abandon it all together.
The role of Tiyeni is to provide farmers with the
required support they need to learn and understand
how the technology works. It does this by training
and undertaking follow-up visits to all those trained
to ensure that the technology is well followed and
does not go ‘o-message’.
The follow-ups are done in conjuncon with the
AEDCs and AEDOs of the EPA to make sure that the
‘gold standard’ is being maintained. Follow-ups of
the acvies in these EPAs are done twice, two
months aer training. The rst follow-up is done in
the secons while the second follow-up is done at the
EPA level during their fortnight meengs.
Subsequent follow-up and supervision is increasingly
done by AEDOs, to ensure sustainability. However,
Tiyeni connues supervision of acvies during a
second full year to ensure that everything is going
well, aer which the project iniave in a parcular
secon is handed over to the Ministry of Agriculture,
Irrigaon and Water Development, through the
EPA. But in the event that the project is going o-
message’, a refresher course is organized in order to
discuss and adapt to some of the challenges AEDOs
or Lead Farmers encountered during process.
5Monitoring and
5.1 Why Monitor?
The success of Tiyeni over the years has hinged
upon the sharing of ideas, experiences and pracces
of its applicaon in the eld. As a result, the Tiyeni
method has been adopted, adapted and connuously
improved from the grassroots up. It is only through
observing and monitoring its impacts that this process
can connue so that its benets are maximised now
and for future generaons.
Monitoring and recording does not have to be
technical and require specialist knowledge. Most
farmers are acve researchers, who constantly
observe and take note of changes occurring in their
farming environment. Farmers have a wealth of
experience and knowledge of spaal (their own land
and other people’s) and temporal (seasonal and
longer-term) changes in environmental variables
such as:
Soil and water quality and quanty;
Vegetaon including trees and shrubs;
Animal and pest species;
Crop yields;
Climac condions such as rainfall and the
occurrence of drought.
These are also linked to (and complemented by
knowledge of) changes in socio-economic variables
such as:
Household income;
Market prices for goods and services;
Availability or access to equipment;
Nutrional status and health
Farmers are the eyes and ears of Tiyeni pracce, and
are the people best placed to observe and monitor the
on-farm experiences and impacts of the Tiyeni deep-
bed farming system over me. However, it is the role
of the extension agent to facilitate and enhance the
exchange of knowledge wherever possible. This can
be through helping to set up community meengs
that allow farmers to exchange knowledge between
each other, or through an annual reporng system
that ensures that those leading the implementaon
of the deep-bed farming system record farmers’
5.2 What do we Monitor?
Monitoring and recording can take various forms
ranging from recording personal observaons in the
eld and talking to farmers, to the more complex
quanable measurement of environmental variables
such as soil and water quality. In choosing what to
monitor, think carefully about:
1. the purpose of the monitoring and what data is
needed to answer the quesons or issues that
arise (i.e. Why am I doing this? What will be the
end result? Will it actually be useful?);
2. the praccality and logiscs of monitoring
dierent variables. For example, while it would
be good to know how the deep-bed farming
system aects the sub-surface inltraon of
water through conducng hydraulic conducvity
tests in each bed, few agricultural departments
or instutes have the manpower, training or
equipment to do this on a regular basis.
3. Is there a proxy indicator? In the example above,
an alternave approach would be to simply ask
farmers about their experience of water in the
Don’t reinvent the wheel. Many agricultural
departments, instutes and NGOs have used tried and
tested methods for monitoring the impacts of their
rural development work. One of the most commonly
used approaches is the Sustainable Livelihoods
Framework (SLF) (Figure 22) which can be used as a
tool for analysing and monitoring changes in people’s
livelihoods from one year to the next, and hence the
impact of any development intervenon – in this case
the adopon of the deep-bed farming system.
Figure 22 – The Sustainable Livelihoods Approach.
“What impact has adopon of the deep-
bed farming system had in my farming
“How eecve is it?”
These are two of the overarching quesons that relate
to what the SLF calls ‘Livelihood Outcomes’, and at the
very least, any annual monitoring or research carried
out in the eld should provide evidence that can be
used to answer the following:
Key quesons for annual monitoring:
Has adopon of the deep-bed farming
system led to more household income being
Has adopon of the deep-bed farming system
led to an increase in well-being among those
using it?
To what extent have people’s vulnerability to
shocks and pressures changed? Are people
more resilient now they have adopted the
deep-bed system?
Have deep-bed users experienced an increase
in food security?
Has the deep-bed farming system sustained
the natural resource base? Is there evidence
of degradaon, or enhancement?
In order to answer these quesons you can structure
your eld-based invesgaons according to the SLF’s
dierent Livelihood Assets shown in Figure 20.
Structuring your eld invesgaons:
For each of the following you should ask:
Has this increased or decreased since
adopon of the deep-bed farming system?
In what way(s)?
Human capital – the skills, knowledge, health
status and ability of people to work;
Natural capital – the natural resources,
environment, and the way they support
people’s livelihoods
Financial capital – the cash income, savings
and credit facilies available to people
Physical capital – the tools, equipment and
basic infrastructure that help people develop
a livelihood.
Social capital – the social relaons, networks
and groups within the community.
As stated in 5.1, farmers and Tiyeni adopters should
be the principal source of informaon on determining
changes in livelihood assets, and this can be collected
through annual one-to-one meengs with each
farmer, or through parcipatory group meengs.
Remember to feedback the ndings of your
invesgaons to those who contributed their
knowledge. It should be a reciprocal process of
knowledge exchange.
6References and Further
6.1 References and Further Reading
Anderson, J. A., and D’Souza, S. D., (2014) From
adopon claims to understanding farmers and
contexts: A literature review of Conservaon
Agriculture (CA) adopon among smallholder
farmers in southern Africa. Agriculture,
Ecosystems & Environment 187, p116-132.
Chambers, R., Pacey, A. and Thrupp, L. A. (1989)
Farmer rst: farmer innovaon and agricultural
research. Intermediate Technology Publicaons:
Chambers, R. (1997) Whose reality counts? Pung
the rst last. ITDG Publicaons: London.
Chavula, J (2014) Mbeya: Farmer innovaons
count. The Naon, November 23rd 2014. On
Line: hp://mwna
Concern Universal (2011) Conservaon agriculture
research study 2011. Concern Universal:
Hereford. On Line: p://
Corbeels, M., de Graaf, J., Ndah, T. H., et al. (2014)
Understanding the impact and adopon of
conservaon agriculture in Africa: A mul-
scale analysis. Agriculture, Ecosystems and
Environment 187, p155-170.
Dawson, N., Marn, A. and Sikor, T. (2016) Green
revoluon in sub-saharan Africa: Implicaons of
imposed innovaon for the well-being of rural
smallholders. World Development 78, p204–218.
Dougill, A. J., Whiield, S., Stringer, L. C., Vincent,
K., Wood, B. T., Chinseu, E. L., Steward, P.
and Mkwambisi, D. D. (2016) Mainstreaming
conservaon agriculture in Malawi: Knowledge
gaps and instuonal barriers. Journal of
Environmental Management On Line: hp://
FAO (2015) Conservaon agriculture. On Line:
FAO (2010) ‘Climate-Smart’ agriculture: Policies,
pracces and nancing for food security,
adaptaon and migaon. FAO: Rome. On Line:
Giller, K. E., Wier, E., Corbeels, M. and Tionell, P.
(2009) Conservaon agriculture and smallholder
farming in Africa: The herec’s view. Field Crops
Research 114, p23-34.
Kassam, A., Friedrich, T., Shaxson, F., et al. (2014)
The spread of Conservaon Agriculture: Policy
and instuonal support for adopon and
uptake. Field Acons Science Reports 7.
Materechera, S.A. and Mloza-Banda, H.R. (1997) Soil
penetraon resistance, root growth and yield of
maize as inuenced by llage system on ridges in
Malawi. Soil and Tillage Research, 41, p13-24.
Ngwira, A. R., Thierfelder, C. and Lambert, D. M.
(2013) Conservaon agriculture systems for
Malawian smallholder farmers: longterm eects
on crop producvity, protability and soil quality.
Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 28, 4,
Pannell, D. J., Llewellyn, R. S. and Corbeels, M.
(2014) The farm-level economics of conservaon
agriculture for resource-poor farmers.
Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 187,
Reij, C. and Waters-Bayer, A. (2001) Farmer
innovaon in Africa: A source of inspiraon for
agricultural development. Earthscan: London.
Reynolds, T. W., Waddington, S. R., Anderson,
C. L. et al. (2015) Environmental impacts and
constraints associated with the producon of
major food crops in Sub-Saharan Africa and
South Asia. Food Security 7, p795-822.
Scoones, I. (1998) Sustainable rural livelihoods: A
framework for analysis. IDS Working Paper 72.
IDS, Sussex. On Line: hps://www.sta
Shaxson, F., Tien, M., Wood, A. and Turton, C.
(1997) Beer land husbandry: re-thinking
approaches to land improvement and the
conservaon of water and soil. ODI Perspecves
No 19, June 1997. On Line: hps://
Shaxson, F., Alder, J., Jackson, T. and Hunter, N. (2014)
Land husbandry: an agro-ecological approach to
land use and management: Part 1: Consideraons
of landscape condions. Interanonal Soil and
Water Conservaon Research 2, 3, p22-35.
Thierfelder, C., Chisui, J. L., Gama, M. et al. (2013)
Maize-based conservaon agriculture systems in
Malawi: Long-term trends in producvity. Field
Crops Research 142, p47-57.
Promong sustainable farming in Malawi
... At its core, DBF ( Figure 1) incorporates many of the principles and elements of CA outlined above, which continue to be adopted in CA systems around the world (Dixon et al. 2017;Friedrich, Derpsch, and Kassam 2012). ...
In the context of increasing NGO interest in the capacity of conservation agriculture methods to support sustainable agriculture across sub-Saharan Africa, this paper explores the experiences of farmers (n = 111) adopting the Tiyeni NGO’s deep-bed farming (DBF) system in northern Malawi. The results of a field survey suggest that whilst DBF delivers significant livelihood benefits for farmers relative to traditional techniques (a factor arguably driving its rapid spontaneous adoption throughout the area), some asset-poor farmers are unable to sustain DBF due to its labor demands. We argue that to widen its beneficial impacts in a manner that can be sustained, there is a need for Tiyeni’s DBF to be less prescriptive and more adaptive to specific social-ecological contexts.
Full-text available
Green Revolution policies are again being pursued to drive agricultural growth and reduce poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. However conditions have changed since the well-documented successes of the 1960s and 1970s benefitted smallholders in southern Asia and beyond. We argue that under contemporary constraints the mechanisms for achieving improvements in the lives of smallholder farmers through such policies are unclear and that both policy rationale and means of governing agricultural innovation are crucial for pro-poor impacts. To critically analyze Rwanda's Green Revolution policies and impacts from a local perspective, a mixed methods, multidimensional wellbeing approach is applied in rural areas in mountainous western Rwanda. Here Malthusian policy framing has been used to justify imposed rather than ''induced innovation ". The policies involve a substantial transformation for rural farmers from a traditional polyculture system supporting subsistence and local trade to the adoption of modern seed varieties, inputs, and credit in order to specialize in marketable crops and achieve increased production and income. Although policies have been deemed successful in raising yields and conventionally measured poverty rates have fallen over the same period, such trends were found to be quite incongruous with local experiences. Disaggregated results reveal that only a relatively wealthy minority were able to adhere to the enforced modernization and policies appear to be exacerbating landlessness and inequality for poorer rural inhabitants. Negative impacts were evident for the majority of households as subsistence practices were disrupted, poverty exacerbated, local systems of knowledge, trade, and labor were impaired, and land tenure security and autonomy were curtailed. In order to mitigate the effects we recommend that inventive pro-poor forms of tenure and cooperation (none of which preclude improvements to input availability, market linkages, and infrastructure) may provide positive outcomes for rural people, and importantly in Rwanda, for those who have become landless in recent years. We conclude that policies promoting a Green Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa should not all be considered to be pro-poor or even to be of a similar type, but rather should be the subject of rigorous impact assessment. Such assessment should be based not only on consistent, objective indicators but pay attention to localized impacts on land tenure, agricultural practices, and the wellbeing of socially differentiated people.
Full-text available
Many environmental factors constrain the production of major food crops in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. At the same time, these food production systems themselves have a range of negative impacts on the environment. In this paper we review the published literature and assess the depth of recent research (since 2000) on crop x environment interactions for rice, maize, sorghum/millets, sweetpotato/yam and cassava in these two regions. We summarize current understandings of the environmental impacts of crop production systems prior to crop production, during production and post-production, and emphasize how those initial environmental impacts become new and more severe environmental constraints to crop yields. Pre-production environmental interactions relate to agricultural expansion or intensification, and include soil degradation and erosion, the loss of wild biodiversity, loss of food crop genetic diversity and climate change. Those during crop production include soil nutrient depletion, water depletion, soil and water contamination, and pest resistance/outbreaks and the emergence of new pests and diseases. Post-harvest environmental interactions relate to the effects of crop residue disposal, as well as crop storage and processing. We find the depth of recent publications on environmental impacts is very uneven across crops and regions. Most information is available for rice in South Asia and maize in Sub-Saharan Africa where these crops are widely grown and have large environmental impacts, often relating to soil nutrient and water management. Relatively few new studies have been reported for sorghum/millets, sweetpotato/yam or cassava, despite their importance for food security on large areas of marginal farmland in Sub-Saharan Africa – however, there is mounting evidence that even these low-input crops, once thought to be environmentally benign, are contributing to cycles of environmental degradation that threaten current and future food production. A concluding overview of the emerging range of published good practices for smallholder farmers highlights many opportunities to better manage crop x environment interactions and reduce environmental impacts from these crops in developing countries.
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In this, the first of two papers, the roles of key features of any landscape in determining potentials for erosional losses of soil and water are considered from an agro-ecological viewpoint. In this light, the effectiveness of past commonly-accepted approaches to soil and water conservation are often found to have been inadequate. In many cases they have tackled symptoms of land degradation without appreciating fully the background causes, which often relate to inadequate matching of land-use/land-management with features of the landscape. A number of reasons for this mismatch are suggested. Understanding the ecological background to land husbandry (as defined below) will improve the effectiveness of attempts to tackle land degradation. In particular, an ecologically based approach to better land husbandry helps to foresee potential problems in some detail, so that appropriate forward planning can be undertaken to avoid them. This paper describes some practical ways of undertaking an appropriate survey of significant landscape features, enabling the definition and mapping of discrete areas of different land-use incapability classes. This is accompanied by an example of how the outcome was interpreted and used to guide the selection of appropriate areas which were apparently suitable for growing flue-cured tobacco within an area of ca. 140 km2 in Malawi. This process relied on knowledge and experience in various disciplines (interpretation of air-photos, topographic survey, soil survey, vegetation analysis, hydrology, soil & water conservation, geology, agronomy) so as to ensure that the mapping process was based on the principles of better land husbandry.
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Conservation agriculture (CA) systems are based upon minimal soil disturbance; crop residue retention and crop rotation and/or intercrop association are increasingly seen to recycle nutrients, increase yield and reduce production costs. This study examines the effects of CA practices on crop productivity, profitability and soil quality under the conditions encountered by smallholder farmers in two farming communities from 2005 to 2011 in Malawi, as part of the contribution to remedy a lack of supporting agronomic research for these relatively new systems. The drier agroenvironment of Lemu of Bazale Extension Planning Area (EPA) is characterized by sandy clay loam soils and lower rainfall. Here, CA showed positive benefits on maize yield after the first season of experimentation, with highest increases of 2.7 Mg ha−1 and 2.3 Mg ha−1 more yield in CA monocrop maize and CA maize–legume intercrop, respectively, than the conventional tillage in the driest season of 2009/10. In the high rainfall environment of Zidyana EPA (characterized by sandy loam soils), substantial maize yield benefits resulted in the fifth season of experimentation. Farmers spent at most 50 days ha−1 (US$140) producing maize under CA systems compared with 62 days ha−1(US$176) spent under conventional tillage practices. In Lemu, both CA systems resulted in gross margins three times higher than that of the conventional control plot, while in Zidyana, CA monocrop maize and CA maize–legume intercrop resulted in 33 and 23% higher gross margins, respectively, than conventional tillage. In Zidyana, the earthworm population was highest (48 earthworms m−2 in the first 30 cm) in CA monocrop maize, followed by a CA maize–legume intercropping (40 earthworms) and lowest (nine earthworms) in conventionally tilled treatment. In both study locations CA monocrop maize and CA maize–legume intercrop gave higher water infiltration than the conventional treatment. Improvements in crop productivity, overall economic gain and soil quality have made CA an attractive system for farmers in Malawi and other areas with similar conditions. However, for extensive adoption of CA by smallholder farmers, cultural beliefs that crop production is possible without the ubiquitous ridge and furrow system and residue burning for mice hunting have to be overcome.
Conservation agriculture (CA) practices of reduced soil tillage, permanent organic soil coverage and intercropping/crop rotation, are being advocated globally, based on perceived benefits for crop yields, soil carbon storage, weed suppression, reduced soil erosion and improved soil water retention. However, some have questioned their efficacy due to uncertainty around the performance and trade-offs associated with CA practices, and their compatibility with the diverse livelihood strategies and varied agro-ecological conditions across African smallholder systems. This paper assesses the role of key institutions in Malawi in shaping pathways towards more sustainable land management based on CA by outlining their impact on national policy-making and the design and implementation of agricultural development projects. It draws on interviews at national, district and project levels and a multi-stakeholder workshop that mapped the institutional landscape of decision-making for agricultural land management practices. Findings identify knowledge gaps and institutional barriers that influence land management decision-making and constrain CA uptake. We use our findings to set out an integrated roadmap of research needs and policy options aimed at supporting CA as a route to enhanced sustainable land management in Malawi. Findings offer lessons that can inform design, planning and implementation of CA projects, and identify the multi-level institutional support structures required for mainstreaming sustainable land management in sub-Saharan Africa.
The farm-level economics of conservation agriculture (zero tillage, mulching and crop rotation) are described, reviewed and modelled. The economics are defined broadly to include not just short-term financial benefits and costs, but also the whole-farm management context, constraints on key resources such as labour and capital, risk and uncertainty, interactions between enterprises, and time-related factors, such as interest rates and the urgency of providing for the farm family. A wealth of evidence shows that these economic factors and variables related to them have significant influences on farmers’ decisions about adoption of conservation agriculture. Literature on the farm-level economics of conservation agriculture for resource-poor farmers is reviewed. There is not a large body of high-quality relevant studies. Those that have been published highlight that the economics are highly heterogeneous and need to be considered on a case-by-case basis. Their results tend to indicate that it would be profitable to adopt conservation agriculture or components of it (although not in all cases). This contrasts with disappointing adoption in many of the regions of interest. Potential reasons for this disparity are discussed. A general model of the farm-level economics of conservation agriculture and its components is presented, and used to illustrate influences on the overall economic attractiveness of conservation agriculture. Key factors that would tend to discourage adoption in situations that otherwise look favourable include: the opportunity cost of crop residues for feed rather than mulch, the short-term reduction in yields under zero tillage plus mulching in some cases, combined with short planning horizons and/or high discount rates of farmers, farmer aversion to uncertainty, and constraints on the availability of land, labour and capital at key times of year. Good quality economic analysis should be used more extensively to guide research and extension in this area, particularly in relation to the targeting of effort, and adaptation of the system to suit local conditions.