The evaluation and adoption of annual legumes by smallholder maize farmers for soil fertility maintenance and food diversity in central Malawi

B.C.G. Kamanga, G.Y. Kanyama-Phiri, S.R. Waddington, C.J.M. Almekinders, K.E. Giller

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We studied the process of assessment and adoption of 10 grain- and green-manure legumes by smallholder maize farmers differing in resource endowment in Chisepo, central Malawi. The legumes had been promoted with the farmers from 1998 to 2004, primarily as a way to diversify food production and maintain the fertility of their soils. Farmers (n¿=¿136) were surveyed in 2004 at the end of the period of promotion to assess the degree of awareness and uptake of the legumes and the reasons for adoption. A follow-up survey was conducted in 2007 among a broader sample of Chisepo farmers (n¿=¿84) to measure the persistence of adoption. An Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) was used in 2004 to create scales of priority and as a tool to compare predicted with actual legume uptake. Actual adoption of food grain legumes reflected predictions by the AHP but it over-predicted uptake of the non-food legumes. The AHP helped us understand how farmer perceptions and needs influence adoption, as well as limitations with the legumes. Suitability for food was the most important criterion that farmers identified for adoption, followed by contribution to soil fertility and suppression of weeds. Over 75 % of the farmers surveyed in 2004 were aware of most of the legumes. Frequent use of the grain legumes was reported in 2004 (79 % for CG7 groundnut, 77 % for soyabean and 47 % for pigeonpea) by both the better-resourced (wealthier) and less-well-resourced (poorer) farm households. Awareness rose to over 90 % of farmers surveyed in 2007 but adoption fell somewhat to 67 % for soyabean, 57 % for CG7 groundnut and 43 % with pigeonpea among the wealthier farmers, while Bambara groundnut rose to 38 %. Fifty-two percent of poorer farmers reported adoption of CG7, 46 % soyabean, 35 % Bambara groundnut and 27 % pigeonpea in 2007. There was greater uptake by the wealthier farmers than those with fewer resources. Overall, although the legumes were promoted for maintenance of soil fertility, farmers were largely interested in and mainly adopted those legumes they considered most useful for food diversity and security, and with potential for market sale. Only a few wealthier farmers used mucuna and tephrosia among the green manure legumes. Improving the food value of vigorous and productive multi-purpose legumes, particularly mucuna, may help raise the farmers’ interest, with secondary benefits for soil fertility.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-59
JournalFood Security
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • analytic hierarchy process
  • southern africa
  • technologies
  • mucuna
  • agriculture
  • management
  • systems
  • model
  • crop

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