Deep Bed Farming

Deep Bed Farming (DBF) offers a route to sustainable, effective and modern agriculture. Aftrak aims to lower the barriers to DBF – increasing soil fertility, maximising water retention and mitigating erosion.

In many parts of Malawi – under a few centimetres of topsoil – there is a compacted layer of rock-hard earth, hardpan. Plant roots, water and air cannot penetrate the hardpan – making the soil unfit for agriculture.

Where water can percolate into the ground, it can be stored long after rain has stopped falling. In areas of hardpan, this doesn’t happen. Instead, the water runs off the surface, taking much of the healthy topsoil with it. Devastating soil erosion can destroy soil fertility.

In 2016, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimated that the average national soil loss rate in Malawi was 29 tons per hectare per year. This helps to explain why Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries – and why hunger is so common.

DBF offers a significant approach to addressing this challenge.

What is Deep Bed Farming?

Deep Bed Farming is a three-stage process that combats the devastating impacts of hardpan.

A group of people, talking and preparing to break up the hardpan with pickaxes

Step One – Destroy the hardpan

The compacted hardpan is broken up with a pickaxe – delivering powerful and immediate benefits:

  • roots, water and air can penetrate the soil
  • soil erosion is curbed or halted
  • deep and healthy organic soils start to develop
A field of DBF, showing the water ditches full of rainwater

Step two – Create the deep beds

These are designed to:

  • minimise water runoff and maximise water retention
  • prevent a new compacted layer developing

The deep beds are never walked again, preventing the return of hardpan, and a ditch runs alongside each ridge, collecting and damming rainwater.

A field of healthy maize crops

Step three – The results

Tiyeni’s methods have helped many farmers in Malawi to achieve food security - and, to date:

  • the increased crop yields have been consistent, year on year
  • after the first laborious pickaxing, there has been no need to break up the hardpan again - farmers enjoy no-till farming

DBF has been shown to increase maize yield from about 1.7 tonnes per hectare to over 8.0 tonnes per hectare. Where maize is grown with other crops, DBF increases the yield of both.