A farmer-to-farmer agroecological approach to addressing food security in Malawi

Type Working Paper
Title A farmer-to-farmer agroecological approach to addressing food security in Malawi
URL http://www.peoplesknowledge.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/05_NyantakyiFrimpong-et-al_MalawiAgroecol​ogy.pdf
The current global food system needs an urgent transformation because it is
failing to result in sufficient improvements in nutrition. Despite remarkable
growth in global food production (Akram-Lodhi, 2013), over 840 million people
are chronically hungry and many more suffer from hidden hunger, which is a lack
of essential micro nutrients (Bryce et al., 2008; Herring, 2015; FAO/IFAD/WFP,
2015). Most affected people live in Sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia (Herring,
2015; Von Grebmer et al., 2014). According to recent data from the Food and
Agriculture Organization, one in every four persons (23.2 % of the population) in
sub-Saharan Africa is malnourished (FAO/IFAD/WFP, 2015, p. 12). Undernutrition
and hidden hunger kill more sub-Saharan Africans than the combined effects of
HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis (FAO/IFAD/WFP, 2015). Undernutrition has
risen partly because we have a food system that is geared towards large-scale
monocultures, with diets that are not only monotonous, but also limited in
diversity (Akram-Lodhi, 2013). Alongside not being able to feed the world
properly, these large-scale monocultures have negative ecological consequences,
including the loss of plant-species diversity, fertilizer runoff, and the silt loading of
terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems (McIntyre et al. 2009). In many respects, the
current food system is deeply contradictory because it is not only failing to
address nutrition, but it is also undermining the very biophysical foundations of
agriculture (Weis, 2010). Thus, the contemporary food system needs to undergo
significant changes into one that is diverse, sustainable, resilient and healthy.
In this chapter, we discuss a typical example of how such a new food system
is being created using farmer-to-farmer participatory research in Malawi. Over the
past fifteen years, we have embarked on a project of food systems transformation
that focuses on participatory agroecology, social relations, and gender equity. We
describe the processes of doing this participatory research and show some
significant impacts over time. Our approach is highly participatory, with the active
involvement of women, men and vulnerable households whose lives we seek to
transform. For us, participatory research includes not only how research problems
are defined and investigated, but also how scientific knowledge is produced and
disseminated. In view of this, most of our peer-reviewed articles are written and
published with the project’s staff and farmers (e.g., Bezner Kerr et al., 2008; Bezner
Kerr et al., 2010; Msachi, 2009; Patel, et al., 2015), with farmers occasionally
serving as lead-authors (e.g. Msachi, 2009). This chapter has been written in that
same spirit. The chapter’s outline, together with the materials presented here, was
drafted based on meetings in June and August 2015 that included researchers,
project staff, and farmers.
We begin the chapter by providing a brief background of the research
setting. We then shift our attention to describing the processes involved in our
participatory action research with farmers. We describe in detail such strategies as
soil fertility management, intercropping, formation of Farmer Research Teams,
seed banking, recipe demonstration, and how gender is infused into all these
strategies. Next, we share some significant documented impacts over the past
fifteen years. In the concluding section, we critically reflect on the challenges of
using participatory action research for food systems transformation in rural

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