SIMLESA undertook on-station and on-farm research in different agro-ecological zones to assess the benefits of CASI and to develop appropriate technological packages for farmers. It increased the range of maize, legume and fodder/forage varieties available to smallholder farmers. Farmers were involved in participatory seed selection trials to identify the seed with qualities that they prefer. SIMLESA helped establish Agricultural innovation platforms (AIPs) to bring members along the value chain together (including farmers, seed producers, agro-dealers, NGOs and extension workers) to better serve farming communities, help mobilize resources, and support scaling. SIMLESA also provided training and capacity strengthening for national agricultural research systems and worked with government, business, and civil society organizations to provide an enabling environment for the benefits of CASI to be realized by farmers.
In Malawi the agricultural sector drives the economy accounting for about 29 percent of GDP (CIA World factbook, 2018) and provides nearly 80% of employment (FAO 2015). Agricultural lands in Malawi make up roughly 47% of the total land area (FAO, 2013). Yet, food insecurity in Malawi remains widespread, especially among the rural poor. The 2016/17 production year saw about 6.7 million people, about half of Malawi’s rural population, being food insecure (need reference).
The agricultural sector is characterized by a dualistic structure - a high input/high productivity estate sector and a low input/low productivity smallholder sector. The estate sector comprises a small number of large-scale farmers, occupying about 60 percent of the fertile land. The smallholder sub-sector comprises a very large number of farmers growing mainly low-yield food crops on small plots with a minimal use of inputs (Moyo et al. 2015). 55 percent of the smallholder farmers farm on less than 0.5 ha and more than 75 percent cultivate less than one ha of land (NSO 2005; DARS 2011). Smallholder agriculture generally accounts for more than 85% of production which meets the country’s demand for food staples and provides some export surplus (NSO 2004; DARS 2011). This is because estate farmers focus heavily on export crops.
The agricultural sector in Malawi is faced with many challenges. Over reliance on rainfall which is usually of a short duration renders the country vulnerably to weather shocks and hazards. Erratic rainfall, increased water scarcity, rising temperatures, and extreme weather events such as floods and droughts have increased in magnitude and frequency over the years (Coulibaly et al. 2015). In addition, the country is also affected by deforestation and land degradation. Yaron et al. (2011) showed that soil losses through erosion averaged 20 t/ha/year, which translated to a yield loss of 4 - 25% every year. This undermines the livelihoods of rural communities and exacerbates the extent of food insecurity and rural poverty in Malawi.
The country’s main food crops are maize, groundnuts, cassava, sweet potatoes, beans, soybeans pigeonpeas, rice, sorghum, millets, vegetables and fruits. There is low adoption of sustainable agricultural technologies as the majority of farmers still practice traditional farming methods. This coupled with low capacity of households to bounce back when hit by shock, leaves households vulnerable to food insecurity in times of shocks such as price fluctuation and weather variations (IMF 2017). Low investments in soil fertility improvement and increasing climate variability over the last five decades has further compounded the problem, leaving the sector increasingly vulnerable (Binswanger-Mkhize et al., 2011). For example, more than 90% of maize is produced under rainfed conditions often with erratic rains featuring as the most important production factor (Kamanga et al., 2015). In addition, most soils have lost their inherent fertility and do not produce a good crop yield. SIMLESA offered a pathway for farmers to adapt in the face of climate change and other variabilities.
In Malawi, SIMLESA was implemented in six districts representing two major maize-legume growing agro-ecological zones. These agro-ecological zones were the low-altitude and mid-altitude areas. The low-altitude zone represents the area of low rainfall per annum and high temperatures but very fertile soils. This zone covered the Salima district at Tembwe EPA, Balaka district at Rivirivi EPA; and parts of Ntcheu district at Nsipe EPA. The mid-altitude zone represents the area where the bulk of agricultural activities take place in Malawi. This zone covered the Lilongwe district at Mitundu Extension Planning Area (EPA), Kasungu district at Mtunthama EPA and Mchinji district at Kalulu EPA.
Despite differences in agro-ecology, all study districts are characterized by rain-fed maize-legume cropping systems. This makes them vulnerable to climate change and climate variability.
Direct beneficiaries reached through SIMLESA support : 102,856
Innovation Platforms: 10
Farmers reached: 10,375
Researchers trained 651
Adoption target: 117,641
|Area under dedicated for maize (millions)||1.2|
|Production per ha (tonnes)||2.6|
Six farmers at each EPA conducted the on-farm trials where the new technologies were tested. Therefore, a total of 36 farmers pioneered on-farm trials of CASI. The on-station long term trial was mounted at Chitala Research Station.
CASI was then scaled through government agencies and the extension services system which provides a conducive environment for public private partnerships to thrive. SIMLESA used agricultural innovation platforms (AIPs) as the main organizing and planning base for scaling CASI technologies. Farmer-managed on-farm trials were established to provide an opportunity for farmers to test and choose the best intensification options. Demonstrations, field days, exchange visits and farmer field schools were used to popularize and promote adoption of intensification options among farmers. Informational materials such as leaflets, flyers, posters and brochures complemented the extension. In addition, government programmes such as the Sustainable Agricultural Production Programme (SAPP) and Agricultural Productivity Programme for Southern Africa (APPSA) were used to promote SIMLESA technologies beyond the SIMLESA impact sites. In the 2016-17 season competitive grants were provided to 2 NGOs to assist in dissemination of CASI technologies which resulted in widespread awareness of the technologies and increased adoption of the same.
Some of our field experimental sites: