La Plate-forme pour l'agriculture tropicale (TAP)

TAP-AIS project: Sub-regional Policy Dialogues discuss and prioritize potential solutions to address the challenges facing agricultural research in Malawi

On 26 and 28 April 2023, the Government of Malawi (Department of Agricultural Extension Services- DAES) with support from FAO’s TAP-AIS project held two sub-national policy dialogue events on” Research Capacity for Sustainable Agrifood Systems in the Context of the Agricultural Innovation System” in the two southern and central districts of Balaka and Ntchisi. A total of 104 participants attended the two events, among which 39 were women.

Participants included the government of Malawi’s District Council authorities: Agricultural Development Divisions (ADD), Research Stations, District Agriculture Offices, farmer representatives, including innovators, Decentralized Agricultural Extension Services System (DAESS) platforms, private sector research actors, CGIAR research institutions, local inputs suppliers, local NGOs, media institutions, FAO Malawi and other Development Partners in the agriculture sector. The policy dialogue facilitation team included Government of Malawi (DAESS, Department of Agriculture Planning Services, and Department of Agriculture Research Services), Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) and FAO Malawi.

The goal of the two sub-national policy dialogues was to develop the Government of Malawi’s capacity to facilitate multi-stakeholder dialogues to influence policy to strengthen the agricultural research in the overarching National Agriculture Policy.

In this first step, issues hindering the capacity to facilitate and/or engage in agricultural research effectively in the context of Agricultural Innovation System (AIS) have been explored to identify needs and ideas for policy interventions.

During the two district policy dialogues the following points were raised:

  • Innovation is critical for agrifood systems transformation in Malawi.
  • AIS in Malawi is characterized by weak research function that constrains innovation and to address these constraints, actors engaged with the research sub-sector need to support agricultural innovation.
  • Several key obstacles of agricultural research in promoting innovation were identified: the research sub-sector does not have presence at district level, there is limited interaction and networking between research service providers, limited capacity to mobilize resources for innovation processes, absence of guiding policies and weak linkages between research and extension structures at community level, absence of a functioning knowledge management and communication strategy, and absence of skills and systems for monitoring, evaluation and learning from AIS initiatives.
  • Stakeholders identified new roles that research should play to promote innovation processes, including research and other AIS actors need to engage and coordinate using the DAESS structures to find solutions that address farmer challenges at district level, integrating the research function in multiple levels of DAESS structure (i.e., model village, Village Agricultural Committee, Area Stakeholder Panel, and District Agricultural Extension Coordinating Committee).
  • The role of extension workers in the process of integrating research into DAESS should shift from assembling farmers’ demands and transferring solutions, to that of innovation brokers who should facilitate networking and social learning among farmer researchers, researchers from formal institutions and other actors in the agrifood system and finding innovative ways of incorporating indigenous knowledge and traditional methods to address local challenges in farming.

The main conclusions from the two days policy dialogues were:

  • Strengthen capacity of stakeholder panels at district, area and village level in articulating research demands as well as tracking progress of research activities implemented by external organizations and farmer organizations within the communities.
  • Re-configure the agriculture technology clearing committee (a government committee responsible to clear and release new technologies) to embrace a new mandate of coordinating and supporting innovation in the broader sense as opposed to research for technology development. The agency should provide an enabling environment to diverse categories of innovators including natural and social scientists, as well as individual farmers and farmer organizations.
  • Introduce a Research and innovations Desk Office at district level to address weaknesses in networking, knowledge management and communication, governance, as well as monitoring, evaluation and learning. Integration of the research function in DAESS will require representation of researchers in structures at grassroots level (e.g., village level platforms or model villages)
  • Advocate for and mobilize resources for development of the Agricultural Research and Innovation policy/ strategy which should include statements that can steer innovation processes especially at district level and not just technology development.
  • Strengthen capacity of researchers and other stakeholders to apply the AIS framework in their programs/projects; support peer learning and exchange on AIS through webinars, blogs, conferences, working group meetings, websites, and physical exchange visits.
  • Introduce practical-oriented short training modules on AIS targeting all stakeholders in the AIS including researchers, using ICT-based delivery modes and develop an adapted and practical manual on principles and processes for facilitating AIS in Malawi.
  • Integrating AIS in tertiary education curriculum e.g., undergraduate and postgraduate programmes at LUANAR.

The two district level policy dialogues will be followed by a national-level policy dialogue event, in which priority issues from the districts will be discussed in the national context with high-level policy makers and other stakeholders. Recommendations and an action plan on how to strengthen the policy environment for agricultural research will be prepared, which will also inform the ongoing process of developing the National Agriculture Policy. At the same time, awareness will be raised among stakeholders, as a foundation for joint action.

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