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Inoculants beat dry spells

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By Joseph Dzuwa:

MUNTHALI — Inoculants lead to bumper yield

It is late November in the hilly terrains of Traditional Authority (TA) Katuli in Mangochi.

The clock to first rains for crop planting is ticking fast and farmers must unsure they finish land preparations in the next couple of weeks.

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Soon, the blue skies will turn dark and the scorching temperatures will disappear, as the rains pour to soak the land for the 2018/19 crop season.

While many farmers stroll into the growing season with high expectations, their spirits are often shrouded in anxiety. The rains have become unpredictable and soil fertility compromised such that crop production is affected.

“The last three years, we have suffered dry spells and most crops have not performed well; we hope this year will be different,” says Ali Chande, a soya farmer in the district.

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He is not complaining as much as other farmers though. His fortunes in the field have been exceptional; thanks to his adoption of inoculants.

Inoculants are agricultural improvements that use beneficial bacteria to promote plant nutrition. The microbes form symbiotic relationship with plants and aid the roots of the plant in absorbing water and nutrients.

Adding soil inoculants during dry spells increases the drought tolerance of the plant. They also help increase disease resistance in many plants.

Soya bean farmers in Mangochi and Lilongwe are now able to boost their annual harvests despite dry spells since they were introduced to the inoculants.

The technology, being promoted by USAID-funded Feed the Future Malawi Ag Diversification Activity (AgDiv) Project, enables farmers to fight dry spells.

Going against the traditional belief that legumes do not require fertiliser or inputs to support their growth, Feed the Future encourages soya bean farmers to fight dry spells with inoculants to achieve high yields.

Born in 1975 and a father of three, Chande says since he started using inoculants two years ago, he is able to harvest more than farmers that do not use inoculants.

“I now harvest 50 bags instead of 30 which I used to get in the past before adopting inoculants.

“After selling some bags, I earned K250,000 which I used to buy iron sheets, a television set and satellite dish,” he says.

Chande adds that he has also moulded 15,000 bricks for the construction of a house which he will let out.

His wife, Cecilia, says inoculants have brought hope to farmers in Katuli who now believe that despite unreliable rains, due to climate change, they can still make a living out of soya bean farming.

But what makes her even happier is that she is now able to save enough soya beans for domestic consumption.

“We don’t sell the entire yield. We keep some which we process into soya milk for our own consumption,” she says.

SATISFIED — Folopesi speaks to the media about inoculants

Agriculture Extension Development Coordinator for Chitekwere Extension Planning Area in Lilongwe Winston Kantambe says 489 soya bean farmers received free inoculants from Feed the Future in the 2017/2018 growing season.

“Later, all the farmers harvested more than what they used to get in the previous years,” he says.

Chande’s mantra does not elude Chokani Folopesi, another soya bean farmer in Lilongwe.

Folopesi says he cultivated a hectare and harvested 86 50-kilogramme bags of soya beans, up from 40 bags he used to get before adopting inoculants.

“My life has greatly improved. I am able to pay school fees for my children and I have constructed a new house, roofed with iron sheets,” Folopesi says.

Value Chain Lead at Feed the Future Shelix Munthali says inoculants are uplifting farmers.

“Farmers that use inoculants may get 40 percent increase in yields because they boost the fixation of atmospheric bacteria in the soil.

“The inoculants also lead to bumper yield because they make soya beans grow with a lot of vigour and good cover that helps to retain moisture in the soil,” Munthali explains.

Munthali says the Feed the Future Malawi Ag Diversification Activity targets 50,000 farmers and has, so far, reached 5,000 of them in eight districts of Lilongwe, Mchinji, Dedza, Ntheu, Machinga, Mangochi, Blantyre and Balaka.

In Malawi, records show that inoculants for several legumes are produced and sold at a modest price of K950 per 50-gramme packet. A 100-gramme packet of inoculants is enough to cover 10-15 kilogrammes of seed.

Inoculants technology in Malawi is spearheaded by Chitedze Research Station, USAID Partners for Innovation and other international research organisations.

The Malawi government approved the technology and a local producer, Agriculture Input Supply Limited has been established to sell the inoculants to soya bean farmers in the country. – Mana

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