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Malawi Embraces Forgotten Crops in Fight Against Food Insecurity


Nestled in the heart of Southern Africa, Malawi is on a mission to rediscover its forgotten heroes: indigenous, drought-resistant crops. This journey began in May this year with a visit from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as part of the ‘Addressing Water Scarcity for Agriculture and Environment’ (AWSAMe) initiative.

The initiative, funded by voluntary contributions, aims to tackle the twin threats of water scarcity and food insecurity plaguing many African nations. Malawi, along with Cabo Verde, Morocco, and South Sudan, is at the forefront of this pilot program.

During the visit, experts and government officials huddled in Lilongwe, the heart of Malawi’s political scene. “This initiative is highly relevant for Malawi,” declared Mr Zhijun Chen, the FAO representative for the country. He emphasized the need for a multi-pronged approach, combining agricultural practices, policy changes, and advancements in irrigation and engineering.

The focus then shifted to the Malawi Plant Genetic Resource Centre (MPGRC), a treasure trove of the country’s genetic heritage. Dr Nolipher Mponya, the center’s head, and Dr Modester Kachapila Millinyu, a plant conservationist, championed the cause of indigenous crops, often overshadowed by conventional staples. These forgotten crops, they argued, hold immense potential. Not only are they resilient to drought, climate change, and El Nino, but they also offer a much-needed boost to food security and nutrition, especially in the face of a changing climate.

The discussions unearthed a wealth of potential candidates. Finger millet, pearl millet, and Mucuna pruriens, a legume, were identified as promising options. These crops, some already released to the public, offer exciting possibilities. The initiative presents a golden opportunity to evaluate the potential of these geographically restricted crops, similar to the success story of Bambara groundnuts.

The focus extended beyond Malawi’s borders. The country expressed its willingness to share its knowledge and experience with fellow pilot participants, particularly South Sudan. A future exchange visit is on the cards, fostering collaboration and knowledge transfer.

Malawi’s commitment to the AWSAMe initiative is a beacon of hope in the fight against food insecurity. By embracing its forgotten crops, the country is not just securing its own future, but also paving the way for a more resilient and sustainable food system across Africa.

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