Not too long ago, 43-year-old Ali Chande was just like any ordinary farmer in Katuli Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Katuli in Mangochi.
Having tried different types of crops, the father of three decided to go into soya farming and joined Chifundo Farmers Club under National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi’s (Nasfam) Katuli Group Action Committee. He does not regret his decision.
“Last season, I harvested 50 bags,” he explains. “From these, I sold 40 to Nasfam and we have been using the remaining 10 at home for porridge.”
Chande says they also process some soya into milk to feed their children. His wife, Cecilia Siliya, who always accompanies him to the fields, says they do the milk processing at home.
“We boil the soya seed then pound it. The powder is sieved and the milk powder is ready for consumption,” she explains.
Chande attributes the increased soya harvests not only to good farming practices which include good land preparation, timely planting, weeding and harvesting, but also legume fertiliser. The fertiliser is not popular in Malawi, but in areas where it is commonly used, it is known as inoculants.
“Previously, I would harvest between 25 and 35 bags of soya from my one-hectare piece of land, but the harvests have doubled since I started applying inoculants to the plants,” he says. “I could only dream of owning a television set and decoder, but now I do and my house is connected to electricity.”
From the farm proceeds, Chande has also built two shops. He rents them out to businesspeople in the community.
In Malawi, inoculants are primarily used in soya fields. Soya, like other legumes, replenishes soil nitrogen. Research shows inoculants can boost soya yields by 30 to 50 percent, and in some cases, the gains are as high as 90 percent.
Agricultural productivity consultant for Feed the Future Malawi’s Agriculture Diversification Activity, Fanny Malongo-Juma, notes that although the legume fertiliser was approved long time ago for legume farmers, but many still do not know it.
“We are working across Malawi in different districts to ensure that farmers know inoculants and use them in their agricultural activities. inoculants boost both yields and income generated from sales,” she says. “Apart from that, soya improves nutrition.”
Malongo-Juma says soya is also promoting women empowerment as it has helped women to organise themselves into cooperatives which are processing soya into milk and yoghurt.
Another farmer singing glory of soya farming supported by inoculants is Agness Matola. The 31-year-old from Kasanga Village, T/A Katuli harvested 40 bags of soya last year.
She has bought a motorcycle and built two iron sheet-roofed houses for herself and her mother. Matola also sells flitters and says this helps to earn money for home use.
Chokochani Folopensi from Kweteza Village, T/A Mazengera in Lilongwe’s Chitekwere Extension Planning Area (EPA) says with inoculants, his harvests have doubled to 96 bags of Soya per year.
Nasfam project officer in Namwera, Mangochi, Fanny Majoni says inoculants have improved soya yields and this has also increased the quantity of soya her organisation buys from farmers.
So far, farmers in six districts Lilongwe, Balaka, Machinga, Mchinji, Ntcheu and Dedza, have tried inoculants in the past two years and Nasfam says yields achieved in these districts confirm the miracle in inoculants.
Agriculture extension development coordinator (AEDC) for Chitekwere EPA in Lilongwe, Winstone Mtambe, says over 480 farmers in the area tried the legume fertiliser last season. He says compared to previous years, farmers from the two areas—T/A Chitekwere and T/A Mazengera—with a combined 36 571 hactares of land—are enjoying bumper yields.
“In this EPA, farmers are into soya and groundnut farming and this chemical has really helped to uplift their livelihoods. In fact, they are already asking for inoculants to use in the 2018-19 agriculture season,” said Mtambe.
From 450 packets used in 1976/77, the use of inoculants for legumes has increased slowly over the years to 125 000 packets in the 2016/17 farming season. The inoculants technology was spearheaded by Chitedze Research Station in Lilongwe.