Soil loss an enemy to Malawi’s development
80% of Malawi’s population is dependent on subsistence agriculture. Every year, soil erosion reduces agricultural productivity by 6% putting less food on the table for many households. A 2011 Poverty-Environment Initiative study estimated that if soil erosion would be tackled, 1.88 million people could have been lifted out of poverty between 2005 and 2015. In an effort to determine the best approach to combat soil erosion, the Government of Malawi in collaboration with the UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative and the Food and Agriculture Organization has undertaken a soil loss assessment to update the 1992 soil loss baseline.
The study found that the average national soil loss rates in 2014 were 29 ton per hectare per year. The problem of soil erosion is severest in the northern part of the country and in particular in three districts, Nkhata Bay, Mulanje and Phalombe. The soil erosion problems in the north arise from the fragile and shallow soil types, lack of good soil management practices, steep slopes, and high erosive rainfall aggravated by a change in land use from natural forest to agriculture due in part to population pressure.
Dopa village in northern Malawi provides a typical example of the complex relationship between poverty and environmental factors such as soil loss. Crops are the major source of livelihoods in the village, but, yields are below their potential partly due to soil erosion and the corresponding loss in soil fertility. Deforestation on the hills surrounding the village is a related problem as the wood provides an alternative source of income and help meet energy needs. Deforested hills have led to landslides during the rainy season further exacerbating the problem of soil erosion leading to a vicious cycle of food insecurity, poverty and environmental degradation.
John Mussa, Director of Land Resources and Conservation Department, from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security explained that the Soil Loss Assessment carried out is important for Malawi as it “…can inform how we design more sustainable land management interventions to combat soil erosion.” like the soil erosion experienced in Dopa village. The soil loss assessment will help the Government to target its efforts in the districts most affected and defeat the enemy of soil erosion threatening food security and poverty reduction. Further capacity building for district land resource and conservation officers on how to monitor and combat soil erosion is needed.