Cows and Ploughs

About

The vast majority of farmers in Malawi use their backs and a hoe to cultivate their land. This is backbreaking, slow work. We at BTM have embarked on a program to provide a pair of cattle and a plough (that’s the British spelling and Malawi is a former British colony) for groups of about 18 farmers who share them to till their fields. This means faster cultivation, milk, manure, transport of many more crops to markets much farther away, and planting of more than one crop a year. In addition, we have invested in breeding stock, so there will be a pass on program. We hope that someday, there will be enough milk production in the area to warrant construction of a milk processing plant; in other words, we hope to establish a whole new industry in the area long term.
As part of this program we plan to stop purchasing the ploughs customarily used in the area and replace them with the Magoye Ripper, a kind of cultivator which disturbs the earth in a minimal fashion (narrow straight line). We hope to find a local blacksmith to help produce these. We will begin to encourage all of our partner farmers to adopt a no- or minimal-till approach to their planting as well as the extensive use of mulching which hopefully will help improve crop yields by encouraging nutrient and moisture retention. To this end, we will train local community motivators in these techniques and identify interested farmers. We will then, to help convince the local farmers of he wisdom of these techniques, conduct a kind of field experiment. We will plant 4 different plots at each participating farm right next to each other. Each plot will be 10x 20 meters in area. The first plot will be planted/cultivated in the usual way, but half will be mulched and half not. The second plot will be cultivated with a Magoye Ripper and again only half mulched. The 3rd plot will be planted with dug basins 35cm in diameter by 15cm deep every 1 meter without disturbing the ground otherwise. Again half mulched and half not. The final field will be planted using a “diddle stick” which pokes a single hole in the otherwise undisturbed ground (if the ground is newly under cultivation. The seed will be dropped in the hole and then covered over with compost. Again half the field will be mulched and half not. Fertilizer and compost will be applied as appropriate locally to the seeded/cultivated area. Crop yields will be compared to see what works best. The participating farmers will receive seed and farm tools from BTM for their efforts.

Achievements as of Feb 2020

  • Our initially purchased herd of 24 cows has now increased to 39. These cows and plows are shared amongst the farmers of 5 different villages, benefiting thousands of people.
  • Beneficiary farmers can now plow 5 acres in a day when it once took them 5-6 weeks to cultivate this much land by hand with a hoe.
  • We have now provided 3 Magoye Rippers (conservation agriculture plows that plow a straight line rather than a wide furrow, thus preserving topsoil health) and the farmers using them have noticed a significant improvement in crop production. We plan to buy at least 2 more Magoye Rippers in 2020.