A crop modeling training session in progress. Photo: ICRISAT

Building capacity in crop modeling today for a better tomorrow

A crop modeling training session in progress. Photo: ICRISAT

A crop modeling training session in progress. Photo: ICRISAT

Young Malawian researchers are being trained in crop modeling to tackle land, water and climate related challenges facing agriculture and smallholder farmers. During a recently-held training program, 11 researchers from Malawi’s national research organizations learned to model agricultural systems with the Agricultural Production Simulator Model (APSIM) under the aegis of the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research.

Crop modeling is a process that simulates different stages of crop growth and development in response to weather, soil conditions and crop management. Dr Amos Ngwira, Systems Agronomist and Modeler at ICRISAT-Malawi, said crop simulation models are key tools to assess the growth and performance of crops under various conditions – soil, climatic, management and rotations.

“With the APSIM platform, the participants were introduced to concepts used in modeling of the processes that determine a plant’s growth including soil, water and nitrogen balances,” said Dr KPC Rao, a soil scientist and a specialist in crop modeling at ICRISAT-India, who delivered the trainings online and instructed the participants.

The eleven-session training was held from 6-9 January 2021 for plant breeders, agronomists, soil scientists, agro-meteorologists, statisticians and economists.

The participants said the sessions enhanced their understanding of crop growth simulations and yield. The training also helped them explore how water, nutrient and carbon dynamics affect productivity and sustainability of the resource base, they added.

“Transforming raw data from excel into APSIM formats and running simulations of soil-water balances, carbon fractions and simulation of several field crops grown by smallholder farmers in Malawi were key learnings for me,” said Mr Pacsu Simwaka, a soil scientist with Malawi’s Department of Agricultural Research Services (DARS).

Legume Agronomist Ms Florence Kamwana, who is working on developing sustainable intensification options, said the training showed how influence of parameters like genotype on crop production can be factored. Mr Gechem Dambo, a maize breeder, shared that the training helped him understand how nutrition and resilience traits important in planting breeding programs can be identified.

“I would like DARS to embrace crop simulation modeling. It is one of the analytical tools to be employed by researchers in everyday work for characterizing environments and explaining processes that cannot be explained by other statistical models,” said Ms Esnart Yohane.

Following this training, researchers are expected to conduct participatory crop modeling with farmers in various districts in the country.

According to Dr Anthony Whitbread, Director for ICRISAT’s Innovation Systems for the Dryland (ISD) Research Program, crop modeling is a key methodology for understanding interactions between climate, soils, farming systems and management.

“It helps us build extension material that presents information on agronomic risk and response, considers the role of climate forecasts in management and underpins decision frameworks such as the ISAT tool. Building this capacity in our NARES partners has been a long term aim, and one which we work towards under the new Excellence in Agronomy (EiA) initiative, a collaboration led by IITA,” he said.

Project: Understanding the climate and market risks farmers face in SSA and SA to co-design better farm-level interventions
Funder: Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)
Partners: National agricultural research organizations in Malawli
CRP: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals
This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger 7-decent-work 13-climate-action 17-partnerships-goals 

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