Better seeds in the hands of smallholder farmers:
Small farmers in Malawi find it dificult to access improved seeds
of crops other than maize. ICRISAT is building the capacity of Malawi research and farmers' organizations in legumes crop breeding, especially groundnut
, to develop pest-resistant and high-yielding varieties such as medium-duration pigeonpea that avoids terminal drought and open grazing damage during the dry season, or rosette-resistant groundnuts.
Under the Generation Challenge Programme, the search for molecular biomarkers for resistance to important groundnut diseases (rosette, rust and early leaf spot) and the identification of drought-tolerant germplasm will lead to new opportunities for groundnut improvement in the coming years. [ref: Groundnut improvement, Janila and al, 2013]
Farmers cannot adopt high-yielding improved varieties of dryland cereals and legumes, unless appropriate seed production and delivery systems are in place. Working with farmers' organizations and local seed entrepreneurs, over 1,700 smallholder farmers are now able to supply high quality certified legume seeds to the Farm Input Subsidy Program [Seeds for change case study]. An umbrella brand, Malawi Seed Alliance (MASA), will help market this smallholder-centered seed industry.
More efficient agroecological farming practices and systems: Responding to limited fertilizer access and to improve the resilience of rural communities, researchers are working with farmers to test more efficient agroecological cropping systems like pigeonpea-maize intercropping, the use of dual-purpose maize, and conservation farming. Optimizing the benefits of crop residues in crop-livestock farming systems is another priority.
Linking agriculture and health: Research also focuses on how to increase legume cultivation and boost their demand, leading to increased production and consumption of protein and micronutrient-rich legume crops.
Crop contamination by aflatoxin, a poisonous toxin produced by a fungi, is a major public health issue. A recent study showed that 64% of the population tested in rural Malawi are highly exposed to aflatoxin, with links to liver disease incidence (Read Mc Knight project Groundnut Varieties Improvement for Yield and Adaptation, Human Health, and Nutrition; 2010-2014.
Training farmers’ groups and associations on appropriate handling, drying and storage of grain, eg Mandela cork, use of sisal bag for storage, as well as setting up proper quality control systems (with low-cost aflatoxin screening kits) helped Malawi smallholders mitigate aflatoxin contamination and regain markets (watch the CEO of NASFAM’s testimony).
ICRISAT works in Malawi with farmers’ organizations like the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM), Malawi’s agricultural research institutions, eg Chitedze Agricultural Research Station, and numerous development partners.
USAID best analysis
Feed the Future Malawi Factsheet
DFID Malawi operational plan 2011-2015
Rural poverty country profile, Malawi (IFAD)