Agroforestry systems that incorporate leguminous N-fixing trees into the dominant cropping systems have undergone significant exploration in Malawi (Sirrine et al., 2010). In fact, agroforestry has been extensively promoted in much of southern Africa by government extension agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and is widely used within many development projects (ibid). Agroforestry represents a cost effective, and environmentally sustainable complement/substitute to the use of synthetic fertiliser (Kaczan et al., 2013).
Much of the agroforestry that is practiced in Malawi is termed “fertiliser tree systems” (ibid). Selected tree and shrubs are planted either sequentially (during fallow) or contemporaneously (intercropped) with an annual food crop, such as maize (ibid). Implementation of these agroforestry practices help to maintain soil cover, increase nutrient levels within the soil, improves water filtration, increases soil organic matter (via the distribution of biomass), and provides sources of food, fodder, and fuel (ibid). Leguminous species, such as Pigeon Pea, are used, and generally preferred in Malawi, due to their ability to fix N in the soil (ibid).
In addition to contributing to food security, agroforestry also goes some way towards reducing deforestation (Mbow et al., 2014). Households in Malawi rely heavily on fuel-wood, however, the impacts of deforestation and land-use-change have reduced the quantity of fuel-wood that is available (Chikoko, 2002; Place & Otsuka, 2001). Exact figures for deforestation are difficult to come by, however, in 1980, the Forestry Department estimated that the annual deforestation rate to be 1.3% per year (Place & Otsuka, 2001).The reduction in fuel-wood negatively impacts rural Malawian quality of life, for women especially, as they are forced to walk longer distances to collect fuel-wood, and as a result, have reduced cooking times for meals, and reduced time in general for other subsistence/caring roles that are also traditionally women’s roles (Chikoko, 2002; Kiptot & Franzel, 2012).