How Africa RISING technologies are improving farmers’ lives in Malawi this season (2016/2017) THE LISTENING POST

The leadership team of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)-led Africa RISING project in East and Southern Africa recently concluded monitoring visits to project sites in Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania, aimed at assessing the status and progress of implementation of various project activities by partners. These took place between 15–22 February 2017 in Malawi and Zambia, and 21–31 March 2017 in Tanzania.

Location of Africa RISING activities in Malawi

Over the past five years, Africa RISING Malawi team has implemented action research with smallholder farmers in two districts – Dedza and Ntcheu (four EPAs). The consortium of partners has implemented activities to alleviate poverty across the communities through improved productivity of both crop and livestock to enhance food security and nutrition outcomes. Since mid-2016, project activities have been expanded to two additional EPAs and the USAID Malawi Country Mission has also funded a two-year project, INVC Bridging Activity that is implementing activities in 5 districts (Dedza, Ntcheu, Mchinji, Lilongwe rural, and Mangochi). The Bridging Activity includes latest research findings from the Africa RISING project to further boost production of smallholder farm families who were beneficiaries of the project’s predecessor, INVC 1.

On-farm experimentation and demos with farmers have led to adaptation and adoption of various ‘best fit’ technologies by Africa RISING.
This photo report captures some of the activities being implemented by project partners and the voices of farmers about how these agricultural technologies are improving their livelihoods.

Mother trial sites at the heart of farmer learning

Different improved farming practices are displayed for farmers to learn from at the mother trial sites. Several ‘baby’ farmers then proceed to adapt and adopt the technologies they have been trained on and demonstrated on the mother site. Baby farmers are essentially farmers who out of their own interest have selected a particular improved farming practice from the mother site to replicate on their farms. All baby farmers regularly come to 'learn' from the mother site and help in taking care of it.

Aerial view of an Africa RISING mother trial site.
Farmers also get a chance to compare different technologies by observing how they perform at the mother trial sites.
'We learn a lot from the Africa RISING project mother site. Now I know how to implement a proper rotation that ensures my soil stays fertile for the next crop I will plant.'

Moses Ndiche, a farmer from Khanganya Village, Linthipe EPA in Malawi.

German Luca, manages an Africa RISING mother site in Mtila Village, Mtubwi EPA, Machinga District. On the mother trial site, there are ongoing experiments by the project on soil and water conservation as well as proper nutrient management techniques like maize–legume rotations.

Moses and German are just two examples of how valuable and central the mother trial sites have become to farmers in the communities where Africa RISING work is ongoing.

Tackling the legume seed dilemma

Obtaining good quality legume seed is still a major challenge faced by most farmers in Malawi. For example when farmers buy seed from agro-dealers the germination rate on some instances is as low as 30%. The Africa RISING project therefore sought to provide viable and sustainable alternatives for farmers to overcome this challenge by training some of the farmers as seed multipliers.

Lush green cowpea (left) and soybean (right) in early bloom. Africa RISING is implementing activities to ensure seed availability for these two legume crops as well as pigeonpea and groundnut.

The project gives these farmers good seed varieties and lets them grow and sell back to the project. The project then distribute it as quality declared seed to other farmers. For his efforts, the seed multiplier gets the money, while the wider farming community members within the village get improved soybean, groundnut, cowpea or pigeonpea seed that will not disappoint them when they plant it during the next season. Through this activity, the Africa RISING project aims to increases community-wide seed availability over a three-year cycle by making quality seed available to a critical mass of lead farmers who will also be trained on appropriate seed production.

This approach also has the additional benefit that the seed that is given to the farmers will have been confirmed to be a high performer in the local conditions. This is a strong credibility statement for the farmers who prefer to see the results first before adopting a new variety.

Africa RISING Project target is to ensure that 250,000 smallholder farmers have access to seed of improved legume varieties and are using appropriate agronomic practices for enhanced resilience and production. This target will be achieved in collaboration with the INVC Bridging Activity and other Feed the Future funded projects working in the same districts and beyond.

Charles Kuyenda from Linthipe EPA is among 10 farmers in the EPA, who are working within the Africa RISING Project as soybean seed multipliers.

This is Charles Kuyenda's first season of seed multiplication and he is very excited about it. His farm is 0.25 hectares. He has other fields where he planted maize and groundnut in intercrops and as sole stands, something else that he picked from the mother site. Being involved in the project for the past 1 year now, Charles has learnt how to correctly set up ridges. For example, last season he had 63 ridges only on his farm, but after visiting the mother site and learning by working with Africa RISING researchers there, he has now increased the ridges to 91 after realizing that this ensured better moisture conservation and crop density.

'Usually, the soybean traders buy from us at a low price. I am sure that I will get more as a seed multiplier working with the Africa RISING project. In fact, the way I see it, I will probably continue with this even if the project goes away because the issue of quality seed is real to us.'

Charles Kuyenda, Linthipe EPA

Sylvia Luwonde is one of the 60 groundnut seed multipliers under the Africa RISING Project in Ntubwi EPA, Machinga District. The project offered her 10 kg of groundnut seed for multiplication.

Complementarities, synergies and linkages between Africa RISING Project and the INVC Bridging Activity Project

Elizabeth Sibale, Manager INVC Bridging Activity Project.

The INVC Bridging Activity Project is a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Malawi Mission funded sub-project under Africa RISING that aims to strengthen the value chains for selected grain legumes in Malawi. This project is a successor of another project–INVC 1 which aimed to also contribute to improvements in rural incomes and nutritional security as a result of strengthened legume value chains.

The Bridging Activity works with farmer groups and cooperatives (carried over from the INVC 1 project) to engage communities in the sustainable production of a tradeable surplus of grain legumes, particularly the groundnut, soybean, pigeon pea and cowpea value chains.

Thomas Chionetsero is the chairperson of Chitowo Farmers’ Cooperative, one of the 14 cooperatives partnering with the INVC Bridging Activity Project. The cooperative has 1,476 members. Over half (799) of the group are women.

Through the activities of the INVC Bridging Activity Project, each member of Chitowo Farmers’ Cooperative was given at least 10 kg of soybean seed to plant. As part of the collaboration between the cooperative and the project, the farmers are also trained on the good agronomic practices for production of each of the legumes focused on by the project.

Thomas notes that his fellow farmers are harvesting more than they did in the past. He attributes this to the improved practices that they have been trained on like the variety choices for specific ecological zones, inoculant application for soybean, planting time and spacing. At a personal level, Thomas notes that he started applying inoculant to his soybean only three years ago after joining the INVC 1 Project. He is amazed by the difference applying inoculant makes to soybean yields.

Members of Chitowo Farmers’ Cooperative grow soybean for market sale (as grain). The INVC Bridging Activity also has specific interventions beyond improving legume productivity to ensure that farmers have better and competitive access to markets. The Agricultural Commodity Exchange for Africa (ACE), Farmers’ Union of Malawi (FUM) and Catholic Development Commission of Malawi (CADECOM) are the primary partners within the Bridging Activity charged with the role of assisting participating farmer groups like Chitowo to market the legumes they harvest by providing information and training on aggregation, storage and marketing options. The Bridging Project encourages collective marketing by farmers for stronger bargaining.

Sheila Magaleta, a mother of three, is a member of another farming groups that works with the Bridging Project - Njomole Chapter Farmers Association. The association has 1,000 members.

As part of the group, Sheila has been involved in the project for the past three years. She acknowledges to have learnt a lot! For example, she neither knew about double row planting nor the spacing between rows. She would just grow her soybean without following any particular best practice. She has now been trained on spacing (75 cm between rows), double row planting and effective maize-legume rotation. As a result, she confirms to have seen the productivity of her farm go up! She also now gets more income that she uses to pay for her children’s education as well as buy other farm inputs like fertilizer for her maize.

One of the most significant benefits she derives from the project has been from the collective marketing option for their soybean produce implemented by ACE and CADECOM within the INVC Bridging Project. Working in a group really helps calm her anxieties as a farmer, because they coach and learn from each other. They also get to sell their produce together so she feels secure as part of a group.

She would hitherto harvest 4 bags from her 0.5 acre plot but now harvests 9 bags from the same land. Why? She notes that she has planted in double rows, has applied the recommended spacing and inoculant. She sees this as a real big improvement. One bag of soya bean sells for 10,000 Kwacha. Out of what she harvests, she only keeps one bag for seed and sells off the rest.

'I am earning more income. I am now able to buy fertilizer for my maize crop ensuring that I get optimum yields for maize too!' she notes.

Sheila wishes that there was a value addition component within the project where they can be trained on processing of soya into milk or oil.

The INVC Bridging Activity Project uses a value chain approach to broaden and deepen the access of farmer groups to more remunerative markets through collective marketing, the warehouse receipt system, forward contracts, and more transparent market price information from end markets. Well performing farmer groups are therefore easily connected with buyers, including processors and seed companies, to foster direct agreements or contracts involving the provision of inputs, advisory services, and output marketing as a means of sustaining and scaling out the progress.

A screen shot of a text message in Chichewa language that comes to a farmer from the ACE system when somebody buys their grain.

Achieving greater impact by partnering with the right development partners

Norias Kayira, head of agriculture, Catholic Relief Services (centre, in black t-shirt) in a discussion with a farmer and members of the Africa RISING Project management team.

Through partnership with the INVC Bridging Project and Sustainable Socio-Economic Development Initiative (OSSEDI), the Catholic Relief Services is working to ensure 18,000 smallholder farmers have access to improved legume (groundnut, pigeonpea, soybean) seed through seed fairS in Balaka, Machinga and Mangochi districts in southern Malawi. Doubled-up legume as well as the double row and compact plant population are also promoted through this partnership.

Seed fairs ensure a closer relationship between farmers and agro-dealers who have improved varieties of legumes. The fairs also provide farmers with a wider choice of agro-dealers and local seed producing farmers who compete with each other on both price and quality.

How the Seed Fairs work:

  1. The CRS team, farmers and officials from the Malawi Ministry of Agriculture set a date and agree on the ideal venue to hold the seed fair. Usually, the venue is selected to the convenience of the farmers.
  2. An invitation to come and sell at the seed fair is then sent out to the agro-dealers and local seed producing farmers, notifying them of the venue and date of the seed fair.
  3. Before seeds are allowed to be sold at the Fair, officials of the Malawi Ministry of Agriculture inspect the seed lots to be presented at the seed fair to ensure that they are of good quality.
  4. Farmers are mobilized for the seed fair using various mediums like meetings, public address systems and radio.
  5. CRS then provides each farmer with their seed vouchers for the fair. Under the INVC Bridging Activity Project, the farmers are usually issued with vouchers worth 28,000 Malawi Kwacha. It is this vouchers that the farmers use to purchase whichever seeds they prefer. Farmers are handed the voucher on entrance at the seed fair.
  6. At the end of the seed fair, CRS conducts an ‘exit interview’ with the farmers and the seed vendors to ensure that lessons learnt from one seed fair feed into the next one.

Reinforcing what farmers have learnt through community level activities

Farmers' field day in Chopola Village, Umbwa Section, Machinga District.

The Africa RISING project uses community level activities like field days to mobilize and sensitize farmers about the different improved technologies and agricultural practices promoted by the project.

Robin Musa's farm was visited during the field day. Robin, in this picture with his wife and son, is one of the 60 soybean seed multipliers working under the Africa RISING Project in Machinga District.

During the field day, the farmers usually visit one of their colleague’s farm or the mother trial site. They then systematically go through facilitated discussions about what they are observing and learning.

Africa RISING hoiyee!!!

Regis Chikowo and other members of the Africa RISING project team take part in a song and dance by farmers in Duwa Village (Ntubwi EPA), Machinga District.

Piason Chiyasa (white t-shirt) from Mkambali Village was so impressed with Africa RISING interventions. He composed a poem for the project.

Africa RISING: Ndiwe yani mthetsa njala (Africa RISING: What a weapon you are for eradicating hunger!)

  • Ndiwe yani mthetsa Njala? (Who are you terminator of hunger?), Ulimi wa zakudya ulimbikitsa (You promote crop production), Mgwilizano wa mayiko ukhazikitsa (Your power has helped unite countries), Zipangizo za ulimi upeleka mosayang’ana nkhope (You are impartial in providing farm inputs), Ulimbikitsa mmayiko amu Africa (Through you, a bond in African nations has been strengthened), Kodi ndiwe yani mthetsa njala? (Who are you terminator of hunger?)
  • Africa RISING ndiye dzina langa (Africa RISING is my name), Njala ndiye mdani wanga (Hunger is my enemy), Malamulo a ulimi wamakono ndiye chilimbikitso changa. Ulimi wachakudya ndilimbikitsa kuti njala isiye Phazi mu Africa (I promote improved agricultural technologies in food production to end hunger in Africa), Africa RISING ndiye dzina langa, mthetsa njala (My name is Africa RISING, eradicator of hunger!)
Created By
Jonathan Odhong'
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All photo credits: Jonathan Odhong'/IITA

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