The world’s most tobacco-dependent country, Malawi, is exploring sustainable agriculture alternatives to tobacco farming.
With a five-year grant from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW), construction has begun for the Centre for Agricultural Transformation’s (CAT) physical facility at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) campus in the Malawi capital.
The goal of the CAT is to transform Malawian agriculture systems and the lives of Malawian smallholder farmers by giving them access to inclusive innovation in agricultural science and technology through a range of commercialization channels. The CAT has been managing its programs without a central location, establishing CAT smart farms at LUANAR (Bunda and Natural Resources Campus) and Makoka research station. Various value chains have been explored that are becoming popular with smallholder farmers, including groundnuts, soybean, dairy, mushrooms, and bananas.
The new physical hub will be a centre of excellence that will build upon this work with support from FSFW’s affiliate, the Agricultural Transformation Initiative (ATI).
“World No Tobacco Day highlights the importance of helping farmers transition away from growing tobacco. Malawi is ready, willing and able to move away from tobacco as one of its main exports, but the work must start at ground level,” said Candida Nakhumwa, vice-president and Malawi country director of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World.
“Tobacco farmers and the land on which tobacco is grown are often overlooked in the conversation about ending smoking. The global decline in tobacco demand is bringing negative economic consequences to tobacco farmers. They must be supported to find competitive and sustainable alternative livelihoods.
“That is where the CAT’s approach and activities come in, providing much-needed support to farmers, agribusinesses, communities and other stakeholders working to build long-term resilience by diversifying away from tobacco production.”
Malawi is one of the largest tobacco-producing countries in the world. Tobacco accounts for more than 60% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings and 13% of the economy, as measured by the gross domestic product. Between 2016 and 2021, tobacco exports in real terms dropped by 42%, according to the World Bank.
Mwatitha Braynati, a groundnut Malawian farmer since 2020, said: “Before the CAT came to partner with us my groundnut harvest totalled just 30 bags. Two years later, in 2022, from the same 1 hectare of land, my harvest increased to 120 bags with technical guidance from the CAT. Next year I expect it to increase to 150 bags by applying the new practices and technologies demonstrated through the CAT smart farms.
“The proceeds from the sale of this harvest have ensured my family of 7 children and 4 grandchildren is happy and does not lack for a good variety of food at home.”
About CAT’s Technical Program:
- Serves as a hub for science, technology, innovation and incubation, where smallholder farmers and businesses can view and experiment with agri-tech, exchange ideas, create partnerships and develop business plans to advance new and sustainable livelihoods.
- Supports the creation of a market for alternative commodities, and research institutions dedicated to science and technology, where they can incubate and advance innovative ideas that help transition the agricultural sector away from tobacco.
- Provides customised technical assistance, including mentorship, agribusiness development support, and connections to networks to help advance agricultural diversification. This includes increasing the scale in which smallholder farmers are taught about products, practices, and technologies that can improve their agricultural productivity and improve their livelihoods.
- Delivers access to soil testing and food testing laboratories so farmers can improve management of soil amendment initiatives and agri-preneurs can ensure their products meet the quality levels required to be market ready.