Strengthening Local Agricultural Innovation Systems in Tanzania and Malawi

In many sub-Saharan African countries, poverty and food insecurity are linked to low agricultural productivity which accelerating climate change (CC) threatens to make even worse. In Tanzania and Malawi, a key challenge for decision makers is to understand the context and strategies of farmers and other stakeholders in agriculture for adapting to CC, including increasingly variable climatic conditions. Diverse farming environments and complexities associated with the context of peoples’ livelihoods varying over time and space suggest a need for localised innovation to enhance and sustain productivity. There is therefore a need to foster processes for two-way communication and engagement amongst these stakeholders and for supporting their information and other needs in order to strengthen farmers’ and other stakeholders’ capacities to adapt.

Four years of action research in Tanzania and Malawi targeted farming communities in two contrasting agro-ecological zones per country namely high and low potential together with local, district, national, and regional. The project collectively identified information, training and products to be shared and used to develop agricultural innovation systems better able to adapt to CC and variability. A combination of a sustainable livelihoods framework and innovations systems thinking provided a conceptual frame and a learning alliance approach guided our action research. The project built on: Trans-disciplinary partnerships and initiatives in agriculture and natural resources; Tanzania’s and Malawi’s NAPAs (National Adaptation Programmes of Action), which prioritize agriculture; Farmers’ livelihood strategies in relation to CC; and other agricultural stakeholders’ (public & private) strategies. The process included distinguishing agro-ecologically and socio-economically more (Southern Highlands, Tanzania; Mzimba and Mulanje districts, Malawi) and less favoured areas (semi-arid Central Zone, Tanzania; Chikhwawa and Karonga districts, Malawi) and direct and indirect benefits to the vulnerable.

Diverse stakeholders within the agricultural innovation systems reported similar experiences and perceptions of climate change and climate variability (CC&CV) for the focal geographical locations. A participatory process was used to identify and develop the different agricultural adaptation information, training and product needs of the key stakeholders/ boundary partners (farmer learning groups, extension, stockists, media, research, NGOs, meteorological officers, National Consultation Group). The action research supported a multi-stakeholder experiential learning approach centred on village learning plots for collective planning, testing, evaluating and reflecting cycles. The action research themes included: soil and water management; crop and varietal biodiversity; and local weather data. An annual learning visit and stakeholder workshops were developed as participatory monitoring and evaluation processes, to help: share the learning amongst the different boundary partners; shape the future cycles of learning; and capture the lesson learning. An outcome mapping approach was incorporated into the learning visit to monitor and reflect on behavioural change amongst different boundary partners in relation to adaptation and supporting adaptation to CC&CV. In addition to the collective learning process, key adaptation practices identified by the agricultural innovation system actors included: deep tillage for in-situ harvesting of rain water; early maturing and drought resistant varieties and crops; new cash crops; training on community seed production; improved irrigation arrangements; CC&CV awareness raising. Farmers have begun practicing what they experimented with at the village learning plot on their own fields, and neighbouring farmers have also started testing the practices and processes. Key players in the agricultural innovation systems such as NGOs and district extension offices are already scaling out the agricultural adaptation practices and processes. Further work is needed to share the findings more widely.

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