Front Cover
 Title Page
 The farming system research program...
 The Phalombe project
 Qualified recommendations
 Planning the next generation of...

Group Title: Farming systems research in Phalombe Project, Malawi : another approach to smallholder research and development
Title: Farming systems research in Phalombe Project, Malawi
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00066202/00001
 Material Information
Title: Farming systems research in Phalombe Project, Malawi another approach to smallholder research and development
Physical Description: 34 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Hansen, Art
Mwango, Emmanuel N
Phiri, Benson
Publisher: Center for Tropical Agriculture, International Programs, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville Fla
Publication Date: 1982
Subject: Agricultural extension work -- Malawi   ( lcsh )
Agricultural development projects -- Malawi   ( lcsh )
Agriculture -- Research -- Developing countries   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (leaf 34).
Statement of Responsibility: by Art Hansen, Emmanuel N. Mwango, and Benson S.C. Phiri.
General Note: "In cooperation with Farming Systems Analysis Section, Department of Agricultural Research, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of Malawi."
Funding: Electronic resources created as part of a prototype UF Institutional Repository and Faculty Papers project by the University of Florida.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00066202
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved, Board of Trustees of the University of Florida
Resource Identifier: oclc - 70962355

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover
    Title Page
        Title Page
        Page 1
    The farming system research program in Malawi
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
    The Phalombe project
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Our involovement in Phalombe 1981-82: The first step
            Page 10
            Page 11
            Page 12
        The second step: Planning
            Page 13
            Page 14
            Page 15
        The thrid step: On farm trials and monitoring
            Page 16
            Page 17
            Page 18
            Page 19
        The fourth step: Evaluation, recommendations, or planning again
            Page 20
            Page 21
            Page 22
            Page 23
            Page 24
            Page 25
            Page 26
            Page 27
            Page 28
            Page 29
            Page 30
    Qualified recommendations
        Page 31
        Page 32
    Planning the next generation of trials
        Page 33
        Page 33
        Page 34
Full Text

Center for Tropical Agriculture
International Programs
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida 32611

in cooperation with



By Art Hansen,

Emmanuel N. Mwango,

and Benson S.C. Phiri

Farming Systems Analysis Section
Department of Agricultural Research
Ministry of Agriculture
Government of Malawi




Smallholders constitute the majority of Malawi's people,

and their agricultural production is the foundation of the

national economy. The Government of Malawi has consistently

emphasized the important role that smallholders play in national

development and has established many institutions and programs

to encourage increases in smallholder production, yields, and

standards of living. Malawi has achieved a qualified success in

its efforts and is one of the few African countries to achieve

positive rates of growth in food and export crop production.

Yet the success is qualified because smallholder yields remain

low, and smallholders have not adopted technological innovations

as rapidly as many planners and development experts had


This paper describes a new smallholder-oriented research

program that was established in Malawi in 1981. The farming

systems research program is based in the Department of

Agricultural Research of the Ministry of Agriculture as one

component of the total research effort. The program also links

research with the Department of Agricultural Development and the

Division of Planning and Evaluation within the same Ministry.

We will discuss the principles and methodology of the farming

systems approach, its application fn one area of Malawi, and

some preliminary conclusions.


The term "farming systems research" is used in different

ways. Some people refer to multiple cropping research, while we

and many others mean a more holistic approach that integrates

production and socioeconomic scientists (Technical Advisory

Committee 1978; Gilbert, et.al., 1980; Collinson 1980; Hansen

1981). The farming systems research program in Malawi is

specifically designed to focus on smallholder problems,

priorities, and opportunities and to help the Ministry of

Agriculture identify high priority problems confronting

smallholders in different localities, understand the systemic

constraints and opportunities in existing farming practices, and

make farm-tested recommendations that are appropriate for

smallholder conditions and are acceptable to and desired by

smallholders. The basic elements in the farming systems

approach are:

-pulling together the various research disciplines and

extension in a cooperative series of research and development


-understanding the complexities and interdependencies of

localized smallholder economies and ecosystems;

-involving the smallholders themselves in diagnosing local

problems and constraints, planning alternative technologies, and

then testing and evaluating the alternatives;

-proposing gradual modifications to existing farming systems

rather than radical new directions; and

-testing the advantages and costs of proposed innovations

under actual smallholder conditions and management.

The central concept'in this approach is the farming system.

Hansen, et.al., (1981) define this as "a complicated interwoven

mesh. of resources and factors agronomicc, economic, social,

cultural, physical, etc.) which are managed to a greater or

lesser extent by a farmer." This concept includes off-farm

resources and factors as well as on-farm ones. The farmer (an

individual or family unit) utilizes some of the technology that

is available in an attempt to increase the farmer's or farm

household's utility within a given context of accepted

preferences, aspirations, and socioeconomic conditions. Utility

refers to a broad range of satisfactions. For Malawi's

smallholders, for example, utility obviously includes the

production of food, both staples and side dishes, for home

consumption, as well as the generation of cash income.

The farming system concept reflects the empirical

complexity of the conditions surrounding smallholder agriculture

and the complexity of the decisions that smallholders have to

make. Most of their decisions are compromises in which the

farmers balance what they want to do against their limited time

and other resources. Other compromises occur because the

farmers' goals conflict: trying to achieve higher incomes versus

lower risks, for instance. Consequently, farmers often fail to

practice what they know to be "improved" practic&k (in terms of

improving yield) because they are simultaneously trying to

maintain a number of enterprises (some of which may be off the

farm) to satisfy a range of desires or necessities.

The farming systems approach considers more factors and

relationships than single commodity (maize, groundnut,

livestock, etc.) or single discipline (agronomy, pathology,

etc.) programs. This does not mean that a farming systems

program replaces the more narrowly focused programs. Both are

needed to complement each other. The single commodity and

discipline programs research in depth specific relationships,

while the farming systems program is more concerned with

adapting the body of existing research knowledge to smallholder

conditions and alerting other research programs to high priority

areas where adaptive research is needed.

Although the government of Malawi initiated its farming

systems program in 1979 as part of a major upgrading of

agricultural research, the first demonstration of the farming

systems diagnostic survey (the first step in the four step

method) took place in early 1980 when Dr. Mike Collinson of the

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)

conducted a survey of Ntcheu in Lilongwe Agricultural

Development Division (Lilongwe ADD). Dr. Collinson's

involvement reflects the interest shown by various international

centers and donors in the potential of this approach which is

also being established in the neighboring countries of Zambia,

Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Tanzania.

The Farming Systems Analysis Section in the Department of

Agricultural Research began operations in early 1981 with the

arrival of Dr. Art Hansen. During 1981 ihe section conducted

diagnostic surveys in three areas of Malawi:

the Lilongwe Project of Lilongwe ADD,

the Phalombe Project of Blantyre ADD, and

the Bulambia plain of Karonga ADD,

and assisted in surveying the Balaka area of Liwonde ADD.

Research trials were designed for two of those areas (Lilongwe and

Phalombe) and assistance given to Liwonde ADD in designing its own

trials. During this last growing season (1981/82) we have been

monitoring these trials, and we are now in process of analyzing

the results. This paper discusses our work in Phalombe as an

example of how the farming systems approach works to generate

smallholder-oriented recommendations. After a brief description

of the area and its people, we will trace our involvement, the

steps we follow in our approach, and our tentative conclusions at

this time.


Phalombe Project is located in southeastern Malawi between

Mount Mulanje to the south and Lake Chilwa to the north. The

project's eastern boundary is the international border with

Mozambique. Much of the area is a colluvial plain at an altitude

of 600-700 meters, but the flatness of the plain is broken by a

number of steep sided rocky hills and mountains, and the southern

half.. of the project is dominated by the towering bulk of Mount

Mulanje which rises to 3000 nleters.

More fertile and well drained pediment soils surround the

mountains and hills, while the plain is more variable in drainage

and soil texture (coarse sands to heavy clays). To the north and

northwest the plain slopes down to yake Chilwa and the Phalombe

River which drains into the lake. The heavy clay soils in these

lower areas are seasonably or permanently waterlogged (Land

Husbandry Unit, Blantyre ADD).

Crops are much more important than livestock to the

smallholders in Phalombe. Maize is the most important crop. More

than 75% of cultivated land is devoted to maize, usually grown as

the major crop in a field intercropped with pulses, groundnuts,

millets/sorghum, and/or cassava (Table 1). Maize, cassava,

millets/sorghum, and rice are staple food crops, usually prepared

as nsima, while the pulses (primarily cowpeas and pigeonpeas) and

groundnuts are grown as relishes (ndiwo), i.e., dishes that

accompany nsima. Almost a quarter (23%) of Phalombe rural

households own no livestock at all. Although chickens are the

most common animal and are owned by almost three fourths (71%) of

the households, many (28%) of these households only own one

chicken each. Fewer than one sixth (14%) of Phalombe households

own cattle, one fifth (20%) goats, and one in ten (11%) pigs.

Unreliable rainfall is a major constraint to agricultural

production and stability. Rainfall varies from place to place

within the project with higher levels (1000-1300 mm annually) east

of Mount Mulanje where agriculture is more secure, lower levels in

the central section and along the western flanks of the mountain

(averaging 800-900 mm), and dropping off towards the north and

west to less than 800 mm a year. The low rainfall in the central,.

western, and northern sections is compounded by erratic

distribution during the rainy season, especially the prevalence

of February dry spells when the maize cobs are forming. An

analysis of rainy pentades (five day units) for four rain stations

in the central and wester'. sections shows that rainfall

distribution is adequate for good maize production only one in

every four years (Land Husbandry Unit, Blantyre ADD).

Another important constraint for the majority of smallholders

is a scarcity of land to cultivate. The population density in

Phalombe (121 people per square kilometer) is more than twice the

national average, and Malawi is one of Africa's most densely


populated countries (Table 2), Although the average holding size

(cultivated land per household) in Phalombe is approximately one

hectare (2.5 acres), Table 3 shows that almost a third of the

households are cultivating less than half a hectare, and more than

60% cultivate less than a hectare. Land scarcity and the

drought-prone climate have induced many men and entire households

to emigrate in search of land and employment elsewhere. This

emigration explains the low average annual growth rate of the

Phalombe population (1.6%) and the high ratio of women to men

(Table 2).

The scarcity of adult men is also shown in the high

percentage of rural households that are headed by women (37% in

Phalombe as- compared with 28% for Malawi as a whole). Within

Phalombe the sections with the poorest agricultural potential have

the highest percentages of women-headed households (Evaluation

Unit, Blantyre ADD). Two thirds of these women are unmarried

(single, divorced, or widowed). Married women are considered the

heads of their households when their husbands return home less

than once a morth. Labor is an inherent constraint for households

headed by women because they usually contain only one adult

worker, while most households headed by men also contain another

adult worker, the wife.



1968/69 % of % Inter- 1980/81 % of % Inter-
Acres Total Cropped Hectares Total Cropped

Maize 25800 81% 96% 29800 76% 92%

Pulses 23600(b) 74%(b) 100% 5100(c) 13%(d) 100%(c)

Millet/Sorgh 18000(b) 56%(b) 92% 5400(c)' 14%(d) 63%(c)

Groundnuts 10100(b) 32%(b) 97% 2100(c) 5%(d) 76%(c)

Cassava 6000(b) 19%(b) 77% 3000(c) 8%(d) 30%(c)

Rice 1200(c) 3%(d)

TOTAL 31900 100% 86% 39100 100% 75%(c)

a) The National Sample Survey of Agriculture 1968/69 statistics
refer to a smaller area than the Evaluation Unit Working Papers,
Blantyre ADD 1982, which refer to the present Phalombe Project
dimensions. This is why the 1968/69 acreage statistics are so
much smaller than the later hectarage statistics. The earlier
figures are given as a guide to the extent of multiple cropping
,and the overlap of land in the various crops.

b) These statistics include many acres which these crops share
with maize and sometimes other crops as well, so they sum to more
than 31900 acres and 100%.

c) Intercropping and the extent of other crops than maize in
1980/81 are underestimated because intercropped fields are
recorded in two categories:
-mixed stand, i.e., more than one major crop in a field, and
-scattered plantings in a field with only one major crop.
Scattered plantings are then joined with monocropped fields to
form a "pure stand" category that is opposed to "mixed stand".
d)Only the maize statistics have been disaggregated in this table so
that monocropped maize (8% of all land in maize), mixed stands of
maize and other crops (43%), and maize fields with scattered
plantings of other crops (49%) mey be distinguished.


1977 Population Increase









Mean Annual 1977 Women
Growth Rate Population per 100
Density(b) Men

1.6% 121 113

2.9% 59 107

a) Malawi Population Census 1977: Final Report.

b) This refers to people per square kilometer (121 per sq. km.
equals 315 per sq. mile).


HOLDING SIZE IN PHALOMBE 1968/69 AND 1980/81 (a)

1968/69(b) 1980/81

31% less than 0.5 hectares

41% less than 0.8 hectares 62% less than 1.0 hectares

81% less than 1.6 hectares 83% less than 1.5 hectares

a) National Sample Survey of Agriculture 1968/69 and Evaluation
Unit Working Papers, Blantyre ADD 1982. The earlier survey
covered only part of the present project.

b) These were originally expressed as acreage: less than 2 and 4
acres, respectively.


Step 1. Review and diagnostic survey May 1981.
Step 2. Plan alternative technologies May--November 1981.
Step 3. Test alternatives Novemberl981-July 1982.
Step 4. Evaluate, recommend, replan Now in process.

The first step in the four step methodology involved

reviewing secondary data as well as interviewing local

smallholders and observing their fields. Evaluation economists

at Blantyre ADD collected and prepared background data to brief

the survey team. Project management and extension staff

provided information about local cropping patterns they had


The rapid reconnaissance survey (Collinson 1979) or what

Hildebrand (1979) calls the sondeo works best when applied to a

fairly homogeneous area. Project management noted the high

priority of the central section (EPAs 3, 6, and 7), an area of

medium rainfall levels where half of Phalombe's population

lived, so that was chosen as the focus for the survey.

Ten people, divided into three teams, participated in the

survey three days of interviewing and observing followed by a

day of discussion. The group included research agronomists,

evaluation economists, crops, land husbandry, and credit staff,

an extension supervisor, and the farming systems analyst. Team

members were .structed to address smallholders as local

experts, people who had survived because they knew their

ecosystem. Using a CIMMYT questionnaire (Collinson 1979) as a

guide, the survey' covered a wide range of topics: cropping

combinations and calendars, food preferences, periods of food

and labor shortages, local strategies for coping with problems,

role of livestock in the system, importance of off-farm

employment and non-agricultural enterprises, common pests and

plagues, what smallholders believed to be their major problems,

and what they thought the project could do to help them.

The purpose of the rapid diagnostic survey is to form a

rapid synthesis of the most important relationships among

resources, constraints, and enterprises and the highest priority

targets for action by research and development staff. Sometimes

a survey team will discover previously unknown facts about the

local agricultural and economic relationships. Often,

especially in areas such as projects in Malawi where a lot of

background data are already available, the survey does not

unearth any new data but the survey team becomes more aware and

able to appreciate the significance of facts that were already


This was what happened in Phalombe. Our conclusions about

the basic parameters of smallholder agriculture agreed with the

available background information that was presented earlier in

this paper, but our recommendations were innovative because we

based them on the actual problems and constraints of the

majority of Phalombe smallholders. We pointed out that the

major hazard confronting local farmers was low and variable

rainfall, compounded by a shortage of land to cultivate.

Farmers' htghest priority was ensuring their staple food supply,

and they also needed to acquire relish foods and some cash

income. Capital was scarce, and credit was feared because they

had no security to cushion a bad cropping season and, therefore,

feared the consequences of defaulting. Some households sold

maize immediately after harvest because they needed money

(taxes, etc.), even though they knew they would run out of food

later. Many farmers and their families worked for others during

the growing season instead of on their own holdings because they

needed food to eat. Some more fortunate smallholders had more

land, more capital, and more security, but we emphasized the

conditions faced by the majority.

Smallholders were. trying to cope with their problems and

constraints by devoting almost all of their land to staple crops

interplanted with relish and some market-oriented crops.

Insurance staple crops such as sorghum and cassava were grown,

often interplanted with maize, to sustain the family if the

maize crop failed. Many men and women worked off their farms as

laborers or in various kinds of enterprises (fishing and the

fish trade, for instance) to supplement their insecure

agricultural incomes.

The production packages that were the basis for extension

and credit in Phalombe were for acre (or 0.4 hectare) units,

were primarily for cash crops, and were integrated packages of

seed and several bags of fertilizer that.required a lot of

capital or credit. All of the research and extension

recommendations included monocropping as one aspect. Our

recommendations for action by research and the project stressed

the need to work with units smaller than an acre and the

difficulty for smallholders of taking production packages that

required them to assume a lot of credit risk or put in more

labor, particularly during the December-January period that was

already a labor bottleneck. Since capital and labor were scarce

and there was a feeling of insecurity with credit, the best set

of innovations would permit a step by step progression with each

step not requiring a great jump in resource commitment or risk.

We recommended that research examine improving both the

yield and the stability of staple food production within a

context of multiple cropping. The primary staple to test would

be maize, followed by sorghum and cassava. Legumes (principally

cowpeas and pigeon peas) would be an essential intercrop to

provide for the relish as well as the staple; additional

intercrops could be market-oriented crops such as sunflowers,

grams, chickpeas, etc. Trials would be run on local farms under

smallholder management to see how they fared under real

smallholder conditions.

We recommended that the project promote credit

mini-packages of less than acre size; the packages would not be

optimal in terms of highest yields per acre but would represent

improvements over present practices that were affordable to the

majority. For the more fortunate smallholders the present

packages were suitable, but the mini-packages would permit many

more smallholders to participate in the project's credit

program. Another recommendation was that the project examine

its extension coverage, to see whether women smallholders were

receiving enough extension advice. Women provide most of the

labor on smallholder crops anywhere in Malawi (Clark 1975), but

they are even more important in Phalombe. Chickens were an

important source of protein and cash income to many smallholders

and were unprotected against Newcastle disease, so we

recommended that the project provide vaccine.


The second step in the farming systems process was to plan

alternative technologies based on our survey recommendations and

on joint planning with maize and legume agronomists at Chitedze

Research Station and Bunda College and the Blantyre ADD

management and technical staff. Because we wanted to run the

trials under smallholder management to analyze their systemic

adaptation, we did not use standard agronomic research designs

such as randomized blocks with multiple replications.

Smallholders needed to be able to handle the trials and

understand the alternatives, so we used a simpler design in

which each smallholder had a single replication of each

treatment, and we could use the smallholders as blocks for


The planning step also included smallholders. After

agreement had been reached among research and ADD staff, the

farming systems staff called meetings in November in the two

Phalombe villages where trials were to be conducted, and we

consulted the villagers about their ideas. They contributed

specific information about planting densities and dates for

intercrops and made several criticisms. As a result, our plans

were modified.

The final plans were for a simple 2x2 factorial test of two

maize varieties under two levels of fertilizer, all treatments

to be the same intercropping mix of maize, cowpeas and

sunflowers. The maizes were to be the "local" type and CCA, an

improved composite. Although hybrid maizes are the highest

yielding, their "dentness" (soft starch) leads smallholders to

reject them as a food crop because of their pounding (food

processing) and storage characteristics. Hybrids are usually

only grown by smallholders as a cash crop for immediate sale

after harvest. The improved composites, however, are "flint"

(hard starch) enough to be utilized for home processing and

consumption as are the "local" types.

Fertilizer levels were to be: 1) without any fertilizer and

2) at the level recommended for composites one bag of 20:20:0

and two of S/A per acre (or 2.5 and 5 per hectare). Each of the

two fertilizers is 20-21% nitrogen (N), so the recommended level

is 30 kilos of nitrogen per acre. Maize and cowpeas were to be

planted at the same time, three maize seeds per station three

feet (0.9m) apart on ridges three feet apart, while cowpeas were

very dispersed, following villager recommendations. Sunflower

was to be delayed in planting until after the maize was well

established* this reflected smallholder desires to promote the

maize crop and treat other crops as bonuses that were not to

endanger the staple. Each of the four treatments was to be

eight ridges wide and ten maize stations long. This was much

larger than usual research plots, but we wanted the smallholders

to be able to appreciate any differences in yield, labor costs,


The trials were designed to test how "local" mai;e and an

improved variety fared under identical conditions. We were

trying to find out whether fertilizer by itself or improved seed

by itself would improve maize yields and stability, which was

the highest priority issue noted by the survey. The

intercropping pattern was fairly common in Phalombe. Most

smallholders mixed maize and cowpea seeds before planting and

then planted them in the same stations. Sunflower was the most

commonly grown cash crop and was frequently intercropped with

maize. The cowpeas would provide relish; the sunflowers a

source of cash; and the plot would therefore provide a complete

mix of nsima (staple food), ndiwo (relish food), and ndaiama


In addition to these research trials which were planned as

a consequence of the survey, the ADD decided to seriously

consider revising its credit and extension policies to include

mini-packages and to better address women smallholders. These

decisions were based on recommendations by ADD evaluation and

project extension staff (Evaluation Unit Working Papers,

Blantyre ADD 1981; Evans 1981).


The third step was establishing trials. The first phase of

this involved the selection of farmers and fields, education of

the smallholders in our research design, distribution of seeds

and fertilizers, and establishing monitoring procedures. Then

the farmers planted, fertilized, and cultivated the plots on

their own fields, while we monitored the progress of the trials

and continued interviewing the trial farmers and their neighbors

to learn their reactions to the alternative-.. Whereas most

agricultural research focuses on the production, we were

interested also in the perceptions.and responses of the farmers.

Our goal was to provide farm-tested recommendations that

smallholders could and would use, so we needed tz know

socioeconomic as well as agronomic information.

After explaining our purpose and plans to the villagers in

public meetings in both villages (project/extension staff always

accompanied us in village meetings), we asked each village

headman to select eight volunteers to host the trials on their

own fields. We requested that the smallholders be those with

less land because they were the ones who needed to intercrop,

and we also asked that approximately half be women. As it

turned out, the smallholders who were the hosts for the trials

were split about half and half between smaller and larger, women

and men, and the women between married and unmarried. The total

trial thus consisted of 16 farmers in two separate villages.

Each farmer was asked to donate a section of a field, 16

ridges wide by 20 maize stations long. Research and

project/extension staff visited each field with the farmer,

marked the plots, and took soil samples. In several cases we

had to change fields from the ones originally selected by the

smallholders because the fields were inappropriate for

controlled research.

In two different public meetings we then explained

carefully to the smallholders and their neighbors the design of

the trial: two plots with each type of maize with a crosscutting

application of fertilizers to one plot of each maize. We drew

diagrams in the dirt and answered many questions until people

were satisfied that they understood what was going to happen and

why. As an additional guide the signs given to each farmer to

mark each plot were in abbreviated Chichewa (MAK standing for

chimanqa cha makolo or "local" maize; CCA for CCA; and -F for

the plots with "feteliza" or fertilizer) instead .f the usual

scientific shorthand.

When we distributed the seed and fertilizer, along with a

regulation cup for applying the fertilizer, we again explained

the research design. In addition to giving the farmers the

inputs, we also discussed the prices each cost at the government

outlet (ADMARC), the units in which they were sold, and the

correct timing for applying fertilizers to maize. When someone

commented on the unusual color of the CCA seeds, we explained

the reason why they had been coated with a chemical. This

turned out to be important because later on, when planting was

delayed in one village, one elderly woman ate the "local" maize

because she was hungry. She then told us she would have eaten

the CCA also if she had not learned from us about the poisonous


The farmers provided the actual labor and management for

the trial. Each week each of them was visited by a local

research or extension agent, and each month we visited from

Lilongwe. The weekly visits noted the dates of significant

operations (plantings, weedings, fertilizer applications) and

natural occurrences (rain, army worms, etc.) and the condition

of the treatments. The agents also offered advice concerning

the trial plots.

Farming is a risky business. The farmers and we suffered

through an. early drought that caused all of the farmers in one

of the villages to have to replant their maize in late December

(a month later than the usual planting time), a damaging blow in

an area where the rains often stop too early. When the rains

came, so did erosion in one .village where people were

cultivating hillside slopes. Then army worn.~ attacked in m,'ny

areas of Phalombe (and other areas in Malawi), and there were

always stalkborers and termites to combat. We had originally

intended not to use any pesticides and to expose our plots to

the same uncontrolled environment of pests that regular fields

confronted, but we changed our minds when the plots were really

attacked and distributed insecticides for the farmers to apply.

This is one reason why our final yields are much higher than the

local averages.

Our Monthly visits combined inspecting the trial plots and

interviewing the trial farmers about their reactions with

continuing investigations into Phalombe smallholder farming.

During each visit the farming systems staff met with the project

management to talk about the progress of the trials; this

continual interaction between research and extension is

necessary to ensure that extension staff understand the trials

and can successfully extend their lessons to local smallholders.

In February we conducted a special multiple cropping survey for

three days to supplement the data collected in the original

farming systems survey and by evaluation. Although the 1981/82

trial had a standard intercropping pattern in all four

treatments, intercropping is a variable that needs to be

investigated under Phalombe conditions, and the next research

trial will probably consider various intercropping mixtures.

In May we harvested the maize (the sunflower only being

harvested in Jutne and July). In each village the trial farmers

helped us harvest each others' plots so all would have the

opportunity to see how the treatments responded in various

ecological niches. Since smallholders are more accustomed to

evaluating or measuring volumes than weights, we measured the

yield from each treatment both ways, using a scale oar weight

and a standard calibrated tin for volume. After harvesting all

of the plots we called another meeting in each village to

discuss our perceptions of the different treatments.

At both meetings we began by reminding everyone of the

original purpose of our presence and the trials, and then we

began to compare our evaluations. Here was the beginning of the

fourth step in our four step process evaluating the trial and

deciding whether we could make any recommendations and/or

whether we needed to plan again another set of trials.


The yields that were harvested from the plots of the eight

farmers in one village and the six in the other (two farmers

were omitted due to problems with erosion and poor germination)

are presented in Table 4. The statistics represent metric tons

per hectare (M.T./ha.) of usable grain. Usable grain was

defined by the smallholders themselves as they worked with us to

shell and weigh the harvest. They eliminated all rotten grain

and that which was very badly eaten away by weevils. As has

been noted by the Crop Storage Research Section (Annual Report

1979/80), smallholder criteria for defining usable and unusable

grain differ from the criteria used by laboratory technicians,

who discard all grain that has been attacked at all by insects.

We asked the trial farmers to share with us their ideas

about which variety grew best and about the value of fertilizer.

After they gave us their impressions, we reciprocated by telling

them our preliminary assessmer., based on c comparison of the

means for the treatments and the differences among smallholders.

For clarity, we will start here with a review of the actual

yields we recorded and our interpretation of those yields before

discussing what the smallholders said in the meetings.



Usable Grain in Metric Tons per Hectare (M.T./ha.)


Local Maize (LM)

Fort. Local (LM-F)

CCA Maize (CCA)

Fert. CCA (CCA-F)

Mean for Farmer








Local Maize (LM)

Fert. Local (LM-F)

CCA Maize

Fert. CCA (CCA-F)

Mean for Farmer









2 3 4 5

2.2 1.9 1.2 1.3

3.7 4.3 3.2 2.3

2.0 2.9 0.4 0.6

4.7 4.3 3.5 2.4

3.2 3.3 2.1 1.7



2 3 4 5

1.1 1.6 1.0 1.6

2.5 2.9 1.2 1.9

0.7 0.9 0.3 1.1

2.5 2.1 1.1 0.8

1.7 1.9 0.9 1.4





































Tabls 4 shows obvious differences: 1) between the means for

villages, 2) among the means for farmers in each village, and 3)

between the means for the two fertilizer levels in the first

village. The difference between the two villages is easily

explainable by reference to rainfall and the time the maize was

planted. Both villages planted in late November, but the second

village did not receive enough rain to sustain the maize and had

to replant in late December after they received their first real

planting rains. The first village received enough rain in late

November and early December, so their maize had a month

headstart. The second village also suffered severe attacks by

army worms in January, but this was less of a factor than the

rain and time of planting. Yields in the first village,

therefore, show how the treatments responded to better

conditions. Smallholders anticipate planting in late November,

s. perhaps the first village conditions might be considered more

normal. Yields in the second village reflect the adverse

conditions that continually threaten Phalombe agriculture.

We were testing two varieties under two levels of

fertilizer. What is very clear in Table 4 is that both maizes

responded, strongly to fertilizer. Both "local" and CCA more

than doubled their yields in the.first village under better

conditions, although the effeer of fertilizer was not as marked

in the second village with its generally lower performance.

What is also apparent is that there was little difference

between the two maizes at either level of fertilizer in the

first village under better conditions, and "local" performed

somewhat better in the second village under poorer conditions.


These conclusions were supported when we later ran analyses

of variance on the yield data. The analyses apportioned the

total variance among the treatments, the blocks (farmers), and

the individual values (random/error): the higher ,the mean square

the greater the variance attributed to that factor. In the

analysis of the combined villages we used the villages as blocks

and the farmers as replications within each block. The F ratio

expresses the difference between the mean squares of that factor

and of error: the higher the ratio the more unlike are the two

populations. The significance statistic expresses the

probability that such a difference was not caused by chance.

Table 5 shows that the fertilizer effect was highly

significant (>99%) in the first and in the combined villages,

and it was significant in the second village. The variable of

maize type was never significant. The differences among farmers

were significant in each village, and the difference between the

two villages (e>pl-inr? :.a\o by reference to rainfall and time

of planting) was highly significant. Differences among farmers

will be addressed after first discussing the maize type versus

.ertilizer issue.

The importance of fertilizer to maize yields is obviously

supported by our data, but the insignificant relationship

between maize type and yield needs to be examined more closely.

This set of relationship. may also be studied in the yield data

collected by the Evaluation Unit of Blantyre ADD during the

1980/81 National Sample Survey of Agriculture. They sampled

many smallholder maize plots in Phalombe during that cropping


Farmers (8)

Fertilizer (2)

Maize Type (2)

Fert x Maize


Farmers (6)>

Fertilizer (2)

Maize Type (2)

Fert x Maize


Villages (2)

Fertilizer (2)

Maize Type (2)

Vill x Fert

Vill x Maize

Fert x Maize






7 3.947 2.41

1 25.740 15.74

1 0.428 0.26






2.049 3.53

3.450 5.94

1.000 1.72

0.010 Insigni



11.550 10.83

25.515 23.93

0.026 Insigni

3.676 3.45

1.403 1.32
















a) In the analyses for the individual villages,the smallholders
are used as blocks, and there is only one replication of each
treatment per block. In the analysis of the combined villages,
the villages are used as blocks, and there are eight
replications (farmers) in the first village/block and six in the

I .


season, although there were very few fields (only 12 in their

sample) with anything other than "local" maize. All of those 12

were UCA, another composite similar to CCA. Their data show a

significant difference in mean yield between "local" and UCA,

but that difference appears to be largely a matter of

differential fertilizer application rates (Table 6).


(kilos/ha.) (M.T./ha.)

None 0.8

1-49 1.6

50-99 1.3

100 -149 1.3

150-199 1.4

200-249 1.9

250-299 2. 0

300-349 1. 9

350+ 1.2




431 1.8 for 12 plots

5 throughout the

21 Phalombe Project







1.5 when plots

in EPA 8 (area

with highest

rainfall) are


a) Data provided by Evaluation Unit, Blantyre ADD.

When comfp prisons are made between the two maize types at

similar levels of fertilizer, the differences in yield are

greatly diminished. Recommended levels of fertilizer for

composites (UCA and CCA) are three bags (150 kilos) per acre or

7.5 bags (375 kilos) per hectare. "Local" maize yields equal

the mean for UCA once 200 kilos are applied (four bags per

1 (a)

hectare or 1.6 per acre).

Another important aspect that we were studying was yield

stability. Farmers want higher yields of the staple, but they

also want a more secure or stable product ion. Stability of the

two maize types may be measured to some extent from our data

(Table 4) by looking at the range of yields, i.e., more

stability may be defined as reduced' variability. The

coeffici.ents of variation (c.v.) in Table 7 measure the extent

to which the individual yield values deviate from the mean.

This statistic is corrected for the magnitude of the different

means (c.v.= standard deviation divided by mean), so all of the

c.v. values in Table 7 are directly comparable: the higher the

c.v. the more variable and unstable. As may be seen, "local"

maize is more stable than CCA in each village and under both

fertilizer conditions. The inverse of stability may be

response veness; CCA is more responsive to its environment,

whether adverse or favorable. Both mai.zes are more stable when

fertilized (except for "local" in the second vi ll age), a feature

most noticeable in the first village under better growing

condi ti ons.




Treatment c.v. Treatment c.v. Treatment c.v.

local MaLoc al M 45 local Maize 35 Local Maize 39
Fert. Local 22 Fert. Local 45 Fert. Local 35
CCA Maize 98 CCA Maize 78 CCA Maize 88
Fert. CCA 34 Fert. CCA 63 Fert. CCA 52

a p

'-he smallI hol ders are concerned about both yield and

stability, and both improved with fertilizer. Unfortunately,

fertilizer is a costly input,, and the lack of capital and fear

of credit inhibit people from acquiring fertilizer. For this

reason we carefully examined the costs and benefits of applying

fertilizer in our trial.

Fertilizer costs per hectare total K61.25 (61.25 Malawian

Kwacha) at the recommended rate of one bag (50 kg) of 20:20:0

and two bags (100 kg) of S/A per 0.4 hectare (one acre), using

the 1981./82 ADMARC selling prices of K8.50 per bag of 20:20:0

and K8.OO per bag of S/A. Seed costs per hectare for CCA are

K6.25 at the recommended rate of one 10 kg bag per 0.4 hectares

and the 1981/82 selling price of K2.50 per bag. ADMARC is

buying maize in 1982 at KO.11 (11 tambala) per kg or K11 per 0.1

metric tons (M. T.). Thus, a yield increase of 0.6 M.T. is.more

than enough to offset the cost of fertilizer (0.1 M.T. will pay

for CCA seed costs for a hectare).

Table 8 shows that fertilizer is profitable to apply to

both types of maize in both villages, although there is very

little average profit in the second village. Examining

individual cases, each of the eight farmers in the first village

and 50% of those in the second would have made a profit by

fertilizing and selling the extra yield. Unfortunately, 50% in

;he second village would have lost money.

This brings us back again to the variability among

smallholders, which was significant in both villages. Graph 1

illustrates this by plotting the mean yields (combining both

varieties) of all fourteen farmers.



Each Metric Ton is Worth 110 Malawi Kwacha at 1982 Prices



Local 1.8 + 1.2 0.8 +0.2
CCA 2.1 +1.5 0.7 +0.1



The Graphed Values Represent the Means for Combined Maize Types

First Village 1-8 Second Village A-F


4.5 1,3

4.0 2

3.5 4

Yield 3.0 1 7,8,9 A

in 2.5 3 5 B,C

1M.T./ha. 2.0 2 A 6

1.5 C,E E

1.0 4,5,7 B D

0.5 6,8 D,F F

Three smallholders in the first village (numbers 1-3)

achieved yields of 3.5 M.T./ha. or better on all of their

fert i I i ed plots (and >4.5 on two. p lts) and generally

demonstrated the advantage of CCA over "local" in high-yielding

situations. The other five farmers in the same village (4-8) har-

vested 0.6 M.T./ha. or less on their plots of unfertilized CCA,

severely depressing the mean for that treatment, and their plots

showed no differences between maizes or, with the lowest yields,

advantage of "local" stability.

Why the gap between 1-3 and 4-8 ? We are unable to answer that

question satisfactorily because our research design focused on the

treatments rather than the farmers (blocks). Probably part of the

answer lies in differential residual fertility of the trial fields.
Fertilized tobacco had been planted the previous year in the fields

of two farmers (1,2), but this relationship has not yet been tested.

Another part of the answer is associated with the relationship

among tobacco growers, larger holdings, and higher yields. Four
farmers (1-3,8) in the first village are tobacco growers (none of

them women), and tobacco is only grown in this area by those with

enough land to alienate some from food crop production. Of the other

four farmers in the village, one was sick a lot; another experienced

serious domestic problems (influencing labor availability); and a

third did not weed on schedule.

The range of variability in the second village was not as great,

perhaps because the delayed planting depressed the multiplier effects

of residual fertility and differential management. Farmer A may have

achieved his higher yields because of his slightly different ecological

niche (more rainfall), but the more interesting question raised in this

village by Graph I is why two farmers (E.F.) showed no response to

fertilizer, and another only a minimal response.

Smallholders A-C showed impressive yield increases with the

application of fertilizer (as did 1-8 in the first village), but

D-F did not, an anomaly for which we do not as yet have an


The preceding is our evaluation of the maize yield results.

Another important contribution was made by the smallholders

themselves in our summary meetings after the harvest. In some

ways their comments supported our own thoughts, but in other

ways they di offered.

Smailholders in the first village agreed that fertilizer

was an important input, but they all complained about the cost

and the difficulty of getting credit for fertilizer. One of the

farmers with less land complained that she wanted to grow a cash

crop or a crop on credit, but all of the packages were for an

acre. An acre was all the land she had, and putting it into the

credit crop meant taking it away from staple food production,

which she could not afford to do. When we mentioned the

possibility of sharing a credit package with a friend (one way

to lower the cost), the universal reply was that "You cannot

trust a friend." They all wanted to be individually responsible

tor what they received on credit and not be jointly responsible

with someone else.

The farmers in the first village surprised us, however,

with their comments about CCA maize and ADMARC. When we asked

them to compare the two maizes, we expected them to say they saw

little difference. The most successful farmers (1-3) replied

firet, and they said that CCA was better than "local" at both

levels of fertilizer. In fact, as was mentioned earlier,. CCA

" :



did better for those farmers with the highest yields. The less

~success : ful far-mers (4 '-8) who had act uall y ex per-i enrced no

di: tf erence between mai ze types or had better success with

"local", v, erbal y supported the 'first to speak arnd noted how

much better CCA was. Their only dissent was to mention the

increased susceptibility to weevil damage of the composites (UCA

more than CCA).

The mention of weevil attacks started a series of comments.

Villager-s criticized the composites for their vulnerability to

weevil attacks and complained about the delay in opening ADMARC

markets where the smallholders could sell their maize. Maize is

harvested in April, but the ADMARC markets did not open for

several more months. By the time the markets had opened, stored

composites were already badly weeviled, and this inhibited

people growing composites for sale. The delayed opening of

government buying points obviously does act to the disadvantage

of local farmers. We noticed many farmers selling maize to

private traders at. prices well below the ADMARC price. When

questioned about the sales, the farmers point ted out that they

needed money then and could not wait for several months. Other

comments about ADMARC reflected what appears to the senior

author of this paper to represent a universal suspicion by

farmers of whoever markets their r produce. Farmer o voiced

suspicions about being cheated and shortchanged because they

could not see the scale where their produce was being weighed.

Placi ng the scale in a place where it could be seen seems a

small step, but it would reduce farmer discontent.


Based on the results of this -first year's research, we may

rma-: e some qum.al :fi ed recommendati ons. They must be qualified

because they only represent one cropping season and part of

Phalambe (two v:i. l -.-. --. in two of: the six EPAs) The villages

di ffaered in rainfall but they are located in the central

section of Phalombe, not in the wettest nor the driest areas,

and each cropping season confronts smallholders with new risks.

1. We recommend that the project make credit available for

jferti lizer to be used on "local" maize.

2. We recommend that the project permit smallholders to

get credit in units smaller than 0.4 hectares (one acre).

3. We recommend that research and extension (the project)

examine the utility of multiple cropping for smallholders with

limited land resources before making blanket recommendations for

monoccroppi ng.

4.' We recommend that ADMARC consider opening its buying

markets in Phalombe earlier (perhaps late April) and moving its

scales so that farmers can see what their produce weighs.

5. We recommend that on-farm farm4er-managed comparisons of

composites and "local" maizes be conducted elsewhere to check

their performance under other management conditions. The

farmers who manage the trials should represent a spectrum of

resources and experience.

6. We recommend that research investigate the effects of

pest damage on maize yields and the effectiveness of variable

cost control measures by conduct ng on-farm farmer-managed


Other recommendations were made earlier as a result of the

initial diagnostic survey.


The 1981/82 trial examined the relationship of maize type,

fert.ili zer, and yield. Multiple cropping was held constant, and

farmer management was not critical ly .examined. Next year's

tri als need to examine:

1.. maize responses to varying levels of fertilizer (many

farmers only apply one bag per acre/field) since farmers need

ir.tormation about the costs and benefits of minimal increments;

2. maize yields uhder conditions of monocropping and

int ercr opp ing;

3. various multiple cropping mixtures in terms of the

maize yield and provision, of cash income (maize yield being

higher priority); and

4. farmer management practices and their effects on yield.

The first three may be easily handled using the same format

as we used in 1981/82, i.e., on-farm farmer-managed .trials with

a few treatments. The fourth factor will be more difficult to

test, and we have not yet determined the best format.


The farming systems approach to smallholder research

differs from other research programs il. r:any ways. This paper

describes our involvement in one locality, and those who are

familiar with agricultural research will be able to note the

differences in technique. We stress a prior understanding of

local smallholder systems, an integrated team of production and

soc i economic sci enti sts and development staff, conti nual

invol vement of smallholders in all stages of research, on-farm


The 1981/82 trial examined the relationship of maize type,

fert.ili zer, and yield. Multiple cropping was held constant, and

farmer management was not critical ly .examined. Next year's

tri als need to examine:

1.. maize responses to varying levels of fertilizer (many

farmers only apply one bag per acre/field) since farmers need

ir.tormation about the costs and benefits of minimal increments;

2. maize yields uhder conditions of monocropping and

int ercr opp ing;

3. various multiple cropping mixtures in terms of the

maize yield and provision, of cash income (maize yield being

higher priority); and

4. farmer management practices and their effects on yield.

The first three may be easily handled using the same format

as we used in 1981/82, i.e., on-farm farmer-managed .trials with

a few treatments. The fourth factor will be more difficult to

test, and we have not yet determined the best format.


The farming systems approach to smallholder research

differs from other research programs il. r:any ways. This paper

describes our involvement in one locality, and those who are

familiar with agricultural research will be able to note the

differences in technique. We stress a prior understanding of

local smallholder systems, an integrated team of production and

soc i economic sci enti sts and development staff, conti nual

invol vement of smallholders in all stages of research, on-farm

tr a l.s that are managed by small holders, and selecting

small holders who represent the majority to test our proposed

al t erati ves.


Clark, Barbara 1975 The Work Done by Rural Women in Malawi.
In Eastern African Journal of Rural Development 8:2:80-91.

Col 1 inson, Michael 1979 Understanding Small Farmers.
Col inson, Michael 1980 A Farming Systems Contribution to
Imp roved Rel evancy in Agri cul tural Research: Concepts and
Procedures and Their Promotion by CIMMYT in Eastern Africa.

Crop Storage Research Section, Department of Agricultural
Research 1980 Annual Report 1979/80.

Evaluation Unit, Blantyre Agricultural Development Division
1981 Workirng Papers.

Evans, Janis 1981 Report on Extension-Oriented Research
witn Women in Phalombe.

Gilbert, E.H., et.al. 1980 Farming Systems Research; A
Critical Survey.

Hansen, Art 1981 Farming Systems Research: Theory and
Practice in Malawi.
Hansen, Art, et.al. 1981 Farming Systems of Alachua County,
Florida: An Overview with Special Attention to Low Resource

Hi debrand, Peter E. 1979 Summary of the Sondeo Methodology
Used by ICTA.

Malawi Population Census 1977: Final Report.

National Sample Survey of Agriculture 1968/69.

Technical Advisory Committee, The Consultative Group on
International Agricultural Research 1978 Farming Systems
Research at the International Agricultural Resear Centers.

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