The Civil Society Agriculture Network
Malawi is a land-locked country in the south east of Africa. This country is also called the "warm heart of Africa". It is one of the least developed countries in the world and its economy is largely dependent on agriculture. Fortunately, the country has adequate rain fall and arable land. These two factors are favourable factors for the rural people in Malawi whose primary occupation is agriculture. Also many citizens of Malawi are livestock farmers and they feed their goats and cattle with grass seed mixtures, hay and water.
The history of agriculture in Malawi
The people of Malawi have always been farmers. Even before the colonial era, most people in the country practiced subsistence farming producing crops like maize, cassava, beans and rice. Many women in the country also had vegetable farms where they grew crops like pepper, tomatoes, egg plants, cucumber and carrots. During the colonial era, the British encouraged farmers to grow cash cops like tea, tobacco and cotton. The aim was to produce these cash crops in commercial quantities for export. The good thing about agriculture during that era was that the cash crops did not take the place of food crops in Malawi. The country was self-sufficient in food production because most people were farmers and all the stable crops were grown by the local people.
The system of agriculture in Malawi
Malawi has millions of acres of arable land but not all this land can be considered fertile soil. For this reason, the farming system had to be structured in such a way that the farmer would get optimum result for his or her effort. To get the most out of the land, the farmers resorted to shifting cultivation. This is a system in which farm lands are cultivated for 2-3 years then allowed to lie fallow for 10-15 years. During the fallow years, the soil recovers its fertility and the process is repeated. This system worked in the colonial and post-colonial era because there was little pressure on land in the country.
Current farming techniques in Malawi
As stated already, the soil in Malawi is not very fertile. For this reason, farmers were advised to avoid over cultivation. Farmers were also advised to work with agricultural extension officers so that they will learn modern farming techniques and use these techniques to produce better yields. For instance, farmers who cultivate the land and rear animals have been taught the secret of the "double advantage". This simply means using animal droppings to fertilize the soil and getting the animal feed from some of the crops grown in the farm. The government also sells fertilizers to farmers at subsidized rates and supplies improved seedlings to farmers.
Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy of Malawi. About 85 of this country's population is engaged in one form of farming or another. With government support and the assistance of foreign partners, Malawi has been able to feed itself without having to import food. This is a great achievement and it should be encouraged.