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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 1 (2011 Deadline)

Soil carbon distribution and dynamics in Malawi: a unique opportunity to optimize sustainable land use and enhance food security 

PI: Jimmy Namangale, Chancellor College
US Partner:  G. Philip Robertson, Michigan State University
Project Dates: May 2012 - May 2015

Project Overview 

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 October through December 2013, the research team continued soil chemical analysis using the laboratories at the Biological Sciences and Chemistry departments. Through collaboration with the Michigan University, the team successfully sourced a soil digester. Electronic soil maps for Malawi are being generated using the 1990 baseline data and will be later compared with the newly generated Malawi soil maps. In the next quarter, the team will continue collecting soil samples and will continue conducting soil analysis for draft report submission and final thesis. Sequencing of pictures and video clips continues. The research team will continue entering and cleaning up the survey data and will be preparing the manuscript of the handbook on soil carbon and soil fertility dynamics for improved land productivity and food security. Conferences and stakeholder meetings are being planned as well.