A five-year Development of Smart Innovation through Research in Agriculture (DeSIRA) project is expected to improve Malawi’s productivity, profitability and sustainability of agriculture and food systems.

The project is being launched in a number of countries across the globe.

The project, which the European Union (EU) is financing to the tune of €6.3 million (approximately MK5, 216, 477, 805), also seeks to address the challenges in the smallholder agri-food systems in Malawi by developing climate-smart, integrated technological options adapted to local conditions and the farmers’ realities.

It is one of the many initiatives that the EU is financing in Malawi.

Speaking at the virtual launch of the project in Lilongwe on Wednesday, the Director of Agricultural Research Services (DARS), Dr Wilkson Makumba, said although agriculture holds the key to food security, economic growth, employment and overall poverty reduction in Malawi, the sector still faces several production challenges, resulting from adverse climatic conditions such as recurrent droughts and floods, declining soil fertility, desertification, and the outbreak of pests and diseases.

“The sector accounts for 30 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), generates more than 80 per cent of the national export earnings and more than 80 per cent of our population depends on agriculture for food, income and employment.

“Despite the gains made through research and development interventions in the past years, the agriculture sector still faces several production challenges and scientific prediction suggests that these adverse climatic conditions will continue in the coming decades, affecting the food and nutrition security of people, especially smallholder farmers,” said Makumba.

He said it is against this background that DeSIRA project was designed to improve the climate change adaptation of agricultural and food systems in Malawi through research and uptake of integrated technological innovations.

He added that the project will expand and build on much existing research for development (R4D) initiatives that are being implemented to respond to complex constraints being faced by smallholder farmers in the country.

According to Makumba, the project objectives are directly aligned with the government’s research priorities to address climate change and build sustainable resilience as set-out in Malawi’s National Agricultural Policy (NAP, 2016) and National Agricultural Investment Plan (NAIP).

“In line with the climate change adaptation strategy, the project objectives will focus on the development of climate-resilient integrated technological innovations. This will involve the development of diversified crop and livestock production systems, robust integrated pest and disease management strategies to predict, monitor, and control existing and emerging biotic threats to agriculture; and improve post-harvest management technologies.

“The research will be conducted in a gender-responsive manner and the expected technologies, when adopted by farmers, will lead to more resilient and productive agri-food systems in Malawi,” he said.

DeSIRA project is also expected to contribute to the understanding of the opportunities and constraints for the uptake of integrated technology options by farmers through socio-economic analysis of barriers to adoption as well as the available opportunities and conditions required to increase technology uptake.

And as Makumba stated, the information and knowledge generated through these studies will fill critical knowledge gaps and further inform policymakers and scaling partners about the potential of integrated technological options to contribute to climate resilience and sustainability, and the enabling environment required for adoption.

The project activities will involve the establishment of on-station experiments to evaluate various integrated technology options at various research stations and on-farm trials to allow farmers and other stakeholders to participate in the evaluation of the various technologies.

“This approach is expected to foster joint learning and also help partners at the district level to continue to support the farming communities to access and use the most preferred technologies after the end of the project that fit farming systems of smallholder farmers in Malawi. This project is timely as it came at a point when people’s employment and livelihoods are threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sustainable integrated technology interventions that ensure food and nutrition security and income generation in the context of climate change are urgently needed.

“Let me also reiterate that the project is special because it promotes cross-centre collaboration through clustering of scientists from various CG centres, DARS, LUANAR and other institutions to develop climate-smart innovations that are demand-driven and tailored towards the technology needs of smallholder farmers,” Makumba said.

He thanked the EU for its generous support to fund the project. He also commended the International Potato Center (CIP) for taking the lead in preparing the project document.

In his remarks, the Programme Manager of the EU Delegation to Malawi, Jean Pierre Busogoro, said the organization is prioritising research in agriculture and food systems to address through science and innovation the challenges caused by climate change was very much aligned to the national policy orientations.

Busogoro observed that Malawi is well known for having built a system where there is a constant and strong collaboration between the national research system hosted by your department and the various CGIAR centres operating in Malawi.

“This good partnership between the national and the international agricultural research system has been facilitating the CGIARs centres based in Malawi to engage in the process of ‘CGIAR Country collaboration (formally known as site integration process). This good development has inspired the design of the DeSIRA project for Malawi,” he said.

Busogoro stressed that technology development in the National Climate Change Management Policy (NCCMP) is a way to generate innovative approaches for climate change adaptation and mitigation.

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