Researchers at the Michigan State University (MSU), in the US, received a $7.8-million grant from nonprofit Agricultural Transformation Initiative (ATI) to build an independent policy research institute in Malawi dedicated to improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and transforming the country’s agricultural sector and reduce dependence on tobacco crops, the university said on Monday.
“The policy 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,” the university said.
“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.
“Forward-thinking initiatives like this 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 MSU Foundation Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics professor Thomas Jayne.
To facilitate this transformation, MSU researchers will work closely with public, private and civil society stakeholders in Malawi to build a platform for transparent and evidence-based public discussion about the way forward, the university said.
“The foundation for this discussion will be the creation of an autonomous self-sustaining agricultural policy research institute in Malawi,” said Jayne.
This project will address the growing need to facilitate an economic environment in Malawi that can support agricultural diversification, emphasised ATI country director Candida Nakhumwa.
“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,” she said.
MSU Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics assistant professor Milu Muyanga 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,” he said.
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.
Over the next three years, they will collaborate with faculty members from their own department, as well as with members from geography, entomology and plant soil and microbial sciences departments, as well as with local Malawian partners to form the institute.
Other partners include the Malawian National Planning Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Purdue University and ORG/First Hectares, the university said.
“It is 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. 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,” Jayne said.
“MSU shares our commitment to help improve the diversification and efficiency of the agriculture ecosystem in Malawi. We know this project will drive real change that will help smallholder tobacco farmers,” said nonprofit Foundation for a Smoke-Free World agriculture and livelihoods VP Jim Lutzweiler.