Michigan State University (MSU) has received a $7.8 million (about K5.8billion) grant from the Agricultural Transformation Initiative (ATI) towards the promotion of agriculture in the country, especially smallholder farmers.
Nyasa Times has learnt that MSU researchers received the grant to build an independent policy research institute in Malawi dedicated to improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and transforming Malawi’s agricultural sector.
According to information sourced, the research institute project will address the growing awareness that international demand for tobacco is declining and that developing countries that are highly dependent on tobacco as a cash crop will need support to diversify and transform their rural economies.
“Forward-thinking initiatives like these are critical to the prosperity of many southern African nations like Malawi, where tobacco accounts for over half of the country’s national export earnings,” said Professor Thomas Jayne, of MSU Foundation in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Resource Economics (AFRE).
He added: “Malawi is arguably the world’s most tobacco-dependent country, but many other southern African countries will also need an effective transition strategy. This grant is intended to develop and implement such a strategy.”
To spark this transformation, MSU researchers will, among others, work closely with public, private, and civil society stakeholders in Malawi to build a platform for transparent and evidence-based public discussion about the ways forward.
The foundation for this discussion will be the creation of an autonomous self-sustaining agricultural policy research institute in Malawi.
According to Candida Nankhumwa, ATI country director, the project will address the growing need to facilitate an economic environment in Malawi that can support agricultural diversification.
“MSU’s expertise in agriculture development will be invaluable in the work to transform the sector in support of smallholder tobacco farmers who are seeking alternative livelihoods,” said Nankhumwa.
Associate Professor Lil Muyanga, who is working closely with Jayne on the project, said rural welfare in Malawi will depend on how rapidly the country can find sustainable and profitable income-earning alternatives to tobacco.
“The ATI team reached out to MSU to build a Malawian-led institute that can contribute to the country’s agricultural transformation process,” said Muyanga.
Jayne and Muyanga are the principal investigators of the initial three-year grant which builds upon MSU’s longstanding commitment to capacity development in Africa.
“It’s important to us that our activities in Malawi, and Africa in general, are dedicated to supporting local solutions led by those who have a real and longstanding stake in the outcomes,” said Jayne.
She added: “This is a hallmark of the College of Agricultural and Natural Resources work in Africa for decades, and this approach is promoted across MSU through the Alliance for African Partnership (AAP).”
For the next three years, Jayne and Muyanga will collaborate across campus with faculty members from their own department as well as those from Geography, Entomology and Plant Soil and Microbial Sciences and with local Malawi partners to form this research institute.
Other partners in the project include the Malawi National Planning Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Purdue University, and ORG/First Hectares.
“MSU shares our commitment to help improve the diversification and efficiency of the agriculture ecosystem in Malawi,” said Jim Lutzweiler, vice president of Agriculture and Livelihoods, Foundation for a Smoke-Free World.
According to Lutzweiler, the project will drive real change that will help smallholder tobacco farmers.
The ATI is a core pillar of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, an independent, U.S. nonprofit organization with the purpose of improving global health by ending smoking in this generation and supporting the diversification of tobacco-dependent economies.