“It is impossible not to recognise the benefits. On one side, where the Deep Bed Farming method has been applied, huge maize crops, rich and thick, and on the other side, essentially no crops.” Holly Tett, British High Commissioner, on a visit to farms at Mzuzu, June 2018.

Evaluation of Deep Bed Farming, which boosts food supply, where there is no groundwater for irrigation


In Malawi the agriculture is similar to Ethiopia. It is largely rain fed, and 80% of the economy is farm based, and 75% of this group are small farmers (1). However climate change has also caused significant droughts according to the UN sponsored Relief Web news agency who state: “the October 2021 to January 2022 period is reported to be one of the driest periods for the country since 1970, with the central region of Malawi experiencing one of the worst droughts on record” (2) and even before that, in 2020, it was estimated that 1.9 million Malawians were food insecure (3).


The mission of this project is to demonstrate beyond doubt how much it is possible to increase crop yields and food security, by using a soil water conservation technique called Deep Bed Farming or "DBF" - for small farmers - and especially when shallow boreholes are impossible. The focus of this project is to design and execute studies that also yield maps and map systems, to help show time-poor policymakers, donors, and agricultural aid workers why and where to invest time and effort into DBF, so they know how much increased yields their investments will generate - for small farmers.


MapAid is working with Tiyeni which is an innovative NGO, committed "to putting bread on the kitchen table" for small farmers by training them in "DBF". It would help Tiyeni to be able to give donors an extremely accurate understanding of the impact of DBF, although anecdotal evidence of thousands of small farmers demanding to join the Tiyeni waiting list for DBF training, and initial studies of the technique, do suggest it is very helpful.

According to MapAid's initial findings, DBF more than doubles the small farmer's crop yields for maize, a vital staple in Malawi, versus the traditional Conventional Ridge or "CR" method of farming.

DBF is one of several soil moisture conservation projects, that are potentially extremely useful when shallow groundwater is lacking. (Our Ethiopia project for shallow groundwater detection will also show where DBF could be most useful in the absence of shallow groundwater.)

Working with Tiyeni staff, MapAid has carried out two basic pieces of research into DBF, using 5 years of previous data for maize yields and, considering these two distinctly different methods of farming: DBF and CR.

To do this our joint team:

  1. Created accurate boundary mapping for over 103 small farms. 55 farms use conventional farming methods (CR), and 48 use deep bed farming (DBF).
  2. Collected "rough and ready" data for maize yields, for these farms.

And with our partners Statistics Without Borders, we also have also helped to create a report entitled: "Yield Measurement Methodology" designed to enable us to assess the yield benefits of DBF more accurately. This sub-project will be completed when funding permits.

Here are the results from 1. and 2. above:


Farms using DBF were on average smaller than CR farms, but produced a higher yield per hectare, as shown here:

In summary, the average yield of 3,845Kg per Hectare from DBF is an improvement by a factor of x2.08 versus CR.

Average Yield for Deep Bed Farming and Conventional Methods

Next steps

The farmers of Malawi are the first ones “taking the next steps”, by coming to Tiyeni and asking to have DBF methods introduced into their areas. Over 20,000 farmers have signed up, and counting, with a long waiting list !
See also (4).

Source: internal report

Farmers without DBF see their neighbours families eating an extra meal every day, because of DBF, and want some of the same.

However, just so that all error, and therefore doubt, are minimised, MapAid plan to improve the statistical validity of our yields analysis, and this means ensuring that maize yields for both DBF and conventional fields are weighed in a consistent manner, at the end of the growing season. This will entail using identical scales and weighing techniques, with well trained people on the job.

As part of this future research, we will need to capture data about which farms did, or did not, employ all of the DBF techniques. What if some DBF farms did, or did not, use organic manure ?

MapAid plans to continue to work with Tiyeni and develop other University, NGO and institutional partners to collaborate on good research and visualistion of DBF in Malawi, to support the excellent progress so far made by Tiyeni.

About DBF

DBF is great value-for-money and effective soil water conservation system consisting of several parts, of which the key components are:

  • Breaking the hard pan. In Conventional Ridge farming, which extends across most of Malawi, at about 15 cm under the topsoil is a hard layer of compacted soil, a “hard pan” that has been created by repeated cultivation over decades with tilling hoes (or agricultural mattocks). This layer stops water, air and above all plant roots, thus restricting deep crop root growth, which in turn reduces yield. With DBF the hard pan is first broken and the soil bed dug down to about 1 meter deep.
  • Deep beds are then made 1 metre wide and long. Beds follow the contours of land with narrow foot paths of 0.4m in between. This helps rain water land flow along the land and be absorbed, rather than flowing downhill.
  • Vetiver grass is planted between the deepbeds. Again, following the land contours. This grass helps stabilise the soil, reducing soil erosion, and is a constant feature.
  • The beds are never allowed to become completely bare of vegetation as rain drops hit bare soil surprisingly hard, causing physical disintegration of the soil into particles; however vegetation helps prevent this.
  • Zero compaction. Beds are never tilled again, and never walked over by humans or animals.
  • Organic manure. Made from crop and animal residues, this is mixed into the topsoil, to boost the soil fertility.

This image shows a field on Zomba mountain, with maize ridges washed down the slope revealing the compacted hard pan underneath.

What will your donation do?

Your donation helps us build maps (and occasionally visuals) to help other charities, the public sector, foundations, and corporate sponsors know where and why to focus their efforts. Our maps, therefore, help ensure that other aid money goes further.

When you donate to MapAid, your money will be spent on whatever is carefully considered, as needed to make these maps, that help get bread onto the farmer's table.