On climate smart agriculture and development in Malawi

Global experts on environment and development have realized that agriculture can be a critical tool to solve problems associated with climate change and weather variability in many counties. This realization comes in the wake that the world population will grow from current 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050 with most of the increase occurring in South Asia and sub- Saharan Africa. At the same time governments have noted that climate change threatens production’s stability and productivity. For example findings have shown that in many areas of the world, climate change is expected to reduce productivity to even lower levels and make production more erratic.

This situation has been observed in many part of Malawi and it has affected several development efforts resulting in more people failing to meet their livelihoods entitlements. This article introduces the concept of climate-smart agriculture; identifies challenges at national level to subscribe to the concept and suggest potential development alternatives for improved livelihoods.

Dr David Mkwambisi

In the near past, Food and Agricultural Organization has defined climate–smart agriculture as agriculture that sustainably increase productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation) and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals. This thinking is not new in many ways only that it has allowed development experts to rethink in the way we design and impliment agricultural related interventions. The policy debate is now shifting to understand how agricultural productivity can increase by 70% to feed the increasing population whilst conserving the natural systems.

This is even critical when farmers are faced with incidences of severe droughts, erratic rains, floods, new forms of pest and diseases and decreased potential yields. Our argument is that climate-smart agriculture requires transformation in the management of soil, water, landscapes, technologies and genetic resources to ensure higher productivity and resilience while reducing the greenhouse footprint. This requires maximizing synergies and minimizing trade-offs between productivity and emissions per unit of agricultural product.

While there is increasing recognition of the links between agriculture, food security and climate change, and that a number of important processes are underway to advance this agenda, many interventions in Malawi seem to lack the coordinated effort to meet the triple wins. First and foremost, we are not linking food production to population increase and dynamics. Those concerned with population dynamics are not directly dealing with food production. In this case, the increase in population is resulting in increased waste generation especially in urban areas. As such, the amount of greenhouse gases emissions are increasing resulting in global warming. In addition, increased population is causing landscape destruction through deforestation, poor land use practices that are making Malawi to be a CO2 net emitter.

Despite the opportunity to utilize municipal solid waste for crop production and improved soil carbon authorities, Malawian cities are still on business as usual to deliver tonnes of compostable waste to dumping sites. This process is not only costing Malawians millions of Kwachas, it is also a pathway for releasing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

As a nation, we have deliberately failed to recognize the critical role that agriculture plays in alleviating poverty and enhancing resilience. In this case, agricultural markets have failed to promote both urban and rural food systems resulting in hunger and vulnerability.

For example, maize, the only crop that has been promoted has failed to trade as a cash crop meaning that households lack incomes to meet their other direct and indirect livelihoods entitlements. Climate smart agriculture should be able to provide alternative sources of income while reducing food insecurity and avoiding emissions. The whole concept of agricultural subsidy fails to subscribe to this notion whereby more inorganic fertilizers are added to the soils affecting its quality and directly contributing to greenhouse emissions.

This approach has failed to address issues of forest and watershed management, agricultural biodiversity, preservation of ecosystems, water and energy. To date, the agricultural subsidy programme fails to promote alternative sources of energy, integration of crop and livestock production, management of crop residues and creation of employment and alternative off-farm sectors with little emissions.

My point of view is that to achieve food security, eradicate poverty and protect vulnerable groups is an essential component of adaptation and that such effort may also generate mitigation benefits. However, without statistical evidence, more Malawians are poor, food insecure and more children are still faced with malnutrition problems. How can such groups be able to adapt when incidences of droughts and flood have increased in their intensity and frequency?

Despite the proliferation of farmer-owned organisations and farmer cooperatives, the poverty index among smallholder farmers is alarming. This clearly shows that designing, implementing, monitoring of agricultural interventions is not coordinated thereby duplicating efforts, confusing the farmer, disturbing ecosystems and landscapes while increasing administrative ecological footprints. It is quite a surprise to observe that farmer owned organisations still depend on external support and yet failing to empower farmers to secure markets for their products.

Those institutions that were established to build the capacity of farmers have themselves become farming institutions thereby distorting markets.

Climate-smart agriculture required adequate institutional arrangements to enable transfer and adoption of climate-smart technologies and practices and recognizing the importance of better coordination and harmonization of institutions. At country level, there is no deliberate effort to support research to generate technologies, at local level; there is no linkage between research institutions and those working with farmers. Interventions are copied from other countries and introduced to farmers without government approval. Decisions are being supported without rigorous research and scrutiny by officially legalized government structures. In many cases, agricultural technologies have affected the adaptation potential of vulnerable groups, disturbing social capital while destroying natural ecosystems.

Climate-smart agriculture advocates for women empowerment and involvement. Currently, women are still excluded from development discourse and have no access to land and other assets. There is no deliberate effort to provide land to those with skills, financial muscle let alone education attributes.  At community level, figures show that there are still high school dropouts among girls, forced marriages, early and unwanted pregnancies. These challenges affect national development goals as enriched in the Malawi Development Growth Strategy. For example, such groups will remain poor and food insecure, join illegal livelihood sources and create a vacuum for proper child growth which is critical in any development agenda.

Another critical challenge is that there are no deliberate efforts to create and establish public private partnerships to support farmers’ adaptation, increase food security while reducing greenhouse emissions. Many private firms have no interest to understand the challenges smallholder farmers face. In actual fact, we have seen that both local and international agricultural trading companies have been offering low prices to high quality products from the farms. It is even very pathetic that some of these firms are managed by Malawians who should be in the fore front to realize that poor prices affect adaptation, increase vulnerability and lead to unsustainable livelihoods that can increase greenhouse gas emissions.

In this case, I suggest that there is need to review our development agenda at national level. This participatory process should include all key relevant stakeholders. The review process should avoid taking political or regional dimensions but put Malawi at the heat of development. If we want to adopt the concept of climate smart agriculture in Malawi to meet our development goals then there is need to redress our development goals.

I provide some of the potential solutions as a platform for debate. First and foremost let us take stock of our past and current environment and development activities. We need to understand that our population is increasing and our resources are diminishing. Institutions working on family planning issues should revert to their old approaches of raising awareness at all level. The rate of urbanization is quite high meaning that rural areas have failed to provide incentives that can halt this movement.

We need to start expanding rural growth centres with interventions that can create employment. Interventions that can facilitate recycling of crop residues into energy and promotion of intensive small-scale livestock production. There is need to debate whether Malawi should promote bio-fuel crops or food crops. Some of the development goals may not provide short term solutions to our farmers.

The government of Malawi could increase farm and landscape level research, education and innovation in climate smart agriculture. This will entail producing more with more efficient use of inputs and less of an environmental impact. There is need to improve fodder production and grazing management. We need to stimulate technology development and transfer in a number of priority areas including innovative usage of biomass, mitigation options in crop agriculture and soil carbon sequestration.

Non governmental organizations that are at the forefront of working with farmers could form strong linkages with research centres in the country. Their strategic plans should not fail to address scientific approaches to support farmers while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In this particular case, interventions should encompass both local and hybrid knowledge to eradicate poverty. Research centres should be the pioneers of generating information for policy makers and other stakeholders. We need to create strong institutional linkages and networks for sharing findings, building capacity and avoiding duplicating efforts and resources. The government of Malawi or other stakeholders should establish a fund that will be used to conduct national relevant research to solve some of the constraints for practicing climate smart agriculture.

Key stakeholders should have on its policy agenda mechanisms to support local driven research in order to adopt climate smart agriculture. This will entail (i)allocating funds specifically for agriculture, environment and development (ii) setting up a strong management structure with defined roles and responsibilities among actors (iii) research that will support climate smart agriculture should be discussed at national level. Let research institutions select from government identified themes and areas (iv) research dissemination strategies and frameworks should allow key decision makers to access information without handles.

As we plan to review our NAPA, the agenda could be promoting climate smart agriculture with critical emphasis to identify research areas that will reduce emissions, promote adaptation and mitigation strategies. In all this, building the capacity of national researchers and developing strong research teams could be an excellent framework for supporting climate smart agriculture among smallholder farmers.

In conclusion, the concept of climate smart agriculture should be a guiding tool to achieve both environment and development goals. This will entail working together at all levels, sharing information and identifying development priorities as a team. The revised Malawi Growth Development Strategy should no longer remain a white elephant, but act as a tool to facilitate the adoption of climate smart agriculture. In all this, we need to put population dynamics at the heart of our development agenda. Let us act together, act responsibly and act now.

Dr David Mkwambisi is an Environment and Development Expert at University of Malawi, Bunda College of Agriculture.

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