Small “Creative” Subsistence Farmers Experiment and Innovate to Adapt to Global Warming

(p. A1) When it comes to growing food, some of the smallest farmers in the world are becoming some of the most creative farmers in the world. Like Judith Harry and her neighbors, they are sowing pigeon peas to shade their soils from a hotter, more scorching sun. They are planting vetiver grass to keep floodwaters at bay.

They are resurrecting old crops, like finger millet and forgotten yams, and planting trees that naturally fertilize the soil. A few are turning away from one legacy of European colonialism, the practice of planting rows and rows of maize, or corn, and saturating the fields with chemical fertilizers.

“One crop might fail. Another crop might do well,” said Ms. Harry, who has abandoned her parents’ tradition of growing just maize and tobacco and added peanuts, sunflowers, and soy to her fields. “That might save your season.”

It’s not just Ms. Harry and her neighbors in Malawi, a largely agrarian nation of 19 million on the front lines of climate hazards. Their scrappy, throw-everything-at-the-wall array of innovations is multiplied by small subsistence farmers elsewhere in the world.

. . .

(p. A10) . . . Mr. Mponda, 26, grows maize. But he no longer counts on maize alone. The soil is degraded from decades of monoculture. The rains don’t come on time. This year, fertilizer didn’t either.

“We are forced to change,” Mr. Mponda said. “Just sticking to one crop isn’t beneficial.”

The total acreage devoted to maize in Mchinji District, in central Malawi, has declined by an estimated 12 percent this year, compared with last year, according to the local agricultural office, mainly because of a shortage of chemical fertilizers.

Mr. Mponda is part of a local group called the Farmer Field Business School that runs experiments on a tiny plot of land. On one ridge, they’ve sown two soy seedlings side by side. On the next, one. Some ridges they’ve treated with manure; others not. Two varieties of peanuts are being tested.

The goal: to see for themselves what works, what doesn’t.

For the full story, see:

Somini Sengupta. “Climate Shocks Force Small Farmers to Reinvent.” The New York Times (Friday, April 28, 2023): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 27, 2023, and has the title “Meet the Climate Hackers of Malawi.”)

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