Contributed by Alexandra Valla (Trellis Fund project manager)

Kusamala continues its work with the nearby community of Khundi through a new project aimed at promoting soil health through educational training workshops. The project titled, “Promoting Soil Science Education in Malawi to Combat Erosion and Improve Agriculture Yields” was awarded by the Horticulture Innovation Lab at the University of California, Davis through their Trellis Fund program with funding from USAID’s Feed the Future initiative. The goal of the project, to raise awareness on healthy soil for sustainable food systems and healthy lives, is critical. Land degradation is occurring all around the world threatening farmers’ household income, food security and health. And farmers in Khundi are not spared experiencing soil depletion that menaces their crop production. Educating them about getting to know their soil better and taking care of it is an important step towards a secure future.

With the help of Isaac Banda, Khundi community liaison, this training program has been introduced to the community and 30 farmers have showed strong interest in the project. Among those 30 farmers, 12 have already received past trainings covering the basics of permaculture and agroecology at the Centre. The community’s continuous enthusiasm and involvement have greatly helped the project team that consists of myself, Sam Mofolo, a 3rd year student at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture & Natural Resources and Deirdre Griffin, a PhD. student from the University of California, Davis studying soils and biogeochemistry.

khunditeam

In Khundi for a field visit. From left: Tanasio, Alex, Isaac & grandson, Deirdre, Timothee

The first phase has so far focused on gathering baseline data about farmers’ practices, knowledge and expectations through regular meetings, field visits and the distribution of questionnaires. The objective was to make sure that the design of a training curriculum fits into the farmers’ system, existing conditions and local resources. The community’s participation was considered key as soil is a farmer’s most important resource, hence gathering their input and giving them the chance to share with us their own perceptions of land degradation they are facing in their field was seen as essential.

The first trainings are scheduled for mid August after a 2-week visit from Deirdre, our soil expert, who will fine tune the training curriculum. In addition to providing farmers with knowledge about soil properties such as texture, structure and the importance of organic matter and microorganisms, the workshops will also focus on raising farmers’ awareness about the main causes of soil quality issues and the interrelationship between land management practices and soil health.

The second phase of the project will consist of assessing farmers’ awareness of soil quality through the knowledge gained during the trainings to help create a prototype of a local soil health card (SHC). That card, through generating farmers selected quality indicators, will help farmers assess the current status of their soil and when utilized over time, to evaluate changes in soil quality. Building on local knowledge through community involvement and participation has been and will continue to be, the core principle of the project.

Stay tuned for updates about Kusamala’s Trellis Fund project…