External Review Team visit to Africa RISING sites in Malawi and Tanzania 26 January – 9 February 2020

In mid-July 2019, the Africa RISING Program Coordination Team (PCT) commissioned an external review of the 3 regional Africa RISING projects in West Africa, the Ethiopian Highlands and in East and Southern Africa.

The goal of the external review was to evaluate the program’s organizational structure; data management; monitoring, evaluation and learning; research and development partnerships achievements; and the program’s alignment with donor and country development strategies.

From 26 January through 9 February, two members of the review panel - Drs. Christine Negra and Mark Powell made visits to project sites in Malawi and Tanzania. This photo report presents highlights of the different activities visited by the team at different project locations in the two countries.

The site visits were part and parcel of a mixed methodology for information gathering that also included extensive document reviews, key informant interviews, focus group discussions, stakeholder analysis and field visits that will culminate into a recommendations report for action by the Africa RISING leadership.


Medium to long term impacts of sustainable intensification technologies like improved soil fertility management, improved germplasm and crop combinations on systems productivity/performance

Dryland cropping systems in Africa are facing major challenges due to rainfall variability that is compounding the already dire conditions of poor soil fertility and inadequate investments in farms. Application of technologies that enhance crop productivity and stability through efficient use of nutrients and soil moisture for different agro-ecologies and season types is foundational for food security.

Integrating more grain legumes as intercrops or in a rotational system can allow farmers to achieve high and stable yield under varying rainfall, with modest fertilizer investments. This is critical for resource poor farmers who have limited access to mineral fertilizers.

The Africa RISING Malawi team-initiated technology validation trials in 2012 to investigate soil organic carbon changes over time. The treatments for these validation trials ranged from unfertilized maize control, maize fertilized with NP optimally every year and when legumes are integrated as intercrops or rotations with maize.

These validation trials with farmers showed that when legumes are integrated as intercrops or rotations with maize there is an increase in productivity by at least 30%. There was also an increase in diversified diets from increased local processing of grain legumes into food products. Two food preparation recipes based on soyabean are now widely used in households.

There is scope to increase productivity by a further 20% through a combination of improved agronomy and farmer training at farm scale, thus reducing yield gaps. Recently we have applied stability analysis to assess impacts of grain legume integration on maize grain yield, yield stability, nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) and ability to meet household protein requirements.

This activity has anchored our action research, and this has resulted in over 4,000 baby farmers increasing productivity and expanding area under SI technologies. It presents a rare opportunity to apply SI technologies on-farm for ‘medium to long term’.

Angelina Kuyenda, one of the smallholder farmers visited by the reviewers confirms the productivity increases.

“I usually do rotations for the legumes and maize on my farm in addition to following other recommendations like planting the legumes in double rows on every ridge. As a result, I have seen significant increases in my harvests,” notes Angelina.

Nutrition farmer groups: from production to consumption

Linking the production of grain legumes (groundnuts, pigeon peas, cowpeas, beans) and local level processing to ensure dietary diversity is an integral component of agricultural intensification initiatives for Africa RISING in Malawi.

As part of this activity, farmers in the project sites are trained on: (1) food and nutrition principles (foods and nutrients; the six food groups and dietary diversity, infant and young child feeding practices), (2) achieving dietary diversity (diversity in production, dietary diversity through food selection and purchasing),(3) cooking demonstration of different dishes for the whole household, (4) food budgeting and storage, and (5) Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

For the past 1 year, over 500 farmers in Linthipe EPA in Malawi have been involved in food and nutrition training, where dietary diversity and consumption patterns have been studied. Trainees were drawn from households participating in Africa RISING sustainable intensification activities, where maize/legume rotations and grain legume utilization have been promoted for more than 5 years.

The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), one of the Africa RISING project partners, has introduced new nutrient dense common bean varieties that are loved and are being produced by farmers. Grain legumes, especially nutrient-dense common bean varieties, provide an important opportunity for improved nutrition outcomes among farming households if the produce is not wholly marketed.

The nutrition training has increased access to important information for more local use of the products. We estimate that 40% of the households that directly worked with CIAT and the Nutrition Department of Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) over the years are now incorporating nutrient dense common bean varieties as part of their diets.

Exploring productivity of goats under different housing and feeding regimes

Goats constitute the largest source of meat in rural Malawi. Farmers who own goats get lucrative returns when they fatten them around festivals when demand soars. The Africa RISING Malawi team is implementing interventions that would result in improved productivity while reducing the crop-livestock conflict within the project sites. These interventions involve farmers who have also taken up Africa RISING technologies to intensify production of legumes like pigeon pea.

Farmers note that the improved housing and pen feeding technologies help address critical challenges like goat abortion, poor goat housing, health, and feed shortages during the dry season.

Henry Mtetemera from Dija Village told reviewers he opted to adapt the improved goat pen because it assures him of the health, security and productivity of his goats. Twice every week, Henry travels from his Dija Village to Ntubwi Village to learn about the goat intensification technologies from Africa RISING scientists and lead farmers. Pen feeding is among the interventions introduced to livestock keepers at Ntubwi Village in Malawi. This intervention is aimed at addressing the feed scarcity (and wastage) challenges especially during the dry season. With pen feeding, farmers collect crop residues and natural grasses and conserve them as hay for use during the dry season.

Nutrient, residue and water management for resilience along a climate gradient in southern Malawi

In much of Africa, seasonal rainfall predictions are often generalized, limiting their usefulness in practically guiding responsive management on the farms, including choice of appropriate cropping regimes that best-fit expected rainfall quality. Farmers are therefore exposed to climatic risk in environments with high inter- and intra-season rainfall variability, making fertilizer investments unattractive.

Simple approaches to buffer farmers against soil moisture stresses are required. Over the past 5 years, Africa RISING has demonstrated to over 3000 farmers how they could reduce the intensity of drought related shocks through in-situ water conservation. We have shown that in-situ storage of rainwater that comes as high intensity storms, through tied-ridges, is effective at reducing erosion and increasing the proportion of rainwater that infiltrates.

Over the past few years (2016-2019), Malawi has already experienced both extreme ends of weather patterns – droughts and flooding.The main objective is to quantify the benefits of integrated nutrient and water management through simple in-situ tied ridges, water harvesting techniques, and residue management. Tied ridges store excess water and increase the residence time for rainwater to infiltrate and reduce runoff and erosion.

To investigate the interactions between rainfall received, nutrient management and soil type, the AR Malawi team set up two on-farm experiments for each of three agroecologies (sites) in Machinga district, Southern Malawi to investigate the following:

  • Does in-situ water harvesting through tied ridges result in better nutrient use efficiencies across sites?
  • What are the unique niches for this practice? (soils, rainfall season quality)

The following aspects were also investigated in some cases:

  • Does incorporating soil water enhancing technologies increase/reduce the immobilization potential of maize residues?
  • What is the effect of varying the quantity of the crop residues incorporated (both maize and legumes) on mineral N dynamics, soil water content and maize productivity?

Harry Milanzi, a farmer from Mumtuwa Village explains thus: “The tied-ridges are helping me to reduce the impact of soil erosion on my farm.”

Clear as day and night! Drs Regis Chikowo (Michigan State University) and Christian Thierfelder (CIMMYT) compare maize treatments for maize/legume rotation with reduced fertilizer vs control (no maize/legume rotation, no fertilizer).

Conservation Agriculture (CA) long-term trials and demonstrations

Promoting and scaling conservation agriculture (CA) practices is a key aspect of the climate-smart agriculture practices being advanced by Africa RISING. CA is a cropping system made of different practices including no-till farming, crop residue retention as mulch and crop rotations. In Malawi, CA is complemented by targeted fertilizer applications, the use of drought-tolerant cultivars, and doubled-up legume systems of pigeon peas and groundnuts.

Conservation agriculture interventions have proven a significant impact on cereal and legume production southern Africa. In an assessment comparing maize productivity in farms under CA versus those under conventional tillage, it was noted that CA resulted in 75% higher yield compared to conventional tillage, reduced farm labour (allowing farmers to use time gained for other pressing activities), greater economic benefits in form of a higher net benefit and net present value, as well as higher returns to labour and investment.

In Lemu Village, trials and demonstrations on CA systems have been ongoing since 2007 (later rolled into Africa RISING in 2018). We are demonstrating long-term CA systems with maize groundnut rotations, different drought-tolerant maize varieties and pigeonpea intercropping. Due to an excellent extension officer the adoption rate is also high in this area.

“I am now food secured, because with conservation agriculture, I use less labor therefore leaveing me time to do other family activities to earn money,”notes Mary Twaya (right), one of the farmers who have adopted CA in Lemu Village.

Mary uses the profit to cover some needs including purchasing some school equipment's for her kids. She is happy with the support from Africa RISING.

“At first people were laughing at me thinking I am mad because I had adopted the CA technologies, but now they are all trying to learn from me,” she states.


A look at on-farm systems research

A visit to Moshi Maile’s farm in Mlali Village in Tanzania’s Kongwa District gave the group a chance to see the farming systems approach to sustainable intensification deployed by the Africa RISING project. Maile is a model farmer among his peers there. He has managed to successfully implement different technologies promoted by Africa RISING at farm level into a synergistic arrangement. The technologies he has adopted from the project include: variety selection of improved crop varieties (for better productivity), rearing improved chicken ecotypes (for income and improving community breed), establishing soil and water conservation structures like Fanya juu and Fanyachini terraces (for erosion control), and establishing woodlots and fodder banks (for fuelwood supply and supply of leaf meals for poultry).

The combined effect of all these improved technologies and agricultural practices has been an immense improvement in the livelihoods of Maile’s family.

Through this activity, farmers have also been trained on proper husbandry and poultry feed processing from locally available materials such as maize bran, sunflower seed cake, Gliricidia leaves (harvested from the woodlots), sorghum, and millet.

So far over 3,000 cross-bred grower chicks have been distributed to farmers. The cross-bred chicken are fast growing and can attain a live-weight of between 3.1 and 4.2 kg after just 4 – 5 months which is a good market weight. The crossbreeds are also better at producing eggs, laying on average 260 eggs/year compared to the local varieties which lay an average of 70 eggs/year. These comparative advantages mean that farmers such as Maile can get increased income and improved nutrition faster.

A Chat with the Kongwa-Kiteto Africa RISING supported innovation platform

The Kongwa-Kiteto Africa RISING research team launched its first innovation platform in February 2013. Participants are drawn from diverse stakeholders associated with crops and livestock value chains in both districts. IP Meetings also involve participants from Government Statutory Agencies such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority, Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre and Zonal Agricultural Research Centres, District Local Government and complementary USAID supported programmes-NAFAKA and Tuboreshe-Chakula.

The aim of this Innovation Platform (IP) is to bring stakeholders together to clarify issues needed for effective deployment of R&D innovations and complementary interventions focusing on maize, groundnut and pigeonpea value chains. It also seeks to leverage on the agro-pastoral production systems of Kongwa and Kiteto. Agro-forestry based interventions and how they could be used to improve soil fertility, pasture management, food and incomes are also an integral part of IP discussions.

The IP has a three-tier operation structure i.e. the community (village), where R4D interventions occur; the district (through the District Agricultural Offices); and Regional level bringing the two Districts of Kongwa and Kiteto. At district level, policy that affects adoption, scaling-out and broader policy issues are leveraged. At the regional level, stakeholders from both districts discuss common challenges and have implications especially for access to markets.

Common action areas derived from the IP include:

1. Testing and deployment of resilient varieties and animal breeds for

  • Better adaptability to changing rainfall pattern;
  • Increased productivity and adaptability to pests and diseases;
  • Improve resource use efficiency reducing costs but increasing productivity

2. Testing and deployment of resource efficient agronomy and their related animal husbandry.

3. Improving access to agricultural inputs especially improved seed at community level.

4. Unlocking the potential for markets, food, nutrition and safety of key crop products.

Dryland research: Elite crops; intercropping; insitu water harvesting

Genetic intensification is one of the three pillars of sustainable intensification, alongside ecological intensification and socio-economic intensification. Africa RISING has been working with farmers in Kongwa and Kiteto districts to improve the crop varieties available to farmers in these semi-arid parts of Tanzania as an entry point to sustainably intensifying their farming systems. In both districts, the scientists and farmers have implemented systematic variety screening, on-farm testing and participatory variety selection for groundnut, sorghum, pigeon pea and drought-tolerant varieties. Through this work, some promising varieties have been identified.

It is worth noting that the Africa RISING team did not do a ‘from scratch’ breeding program to arrive at the varieties being released to farmers, but rather leveraged on working with breeders from other initiatives to identify best-bet/best-fit varieties for Kongwa and Kiteto districts.

By testing the new improved varieties with farmers, the research team has been able to get feedback from them as well as from other stakeholders. The approach adopted by the team has been participatory by nature. Farmers, for example, have been evaluating the varieties based on their traits of interest such as drought tolerance, early maturity, ability to yield more, taste and number of pods produced per plant (for groundnut). To scale out the new varieties once the top varieties have been selected, the team plans to promote them through community seed banks.

The following varieties are currently in the pipeline for release:

  • New candidate groundnut for the semi-arid agro-ecologies of central Tanzania: 3 varieties: ICGV-SMs 02724, 05650 and 03519.
  • New candidate Sorghum varieties for the semi-arid agro-ecologies of central Tanzania5 varieties: Gambella 1107, IESV 23010 DL, IESV 92028 DL, IESV 23006 DL and IEVS 92008.
  • New candidate Pearl millet for the semi-arid agro-ecologies of central Tanzania: 6 varieties: SDMV 96053, SDMV 94005, IP 8774, IP 9776, SDMV 96063 and KAT PM 2.

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Photo of a farmer’s field plot showcasing in-situ water harvesting technologies in Lakaila Village.

TARI scientist, Elirehema Swai, explains about the informal seed systems approach used by project partners to promote newer elite crop varieties in Kongwa and Kiteto Districts.

Improved groundnut and pigeon pea on farm demonstration at Laikala Village.

On-farm systems research - Livestock/vegetable integration; Youth engagement

When Veronica Lukumay, a farmer from Bermi Village in Tanzania’s Babati District joined Africa RISING activities and started adopting technologies back in 2013; her son, Olais was still in high school. Now, 7 years later, with Olais finished with his schooling, Veronica is letting Olais take charge of production in the family’s farm. His keen interest in farming as a business has lent him to intimately engage in some of the Africa RISING technologies like growing elite indigenous vegetable varieties, improved poultry production, as well as improved livestock husbandry and feed production. Through his dedication and success in times when the youth feel there aren’t just enough jobs to employ them, Olais’ story is starting convince other youth in Bermi Village to consider going into farming to earn their income.

Top left photo - Olais Lukumay talks to Mark Powell.

Taking technologies to scale: Africa RISING’s unique partnership with Islands of Peace

The Africa RISING program was launched in 2012 to develop, test, validate and scale technologies that equitably address food insecurity and income challenges among small-holder farmers. Scaling within Africa RISING builds on a vision to continue to generate research outputs that support farm-based households to improve their livelihoods. Farmers have different reasons for engaging in farming. This implies a diversity of intensification pathways to realize sustainable intensification. Africa RISING targets to reach 300,000 households by 2021, through strategic partnerships with development partners. In July 2018, a unique partnership with Iles de Paix, a Belgian NGO, was commenced.

Kilimo Endelevu (KE) is Iles de Paix’s implementing arm. It comprises two local organizations: MVIWATA-Arusha (MVIWATA is National Network of Small-Scale Farmer Groups in Tanzania) and RECODA (Research, Community and Organizational Development Associates). Iles de Paix coordinates the partnership. Farmer challenges are identified through baseline studies conducted by RECODA following which, KE mobilizes the farmers into producer groups with the support of the local district extension services. RECODA proposes technology options to address the challenges and demonstrates these to farmers, while MVIWATA addresses the business side of the interventions in terms of access to credit, entrepreneurship skills etc. Africa RISING strengthens RECODA’s role by providing validated (SI) technologies in these demos, and continues to collect data to refine the technologies.

How it all fits together: Africa RISING - Iles de Paix partnership model.

Objective of the partnership: Improve productivity, economic, social, and human conditions of 7000 farmers, and benefit 34,000 household members in Karatu district though tested and validated postharvest technologies

Africa RISING - Iles de Paix scaling model.

This partnership is innovative and unique. Technology delivery and scaling model involves:

  • Real cost sharing to support needs identification and research for technology improvement and adaptation;
  • Real allocation of roles to partners to sustain impacts at scale:
  • KE through RECODA and MVIWATA collects baseline data; identifies areas of support
  • Iles de Paix apportions resources for capacity building
  • Africa RISING demonstrates validated technologies
  • Farmers install and manage self-owned demo plots;
  • Africa RISING continues with research on the farmer demos to generate research outputs and refine the technologies.
  • Iles de Paix strengthens farmer learning, involvement extension services, and collects and shares M&E data.

Underlying success factors

  • Ensuring coordination between the partners;
  • Harnessing commitment of team members;
  • Supporting local institutions

Africa RISING website

Photos in this story on Flickr

Created By
Africa RISING Communications


Photo credits: Eveline Massam/IITA