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Making Agro-Ecosystems Work for the Rural Poor

Author: 
Daimon Kambewa, Charles Masangano, Mayamiko Kakwera and Frank Tchuwa
Subject Area: 
Life Sciences
Abstract: 

This paper synthesizes the data gathered by the IDRC- funded Agri-Food Systems Project; and the McKnight Foundation-funded Scaling Up Project implemented by Bunda College of Agriculture to examine leading ideas underlying efforts to improve productivity of the agro-ecosystems in Malawi. The political ecology framework has been used to locate the actors, their power and interests that underlie resource allocation, extension and research on agricultural productivity. The results have revealed that farmers and all actors agree that agro-ecological systems in Malawi are degraded and productivity is declining. There are two leading ideas informing the strategies to deal with declining agricultural productivity. These are what we call “modernizing smallholder farmers” and “making smallholder farmers go local”. These ideas are two extremes and powerful. They are ‘boxing’ smallholder farmers into either modern technologies such as chemical fertilizer and hybrid seeds or local technologies such as compost manure. By being so powerful the farmers believe that the only solution to declining agricultural productivity is modern or traditional technology. The actors have vested economic and intellectual interests in boxing smallholder farmers. Approaching agricultural productivity this way has created a dilemma, whereby, on the one hand few farmers can afford modern technologies and on the other hand adoption of local technologies is low. Amidst the dilemmas farmers are combining local and modern technologies to improve productivity of their agro-ecosystems. We call this idea a ‘combined technology’. With this third idea farmers look for principles with which they can generate technologies to be used to reverse the decline in agricultural productivity. However, the ‘combined technology’ lacks support and investment from extension and research. It is our critical and professional extension argument that unless extension, research and investment supports the combined technology idea, efforts to build agricultural productivity and make agro-ecosystems work will make less impact.

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