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Mulching for healthy soils

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Even though soil compaction and degradation from overuse of chemical synthetic fertilisers is a reality for most farmers in Africa and the world, organic methods can mitigate their effect on soil fertility and general food production. How? Through mulching!

Mulch refers to a layer of straw or grass spread around the plant to enrich the soil. Mulch offers many benefits:

  • Mulching conserves moisture; this means that it helps keep water in the soil where it can provide plants with this much-needed resource.
  • Mulching protects the soil from temperature extremes keeping the soil at an even temperature, which is critical for healthy plant development.
  • Mulching facilitates weed suppression, which helps to reduce labour and time costs.
  • Mulch adds organic matter to the soil. Soils with high levels of organic matter are more fertile and stable, able to support strong plant growth.
  • Mulching is also very low tech and cheap. It uses available materials and is not difficult to do.

Read more about the benefits of mulch here:

://kcoa-africa.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/KHSA_NOA-Why-use-mulch-online-version.pdf

A mulched vegetable garden. Picture courtesy of KHSA

We must urgently address the issue of degraded soils in Africa’s farming lands. Continued use of chemical agricultural inputs (synthetic fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides) further degrades soils and its ability to support food production.1 In addition, experts tell us that the use of heavy machinery and ploughing at the same depth over many years compacts the soil. Ongoing soil compaction destroys soil structure, limits the ability of air and water to circulate through the soil, can block roots from growing properly and result in lower yields.2 Degraded soils threaten people’s food and nutrition security and livelihoods.

How to Apply Mulch

  • It is ideal to apply mulch prior or at the start of the rainy season when the  soil is most vulnerable.
  • In cases where the mulch layer is too thick, seeds can be sown or planted in between the mulching material.
  • In vegetable gardens, mulch can be applied only after the young plants have grip in the soil  as they may be harmed by mulch material under  decomposition
  • In order to allow penetration of seedlings, the  mulch applied before  sowing or planting should be reasonably  thick
  • In an established crop, mulch can be administered directly after digging the soil.
  • Mulch can be applied between the rows, around single plants (especially for tree crops) or evenly spread on the field.

References

  1. Food and Agriculture Organization. 2020. Mulching in Organic Agriculture. [Online] https://teca.apps.fao.org/en/technologies/8365/.
Rabecca Mwila
Author: Rabecca Mwila

PELUM Zambia Communications Officer-KHSA Project

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