Hybrid maize is produced by crossing two genetically unrelated inbred parents. Hybrids are more uniform and generally higher yielding than OPVs. The Government of Malawi launched a hybrid breeding program in , following a severe drought in [ 46 ]. The first hybrids were released in and by the s were adopted by about a quarter of Malawi's smallholders. Research indicated a consistent yield advantage of hybrids over local maize varieties at all levels of fertilizer use, including in a drought year [ 22 , 47 ].
This yield advantage of hybrids remained even under low soil fertility and drought conditions. On balance, the yield advantage of hybrids appears robust for smallholder maize production in Malawi. However, the choice of hybrids versus OPVs is constrained by a complex set of factors including the higher seed cost and the often poorer storage and processing characteristics of hybrids [ 47 ]. During the second year of the Malawi input subsidy program, voucher recipients were given a choice of OPV or hybrids: 2 kg of hybrid seed or 3 kg improved OPV, depending on supplier costs.
Thus, in Malawi, there is clearly a strong farmer preference for hybrids over improved OPVs provided that the prices of seed and fertilizer are subsidized. Hybrid seed is generally more expensive than OPVs because of the higher cost of seed production and private sector control over supplies. Farmers in lower potential environments often find it difficult to recover the costs of hybrid seed and fertilizer.
In the absence of deep subsidies to both seed and fertilizer, risk perceptions of small-scale farmers, especially in low potential rainfed environments, have been shown to constrain adoption of hybrid maize [ 47 , 48 ].
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The — harvest was estimated at 3. By late , Malawi had exported over , t of maize to Zimbabwe, not only generating income for its smallholder farmers, but contributing to regional food security [ 15 ]. The Government decided to continue the program in — The poor harvest of — led to a sharp rise in the price of maize sold at local markets throughout Malawi [ 15 ]. With the effects of the — bumper crop, the maize price dropped still further. Anecdotal evidence pointed to a modest increase in maize prices in some markets during August—October due to procurement for export to Zimbabwe.
Since then, global food shortages have maintained prices at levels attractive to farmers [ 15 ]. These results suggest that the maize consumers in Malawi have benefited from the two successive strong harvests and the related price declines. This outcome is fully consistent with experience in Asia [ 4 ] and suggests an important potential impact of seed and fertilizer subsidies on food security for the poorest households that are net consumers even after good harvests.
Further research is needed to understand the impact of the subsidy on maize consumers. While this raised concerns from the business community, the results must be weighed against the net social impact of achieving national food security. In time, stimulating agricultural productivity will likely increase commercial activity in rural areas and extend new opportunities for agricultural input suppliers. Concurrent with the implementation of the national input subsidy program, the MVP was established in Malawi.
The MVP is an integrated rural development approach that supports public-sector investments, leading to increased private-sector saving and investments [ 31 ]. A total of 11, farming households in and around the village of Mwandama in Zomba District were identified for a program of intensified multisectoral support beginning in the — season.
During August to October , several rounds of consultation were held with the Mwandama community. These revealed major concerns about food security and the ability to recover from the — crop failure. Women were especially vocal about food shortages.
Despite their desperation, farmers expressed an urgent need for seed and fertilizer over food aid, although aid was also required for the worst affected households. However, most farmers in these severely affected areas did not even have enough money to take advantage of the national fertilizer subsidy, revealing the need to modify the policies of the national input subsidy program. Instead of purchasing inputs at subsidized rates, each household in the Millennium Villages received 10 kg of hybrid maize seed and the recommended fertilizer inputs for a typical smallholder farm of 0.
The main differences with the broader national subsidy program were 1 enough seed was provided to plant 0. Farmers welcomed the availability of seed, fertilizer, and extension services. Aided by a better than average rainy season, the intervention package resulted in unprecedented productivity improvements. In Mwandama Village, 1, farmers obtained an average yield of 6. In the broader cluster of 11 Millennium Villages around and including Mwandama, 11, farmers averaged a yield of 5. The interventions were repeated for the — season.
The only difference was the addition of 3 kg groundnut seed and 2 kg pigeon pea seed to encourage crop diversification. The yields obtained in — dropped sharply to 3. However, even under these circumstances, farmers in the Mwandama cluster gained 2. To estimate the relative effects of rainfall and inputs here defined as the combination of hybrid seed, fertilizer, and Sasakawa plant spacing on maize yields, the — drought-affected crop that received little fertilizer was used as a baseline.
The rainfall effect for the — season was then estimated by comparing the — yield farmers' estimates with the — estimates based on crop cuts of fields adjacent to the Mwandama MVP cluster. The results for — indicated a similar effect. The balance can be attributed to the use of improved seed, fertilizer application, and related extension advice.
Older farmers reported that they had never before experienced or even seen maize crops like these, except on nearby large commercial estates. The inclusion of the Millennium Villages data complements the experience gained from Malawi's national input subsidy program. The results demonstrated that there remains a very large yield gap between maize yields achieved at the national level even with a substantial subsidy and potential yields based on whole farm intensified support.
The use of fertilizer subsidies had been actively discouraged by donors for two decades. The perceived high cost and trade-offs with other development investments, the absence of clear time-bound exit strategies, and difficulty targeting the poorest of the poor have led many donors to withhold their support to input subsidy programs. Anti-subsidy bias was well established in Malawi in , and there was little encouragement from donors for the Government to implement the program described in this essay.
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This political leadership has effectively buffered Malawi from the economically and socially destructive effects of the global food price increases of and Carryover stocks have meant that Malawi is no longer dependent on food aid and costly commercial imports. Importantly, Malawi is now the focus of international attention as a result of some high-profile coverage in the international press [ 34 , 35 ]. Initially with some reluctance, but with increasing interest and engagement, several donors have begun to work with the Government to support and improve the effectiveness of the input subsidy program for smallholders.
Despite the enormous human resource capacity and infrastructure challenges facing Malawi, this national scale input subsidy program has been a success as measured by unprecedented production levels. With modest technical and financial support from donors, the logistical challenges of reaching over 2 million smallholder farmers were overcome during the Starter Pack program — and — [ 27 ] and again in — and — through the national input subsidy program.
A number of operational challenges have been identified [ 29 ] and are being addressed by the Government in redesigning the program. These included: delays in program design and implementation leading to delayed delivery of inputs in some areas; cumbersome coupon processing and redemption systems; the need to improve program information sharing with the intended beneficiaries and general public; and shortages of fertilizers and mismatch of coupons and fertilizer types in some areas. Two major remaining challenges are the absence of private agro-dealers in remote rural areas and limited human and financial capacity of government agencies to meet the operational demands of the program [ 29 ].
However, each year of implementation has resulted in design improvements that are now inspiring other countries to emulate the Malawi experience.
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The interventions implemented are straightforward practices that were developed by Malawian researchers and their international partners. The central biological basis for productivity improvement is the response of maize to nitrogen fertilizer application. The widespread occurrence of nitrogen deficiency in Africa and the availability of well adapted maize varieties, both hybrids and OPVs, mean that Malawi's experience is relevant beyond its borders. Importantly, these improved practices have been successfully applied by smallholders, suggesting that development of large-scale commercial farming may not be essential for the achievement of national or household food security in Africa.
Indeed, questions may be raised as to whether large estates that currently occupy over 1 million ha in Malawi are an efficient use of the country's limited land resources. Moreover, this financial analysis did not consider the future stream of benefits flowing from the long-term rural economic transformation. The evaluation noted that the yield response to inputs, and thus the benefit to cost ratio, can be greatly improved by the timely delivery and use of inputs and better extension advice. The MVP demonstrated the impact of more efficient input use and therefore provides a standard against which improvements in national productivity can be measured.
On this basis, there should be little concern about the affordability of a program that has such profound and immediate impact on the lives of so many Malawians. Nevertheless, the dramatic increases in fertilizer prices over the past 12 months require greater attention to fertilizer use efficiency and the use of complementary approaches to improving soil fertility see later section on Future Challenges.
Under the input subsidy program, most beneficiaries had access to the same quantity of inputs, irrespective of farm size. This implies that the smaller the farm, the greater the effective input level on a per hectare basis. During the past 20 years, large surpluses over requirements were obtained in , , , , and , all years when large-scale input subsidies were implemented Figure 1.
The bulk of these surpluses was generated by smallholders. These results should not imply that fertilizer subsidies benefit all poor households. The direct production and livelihood benefits to most smallholder farming households are clear. However, the lower maize prices following the and harvests have likely improved food security for the urban poor and the vulnerable rural poor who remain net consuming households. This result mirrors experience from Asia's Green Revolution. Notwithstanding the recent spike in world food prices, continuing surpluses will demand greater attention to price stabilization mechanisms, improved post-harvest management, and incentives to diversify beyond maize to higher returning crops, including perennials and non-farm enterprises.
With almost all of its smallholder maize dependant on rainfall, Malawi is particularly vulnerable to large season-to-season variation in production. The returns on the fertilizer investment vary accordingly.
The realization of Malawi's Green Revolution and its contribution to economic growth is also threatened by climate change. The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlighted the vulnerability of African agriculture and all who depend on it [ 37 ]. Agriculture in Malawi may be affected by shorter growing seasons and higher temperatures. The direct effects on agricultural production and food security will be exacerbated by greater exposure to malaria and other climate-influenced diseases that reduce labor productivity and employment opportunities. Malawian farmers have no alternative but to adapt to climate change.
Fortunately, several practical options for adaptation to Malawian conditions exist and need to be deployed as a matter of urgency [ 38 ]: Water harvesting, sustainable extraction of groundwater, conservation farming reduced tillage, crop residue retention, and crop rotations , and improved water use efficiency in rainfed areas. Expanded irrigation through dams and extraction of water from Lake Malawi and the streams that feed it, subject to assessment of environmental impact. Shifts toward maize varieties with greater drought and heat tolerance, and improved pest and disease resistance, and corresponding adjustments in the national research agenda.
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Enterprise diversification toward higher value crops, value-adding, and off-farm employment that will generate income to buffer possible maize crop failures. Weather forecasting and provision of timely advice to farmers. Weather-related crop insurance. We reserve the right to cancel any order due to unauthorized, altered, or ineligible use of this offer.
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