Making healthy crops

Improved soybean varieties increase farmer incomes by 53% – study shows

  • October 16, 2020

Soybean production is an essential component of the maize-based smallholder cropping systems in Malawi. It increases soil fertility by fixing nitrogen in the soil, leading to improved crop yields. Furthermore, soybean is fast becoming a significant source of cash income as well as an essential contributor to food and nutrition security. Soybean production is also less risky as it is more tolerant of pests and diseases and has good grain storage quality compared to other cereals. In view of these benefits, soybean has been identified and targeted as a strategic crop to diversify the cropping system in Malawi that is heavily reliant on maize and tobacco.

Researcher checking the growth of soybean plants in the field.

These new varieties are high yielding, have a shorter maturity period and more pods per plant, and perform better under poor and erratic rainfall. Since 2010, these new varieties and agronomic practices such as the use of inoculant, accurate planting dates, close row spacing that can smother weeds, and correct and timely application of phosphorus fertilizers have been widely popularized and disseminated through large scale, science-based “research-in-development” projects such as “Putting Nitrogen Fixation to Work for Smallholder Farmers growing legume crops in Africa (N2Africa)” funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and “Malawi Improved Seed System and Technology (MISST)” funded by USAID Feed the Future initiative.

Those projects were led by IITA, Government of Malawi, NGOs, and community-based enterprises. Through these projects, over 80,000 smallholder farmers in more than 10 districts of the country have gained access to good quality seed of improved soybean varieties along with complementary training on better agronomic practices. Such agronomic training were supported by on-farm demonstrations, field days, and seed fairs.

Despite the promotion and dissemination of improved varieties and agronomic practices, there is a lack of empirical evidence on the adoption and impacts of improved soybean varieties and agronomic practices. A study led by IITA’s Adane Hirpa Tufa was conducted to assess the uptake and effects of new soybean varieties and agronomic practices in Malawi.

“We studied 1,237 farmers on 1,465 plots and found that over a third of sampled farmers adopted the new varieties and agronomic practices which resulted in 61% yield gain and 53% income gain,” Tufa said. The study results, which have been published in a peer-reviewed journal article titled The productivity and income effects of the adoption of improved soybean varieties and agronomic practices in Malawi show that adopters are younger, more educated, and have larger cultivated land. Adopters also tend to be members of a farmers’ organization, participate in seed markets, and have access to extension services. This implies that adoption is greatly influenced by access to information.

Although it is now proven that adoption of improved seed varieties and agronomic practices can improve farmers’ yields and incomes, it is unfortunate that very few have access to this information. Tufa called for more awareness saying, “with only 34% of the sampled farmers being adopters, more awareness is needed if more farmers are to benefit from improved technologies.”



Authors: Adane Hirpa Tufa, Arega D. Alene, Julius Manda, M.G. Akinwale, IITA-Malawi, David Chikoye, IITA-Zambia, Shiferaw Feleke,
IITA-Tanzania, Tesfamicheal Wossen, IITA-Kenya, and Victor Manyong, IITA-Tanzania

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