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Groundnuts: easier entry cash crop for Malawi farmers

As we continue looking at prospective commercial crops farmers can grow next cropping season, I will today publish an abridged article I found on the Farm Radio International website about groundnuts production in Malawi:

“Groundnuts are one of the most important food and cash crops in Malawi. They are mostly grown by small-scale, resource-poor farmers, particularly women. About one in every five farmers in Malawi grows groundnuts. Most small-scale groundnut farmers use little or no fertiliser or pesticides.

Malawian farmers grow groundnuts primarily for household use, with the surplus for sale. Groundnuts are a good source of protein, vitamins and vegetable oils, and are a significant part of household diets in most parts of the country.

Groundnuts can be grown at low cost. They are particularly an easy “entry” cash crop because they don’t require specialised skills, equipment or fertiliser.

Groundnuts are normally considered a subsistence rather than a cash crop in Malawi. So farmers do not usually consult extension workers when they have problems. As a result, farmers may not have information on good groundnut practices.

Groundnuts can be an important source of income, especially for women farmers, who have been mostly excluded in Malawi from growing cash crops such as tobacco.

Although groundnuts are grown in nearly all of Malawi’s 28 districts, 70 percent of the crop is grown in the Central Region. The main groundnut growing areas are the plains of the following districts: Lilongwe, Kasungu, Mchinji, Mzimba, Salima, Balaka, Ntchisi, Dowa and Thyolo.

Typically, groundnut farmers grow about one acre of groundnuts. Women farmers typically devote more land to groundnuts, and grow it more frequently than men as a subsistence crop. Recently, men farmers are devoting more land to groundnuts, specifically growing it as a cash crop. Groundnuts are a rain-fed crop in Malawi; less than one percent of groundnuts are irrigated.

Groundnuts do well when they are grown immediately following a well-managed and fertilised crop such as maize. This is because groundnuts are good at utilising residual nutrients. For best results, groundnuts should not be grown in the same field two years in a row. This reduces damage from soil-borne diseases, soil-dwelling pests and weeds.

Groundnuts can be grown in a wide range of rotations and can follow any cereal or root and tuber crop such as maize, sorghum, pearl millet, cassava, sweet potato or sunflower. To minimise diseases and pests, groundnuts should not be sown after any legume, cotton or tobacco crop.

Although groundnuts are tolerant to droughts, having adequate moisture in the soil at sowing time results in better yields.

Until the late 1980s, groundnuts were one of Malawi’s major export crops, with annual exports of about 50,000 tonnes.

The export market collapsed mainly because of the high level of aflatoxin contamination in Malawian nuts. Another reason for the collapse was policies that removed the monopoly of Admarc as the major outlet for produce from all farmers in Malawi. Without the Admarc, farmers increasingly sold their groundnuts to traders and vendors. Grading systems declined and prices dropped.

Most small-scale groundnut farmers use seeds saved from the previous harvest. Others buy seeds from vendors or receive them from NGOs.

However, to achieve higher yields, it is advisable to use high-quality seed. Groundnut seeds intended for sowing should be hand-shelled and sorted in order to eliminate skinned, immature, moldy, broken and small seeds.

The most popular varieties are CG7 (Red in colour) and Chalimbana (tan in colour). Other varieties currently being promoted by the Ministry of Agriculture include Nsinjiro, Baka, Kakoma and Chalimbana 2005.

It is advisable for farmers to use improved varieties because some not only yield higher but are also more resistant to diseases such as rosette and aflatoxin. Kakoma is more susceptible to diseases than the other varieties. Baka, Chitala and Kakoma are early-maturing varieties. They take 90-120 days to mature. While Chalimbana and CG7 can take up to 150 days to mature, Chalimbana 2005 is an improvement of Chalimbana variety. Though it takes the same period to mature, it is higher-yielding and less susceptible to diseases.

In areas where rain tapers off early, it is advisable to grow early-maturing varieties like Baka, Kakoma and Nsinjiro. CG7 is, however, more drought-tolerant and can thus be grown in a wide range of areas.”

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