A 2019 One Planet Laureate Candidate is investigating the appropriate safe-bet integrated soil fertility methods that smallholders can adapt in a changing climate to enhance sustainable crop production
Austin Tenthani Phiri, a One Planet Fellowship Laureate Candidate from Malawi, led a research team that won a prestigious research grant to develop soil fertility management technologies for irrigation farming. The grant worth USD 100,000, is a joint funding by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Government of Malawi under the Programme for Rural Irrigation Development (PRIDE).
Phiri’s project aims to improve soil fertility and maize yields through the combined use of inorganic and organic fertilizer under irrigated conditions.
Climate change poses a massive threat to soil, which, in turn, affects crop yield and food security. As a research scientist, Phiri understands the significance of improved soil management to smallholder farmers, especially in Malawi, where agriculture is considered the engine of its economic growth. The smallholder farmers contribute 75% of the food locally consumed, while only one-third of the land is suitable for cultivation. “Most soils in Malawi are highly degraded, and cultivated crops respond poorly to the sole application of inorganic fertilizer, leading to low crop yields. With climate change, the reduction in crop yield is drastic,” says Phiri. He says it is imperative to restore soil health and conserve soil moisture to enhance sustainable crop production.
Further, Phiri explains that integrated soil fertility has the potential to address the issue of resilience of farms in the face of climate change. He adds that the research will also empower farmers financially by reducing the cost of production while increasing yields.
Phiri states that his participation in the One Planet Fellowship has been instrumental in his career as a researcher. Through the Fellowship, he has gained new knowledge and improved his science skills, which played a significant role in acquiring the grant. “I am now part of a vibrant and supportive network of scientists across Africa who are fellow Laureate Candidates. Additionally, I have published four new research articles and successfully negotiated a soil survey consultancy worth $ 6000 under the PRIDE program since my participation in the Science Week held in Casablanca, Morocco”, he says.
The PRIDE program works toward enhancing agricultural productivity under rain-fed and irrigated farming through the promotion of a balanced and diversified production of food and cash crops amongst farmers. This is aimed at meeting Malawi’s requirements for food, foreign exchange, and raising rural income while maintaining soil productivity.
The One Planet Fellowship is a career development program that is building a robust pipeline of scientists equipped to lead climate change research in Africa while establishing an intergenerational network of scientists across Africa and Europe to foster research collaborations. The Fellowship is a unique collaboration between the private sector, civil society, public research, and private philanthropy that brings gender to the centre of climate change research.
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