A farmer checks whether the pods on his pigeon pea plant are ripe. <br/> Photo: Swathi Sridharan / flickr.com
A farmer checks whether the pods on his pigeon pea plant are ripe.
Photo: Swathi Sridharan / flickr.com

27.01.2017

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By planting pigeon peas alongside maize, African farmers can improve the soil and their own nutritional intake, a doctoral thesis at Swiss ETH Zürich concludes.

Maize is a staple food in Malawi. It is the country’s most important food crop and is widely grown by subsistence farmers. But crop yields tend to be mediocre in many regions, notably due to a lack of phosphorous and nitrogen.

Following a devastating drought in 2005, the Malawi government started a fertiliser programme aimed at boosting maize yields nation-wide. After some years of a dramatic increase in crop yields, maize productivity stagnated and even declined. Experts say that the use of artificial fertilisers is very inefficient because the phosphorous quickly binds to metal ions such as iron and aluminium, so that the nutrient is no longer available to the plants.

Simple but effective alternative

This was the initial situation upon which, Gina Garland, a Ph.D. student at the Swiss ETH in Zürich, started her studies for her doctoral thesis. Garland looked for an alternative long-term solution to solve the problem of the low phosphorous content in the soil.

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