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
In the first quarter of 2013, the project team began some baseline data analysis, in particular spatial analysis of soil and other topographical information. The group, including the principal investigator, field assistant, laboratory assistant, a GIS expert from the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences of the University of Malawi, and the secretary of the university’s Natural Resources and Environment Centre, also helped choose study sites across Malawi based on spatial and topographical maps produced by the project team. Further data gathering from site visits is taking place while the team continues sourcing project materials needed for analyzing soil samples in the coming months.