In Malawi, soybean is the lifeblood of thousands of smallholder farmers. It offers them a myriad opportunities: a readily available market, attractive farm-gate prices, and the potential to improve their nutritional security. However, current production levels are low, averaging less than 1 t/ha. There is minimal adoption of improved varieties and agronomic practices because these farmers, in particular, have limited access to better varieties. The Malawi Improved Seed Systems and Technologies (MISST) project is led by IITA, supported by USAID’s Feed-the-Future Initiative, and coimplemented by IITA, ICRISAT, CIMMYT, and CIP. Recognizing the importance of seeds in improving productivity, the soybean component is making high quality seeds of three improved varieties (Tikolore, Nasoko, and Makwacha) more accessible and available. The project is working through support for seed production, increasing adoption through variety demonstration and promotion, capacity building, strengthening of seed partnerships, and by using public-private partnerships for seed production, distribution, and marketing. IITA collaborated with the national farmers’ organization, NASFAM, to establish 50 technology demonstration plots across 7 districts of the Feed the Future zones of influence: Lilongwe, Mchinji, Dedza, Ntcheu, Balaka, Machinga, and Mangochi. The aim was to create awareness and stimulate the adoption of improved varieties with appropriate crop management practices. The technologies demonstrated were Tikolore, Makwacha, and Nasoko each with inoculant and P- fertilizer and Tikolore with fertilizer only. Additionally, 8 t of basic seeds of Tikolore were distributed through NASFAM to 333 community-based seedproducing farmers to multiply certified seeds. Through the farmers’ association, the selected seed farmers were trained on seed production and quality control.
IITA conducted 31 field days which attracted 2374 farmers from the 7 project districts to capture their perceptions and technological preferences. The field days established that most farmers (59%) preferred the option of Tikolore with inoculant and P-fertilizer because of its earliness and high yield (1.5 t/ha) despite adverse drought conditions. To ensure seeds of the preferred variety are available and accessible at the community level, 200 t of certified seeds were produced by 333 community-based seed producers. About 80 t of quality basic seeds were also produced through contractual arrangements with seed producers, using seed revolving funds. Through the MISST project, IITA promotes drought resilience by promoting this early maturing, drought tolerant variety (Tikolore). The project distributes 5 kg packs to farmers in drought-prone areas. So far, the project has reached 1252 smallholder farmers with this intervention and IITA is closely working with partners to make available 400 t of certified seeds of Tikolore to affected farmers through the communitybased seed production program. Recently, drought has become a regular phenomenon in Chirombo village, causing widespread maize failure. This year, many maize farms failed completely. In the midst of this sea of brown, one green soybean field planted to Tikolore stood out. The field is owned by Mrs Agnes Nicholas, a farmer who has been growing maize for the past 20 years. Through her local government extension agent, she received a 5 kg pack of Tikolore from IITA in 2015. “Without this soybean plot, this would’ve been one of the worst years in my farming life,” she exclaimed. Now her farm has become an informal farmer field school for soybean production, with many of her co-villagers coming daily to learn about soybean growing from her. Mrs Nicholas plans to expand her soybean production area to 1 ha next season MISST is tapping into community-based seed systems to make more quality soybean seeds available to more farmers across the country. So far, the project has trained over 1279 community-based seed producers, 735 men and 544 women, supported them with basic seeds, and facilitated their registration with the Seed Service Unit as certified seed producers. These farmers are currently producing certified seeds of the three improved varieties being demonstrated by the project on 485 ha across the 7 impact districts. As a result of this intervention, Mr Chionetsero Thomasi is now a seed entrepreneur in his home village of Napuru in the Dedza district of Malawi. In 2015, he became one of the 1279 beneficiaries of the community-based seed production program under the MISST project with the aim of selling and distributing quality seeds to farmers and seed companies within their respective communities. After receiving seeds from the project, Mr Thomasi dedicated 1 ha out of his 4-ha land to Tikolore seed multiplication. “I am very excited about this project,” said Mr Thomasi, “and with the way my Tikolore crop is looking it seems I am going to have a bumper seed harvest by the end of this season. From the proceeds I plan to buy a motorbike to help me market my seed business better.” Mr Tsekulani Jonasi has been farming tobacco for more than 20 years in his village of Kakopa in the Demera EPA of Lilongwe district. In December 2014, he became a host farmer for a soybean project demo. He secured more seeds from IITA through NASFAM and cultivated 0.7 ha of Tikolore following the management practices being promoted by the project. During the 2014/2015 season, Mr Jonasi harvested 30 50-kg bags of Tikolore. Mr Jonasi decided to expand his Tikolore farm during the 2015/2016 season, acquiring 200 kg of certified seeds produced through the project last season to cover 2.5 ha of his 4-ha land originally committed to tobacco production. “I have been farming since I was born, and I never imagined that soybean farming could be as profitable as this,” Mr Jonasi said, visibly excited. “I now believe that legumes can be as valuable as tobacco. IITA and the MISST project are on the right track to promote seed production as a lucrative income generating venture,” he added.