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Improving recommendations resulting from on-farm research: agroforestry, risk, profitability and vulnerability in southern Malawi

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Leguminous agroforestry (AF) species have been investigated and promoted in Malawi as a means to improve soil quality and maize (Zea mays) yields. Our objective was to determine whether AF systems' recommendations that solely consider impacts on average maize yields differ from those that include an analysis of production risk, profitability among different wealth groups and socioeconomic vulnerability. Employing participatory quantitative and qualitative on-farm research techniques, we investigated three AF-based maize/legume relay-cropping practices in southern Malawi. The perennial legumes included Sesbania sesban, Tephrosia vogelii and Cajanus cajan (pigeonpea). We found that AF species recommendations did diverge from those based solely on maximizing maize yields when incorporating risk, profitability and socioeconomic vulnerability as additional variables. For instance, the highest yielding system (the S. sesban/maize relay crop) was never recommended for the most vulnerable farmers based on the vulnerability analysis, and the cropping systems were often more profitable for the least vulnerable farmers than they were for the most vulnerable farmers. Cropping system recommendations based solely on obtaining the highest average maize yields would also have generally overlooked the economic and nutritional importance of pigeonpea, and the difficulty for the most vulnerable farmers to profit from fertilizers, potentially placing these farmers at greater risk.

Keywords: Malawi; agroforestry; distributional profitability; legumes; maize (Zea mays); risk; vulnerability

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3763/ijas.2010.0471

Publication date: November 1, 2010

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