Factors affecting soil quality among smallholder macadamia farms in Malawi

Zuza, Emmanuel Junior; Maseyk, Kadmiel; Bhagwat, Shonil A.; Chemura, Abel; Brandenburg, Rick L.; Emmott, Andrew; Rawes, Will; Hancock, Wayne; Mnthambala, Frank and Araya, Yoseph N. (2023). Factors affecting soil quality among smallholder macadamia farms in Malawi. Agriculture & Food Security, 12(1)

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s40066-023-00421-9


Declining soil fertility limits smallholder macadamia productivity in Malawi. To reverse this trend, it is essential to apply organic and inorganic fertilisers in an efficient and effective manner. Yet, fertilizer recommendations for smallholder macadamia (Macadamia integrifolia) production in Malawi are not site-specific. Nutrient imbalances can occur if fertilisers are applied without a clear understanding of whether they are required or not. This may lead to yield losses, unnecessary costs, and other environmental issues associated with excess fertiliser application. To address this research need/ knowledge gap, our study examined the current soil fertility status among smallholder macadamia farms in Malawi. Specifically, the objective was to establish an evidence base for promoting soil fertility restoration interventions for smallholder macadamia production. One hundred and eighty nine soil samples at a depth of 0–15 cm were collected from sixty three smallholder macadamia farms belonging to the Highlands Macadamia Cooperative Union Limited members in central and southern Malawi. We found that the majority of the soils were sandy loams (52%), strongly acidic (mean pH ≤ 5.1), and deficient in essential nutrients required for the healthy growth of macadamia. The soils had an average low cation exchange capacity of 1.67 cmol ( +) kg−1, which is inadequate for macadamia cultivation. More than half of the sampled soils had very low organic matter content (≤ 1%). The low soil organic matter content, coupled with the sandy texture and high acidity, contributed to the observed low concentrations of essential nutrients and cation exchange capacity. Poor agronomic practices and inherent soil characteristics are responsible for this low soil fertility. Altogether, our findings underscore the urgent need to identify and implement more sustainable and effective soil nutrient management practices that help to improve the soil fertility of macadamia farms under smallholder systems.

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