The first Trellis Fund project soil science training was held in Khundi last week, from August 17-21, with 16 farmers attending. Victor Zilahowa, head soil technician from Bunda College, lead the 5-day training with support from project manager Alexandra Valla, project coordinator, Sam Mofolo and community liaison, Isaac Banda. The training curriculum was developed by Deirdre Griffith, a PhD student in Soils and Biogeochemisty from The University of California at Davis, partnered on the project who visited Malawi for 2 weeks in July. Deirdre worked with Alex, Victor, Sam and Isaac to ensure geographic and cultural relevance of lessons and activities. The curriculum covers fundamentals of soil science such as the process of Nitrogen fixation by bacteria, as well as physical properties of soil like texture, color, and constitution and how they influence soil function and fertility.
Victor’s extensive expertise in soil science is matched only with his enthusiasm for teaching. In addition to actively engaging participants in hands-on activities including identifying soil layers as well as testing soil samples from their own fields, Victor encouraged discussion during lectures and gave participants an opportunity to not just ask questions, but to think and talk about soil science and how it relates to what is happening in their fields and communities.
The response to learning these soil science fundamentals was palpable. After the lesson on Nitrogren fixation, one farmer commented that the government extension workers who had visited the community in the past simply told farmers what to do, but were not able to explain why. Thus farmers were never provided an understanding of the science behind the prescriptive measures. Others in the group agreed and were happy to finally be receiving more in depth knowledge to help them make truly informed decisions about how best to manage their land.
This week the second training is in full swing with another 16 farmers from the community of Khundi attending. Following these trainings, the farmers will create a soil health card and act as “master farmers” able to teach others in the community about soil science and how to combat issues of erosion, salinity, and fertility.