Malawi's bountiful harvests and healthier children

Feb 17, 2013

Through research led by Michigan State University, crop yields have increased dramatically. The children of Ekwendi, Malawi, also have gained weight and are taller. These improvements bring smiles to Sieglinde Snapp, MSU ecologist, and other researchers who have worked in Malawi for many years.

Snapp, a crop and soil scientist at MSU's Kellogg Biological Station, shared the secrets of the initiative's success at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Feb. 14-18 in Boston.

One of the focal points of her research has been improvements in and soil health, which have increased yields. Snapp has worked with local scientists, hospital staff and extension workers to rotate with bushy legumes, which sparks soil improvement without relying solely on fertilizers.

Crop model simulations, long-term field trials and on-farm experimentation highlight which combinations of legumes, cereals and are best at using resources efficiently. Rotating corn with pigeonpea mixtures (a shrubby legume) keeps the soil from being stripped of nutrients, such as nitrogen, while increasing nutrient-rich grain productivity.

"Participatory action research combined with access to new seeds of bushy food legumes has helped spread a mantle of green across the countryside and help achieve greater food security," Snapp said. "There have been notable gains in dietary diversity and increased child health in hundreds of farm communities of Northern Malawi – a truly sustainable project."

Malawi farmers, many of whom are women, also play a critical role in the program's success. They have embraced the initiative and constantly look to improve their efforts through testing of crop rotations, nutrient-enriched legumes, drought-tolerant crops and staple cereals. Working together, the entire team will help cope with a changing world, Snapp added.

The results speak for themselves:

  • Corn yields increased from 50 to 200 percent, when comparing rotating crops to monoculture.
  • improvement supported reduced fertilizer use and a 20 percent improvement in yield stability, supporting communities' ability to cope with drought.
  • Children's weight and height have climbed and now meet international norms for healthy children. The biggest gains were found in villages where the program has been going on the longest.

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Kev_C
1 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2013
Nutrient enriched legumes? Bioengineered by any chance? Would be nice to have some clarity in this article without lengthy searches elsewhere to find the answers. Too many people will read this and get the wrong impression of what the nutrient enriched legumes means without even thinking about looking further.
Sepp
not rated yet Mar 04, 2013
Nothing to do with bioengineering, according to the scientist involved. The legumes are rich in nutrients (not enriched). The person preparing the press release wasn't up to speed on things.

Quote from email: "...the legume crops in the study produce high protein grains as is typical of the plant type nothing to do with GMOs."

Basically, what happened is that by using crop rotation, agricultural results got much better. You use legumes (which are high in nutrients, and which fix nitrogen in the ground) one year, and then you alternate with normal grains, which instead consume the accumulated nitrogen. Both crops grow well, and having a diversity of grains/legumes is good for having a more complete nutrition...
Sepp
not rated yet Mar 04, 2013
Nothing to do with bioengineering, according to the scientist involved. The legumes are rich in nutrients (not enriched). The person preparing the press release wasn't up to speed on things.

Quote from email: "...the legume crops in the study produce high protein grains as is typical of the plant type nothing to do with GMOs."

Basically, what happened is that by using crop rotation, agricultural results got much better. You use legumes (which are high in nutrients, and which fix nitrogen in the ground) one year, and then you alternate with normal grains, which instead consume the accumulated nitrogen. Both crops grow well, and having a diversity of grains/legumes is good for having a more complete nutrition...

We need more of this kind of aid, helping local agriculture, rather than growing genetically modified corn and soy in the US and sending the grains to poor countries while heavily subsidizing the US farmers who grow the stuff.