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Tropentag, October 5 - 7, 2004 in Berlin

"Rural Poverty Reduction
through Research for Development and Transformation"

The Role of Agricultural Policy in Soil Fertility Management Technology Choice among Smallholder Farmers in Malawi: Simulation with a Farm Household Bio-economic Model

Hardwick Tchale, Peter Wobst

Centre for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, Department of Economics and Technical Change, Germany


Degradation of land, particularly the soil's productive capacity, poses a serious threat to current and future livelihoods of the mostly agrarian societies. The problem of excessive deterioration of soil productivity is often attributed to physical causes such as continuous cultivation, overgrazing, population pressure and climatic factors. However, more recent research based on multi-disciplinary conceptual frameworks, such as bio-economic modelling, has demonstrated that land degradation is largely a physical manifestation of underlying market failures that often distort farmers' incentive structure.

The main objective of this research is to explore the impact of agricultural policies on soil fertility degradation and sustainable agricultural growth in Malawi. The key policy research questions are to identify soil management options that result in the highest marginal returns in terms of yield responses, principally of maize (the staple food crop) and tobacco (the major cash crop); the relative benefits of these options in terms of ensuring sustainable soil productivity which is important for the country's agricultural growth; and the policy incentives that can facilitate farmers' uptake of such options. The research makes use of a dynamic optimisation framework that permits an integration of biophysical, socio-economic and policy factors. The relevance of such research in Malawi, is that like most Sub-Saharan African countries, it has become increasingly apparent that as a result of disincentives created by the economic environment, more and more farmers are compelled into unsustainable farming practices.

Simulation results highlight key agricultural policy issues that influence farmers' investment in soil fertility management options. Policy implications in terms of ameliorative options and their short and medium term productivity outcomes are also highlighted.

Keywords: Agricultural policy, bio-economic modelling, land degradation

Contact Address: Hardwick Tchale, Centre for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, Department of Economics and Technical Change, Walter-Flex-Straße 3, 53113 Bonn, Germany, e-mail: htchale@yahoo.co.uk

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