To ensure food security for the world’s burgeoning population and to cope with limited fossil fuel supplies, it is essential to understand how resource-limited farmers can manage soil quality. Because of its key role in soil fertility and agricultural productivity, it is essential to understand land management and agricultural practices that enhance soil carbon. Collaboration with the U.S. partner's NSF-funded long-term ecological research site for row crop agriculture affords the opportunity to address a knowledge gap, through a unique opportunity to revisit more than 1,000 soil sites in Malawi where soil carbon was quantified at multiple depths two decades ago. This project will be carried out by a team from the University of Malawi, supported by Michigan State University soil ecologists and agronomists.
Examining patterns and controls of soil organic carbon storage is critical to understanding ecosystem processes and its feedbacks to the atmospheric composition, rate of climate change, soil fertility, and agricultural production. Carbon credits have been proposed as one way to support African farmers while achieving soil conservation goals and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but there is a void of knowledge concerning soil carbon status on smallholder fields. Furthermore, spatio-temporal patterns of soil carbon aggradation or degradation across African agricultural landscapes remain one of the largest unknowns in food security policy planning. The goal of the project is to understand soil carbon spatio-temporal patterns and processes in Malawi and explore the impact of agricultural land management as it relates to food productivity in the country. This data to be gathered and analyzed and the capacity building for Malawian participants will directly address the key development priorities, including promoting food security and improving land productivity.
Summary of Recent Activities
During the months of June through September 2013, the research team continued soil excavation and sampling and interviewed farmers in the districts of the southern part of Malawi. Soil excavation was completed in Zomba and Dowa districts, and farmer-centered participatory video of the process was taken as well; soil sampling in Blantyre, Mulanje, and Chiradzulu districts is still ongoing. Undergraduate students working on the project, who are expected to have their theses ready by April 2014, have initiated small-scale soil chemistry analyses. Other samples have been sent to Michigan State University for more in-depth analysis, and the project team is working on obtaining equipment from the United States with the aim of accelerating soil chemistry analysis on-site. A data entry template has been developed to ensure that data are captured in an appropriate format for the soil maps that will be produced as one output for the project. Going forward in late 2013 and early 2014, the team will start entering and cleaning up the survey data and preparing the manuscript of the handbook on soil carbon and soil fertility dynamics for improved land productivity and food security.