GFAR blog, Partnerships for impact

Double grain, double gain


Pigeon pea–groundnut doubled-up legumes intercropping in Malawi.
Photo credit: Jim Richards

Intercropping two legumes – groundnut and pigeon pea – means two grain harvests plus two crop residues to improve soil fertility.

Smallholder farmers in southern Africa face a conundrum. They need to get more crops onto their limited land – but without reducing the land’s fertility. And farm sizes have actually shrunk over the years due to families subdividing. The average farm in central Malawi is now 0.7 ha and smallholder farmers can’t afford fertilizers. Malnutrition in young children is high in rural areas as diets are mainly cereal-based and meat products are scarce. One innovative way of getting the most out of the land is by intercropping two grain legumes with different growth habits, in rotation with maize – the doubled-up legume technology. The crops need to be selected and planted so that they won’t compete with one another. Africa RISING projects in central Malawi and Eastern Province of Zambia worked with smallholder farming communities to find the optimal sequencing of crops and spatial crop arrangements under conventional tillage and conservation agriculture, respectively. In Malawi, the team worked with local extension officers and farmers to co-establish ‘mother trials’, and in turn farmers used components of the mother trials to establish their own simple ‘baby trials’, which they evaluated collectively.

Groundnut–pigeon pea intercropping proved to be the most successful doubled-up system due to the two crops’ contrasting structures and maturity dates. Pigeon pea initially grows very slowly, with more rapid growth and pod formation taking place after groundnut has already matured and been harvested. The doubled-up technology offers farmers the opportunity to get 48% more profit from their land compared with growing sole legume stands of either groundnut or pigeon pea.

In early 2016, the doubled-up legume technology was officially released by Malawi’s Agricultural Technology Clearing Committee for use by farmers countrywide. It offers huge opportunities for increasing land productivity and diversifying crop production for both resource-limited and larger-scale growers, with over 2 million households in Malawi and Zambia potentially set to benefit. Already, Catholic Relief Services is incorporating the results into its future programming; and smallholder farmers can increase their profitability by linking into Malawi’s Indian pigeon pea market.

Partners: CIMMYT; IITA; Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources; Michigan State University; Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI)

PARTNER SPOTLIGHT logoThis blog post is part of our Partner Spotlight on Africa RISING. The aim of the program is to transform agricultural systems through sustainable intensification of mixed crop livestock systems, a key pathway towards better food security, improved livelihoods and a healthy environment. The program comprises three regional research-for-development projects, led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (in West Africa and East and Southern Africa) and the International Livestock Research Institute (in the Ethiopian Highlands). The International Food Policy Research Institute leads the program’s monitoring and evaluation project. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) supports the program as part of the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative.

GFAR Secretariat is turning the spotlight on the work and collective actions of Partners in GFAR who share in our mission to strengthen and transform agri-food research and innovation systems globally. Not a GFAR partner yet? Join now!

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