Co-creating agrobiodiversity knowledge with farming stakeholders in Malawi


Key Facts



The objectives are: i) develop a partnership between James Hutton Institute agroecologists/social scientists and agricultural/environmental researchers in Malawi and their stakeholders; ii) visit field sites to learn about agroecological research in Malawi; and iii) conduct workshops with smallholders to identify tacit knowledge of agrobiodiversity function and social/cultural acceptability of agroecological enhancements. The partnership aligns UK expertise in biodiversity-sensitive farming methods with two research fields pioneered by partners in Malawi: innovations in sustainable farming practices (DARS), and novel databasing of agrobiodiversity (LUANAR). The project will build mutual understanding of wider aims for agrobiodiversity conservation and sustainable agriculture in Malawi; and form essential preparation for building collaboration with scientists, stakeholders and NGOs in a Main Darwin Initiative proposal. The partners have communicated through video calls and email to learn about the policy framework for agrobiodiversity conservation in Malawi and current research. The Malawi National Government has targets for protecting biodiversity (Government of Malawi, 2015: National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan II). Crop and agroecosystem biodiversity and its associated traditional ecological knowledge are recognised to have significant potential for driving economic development of Malawi’s agro-based economy (Workshop Report, 2008: Towards the Development of a Comprehensive Malawi Agro-biodiversity Policy and Legislation). About 70% of Malawi’s 18 million people are engaged in smallholder subsistence farming, which is characterised by low productivity and profitability, and more than half of Malawi’s population lives below the poverty line. Potential threats to agrobiodiversity in these systems include limited information about the organisms supported by agroecosystems, lack of legislation and mechanisms to promote agrobiodiversity conservation and sustainable use, adoption of modern varieties and agronomic practices, and climate change. As a first step, agrobiodiversity data is being collected by LUANAR on target organisms (e.g. pollinators, natural enemies of pests) with the aim of setting conservation priorities. This provides an important baseline for exploring the potential impact of changing agricultural practices on agrobiodiversity abundance, composition and function. In parallel, DARS is trialling agroecological practices with smallholders to replace synthetic fertiliser inputs with ‘nature-based’ solutions. The lead partner (two people) will travel to Malawi and accompany the host partner scientists in visiting their on-farm research projects in three agroecological zones (Salima district (central), Mzimba (north), Chikwawa (south)). The hosts will set up workshops in each area in consultation with local agricultural extension services and the NGO Development Aid from People to People. The host will communicate the project objectives to stakeholders in local languages. The workshops will use social science methodologies developed between UK and Malawi scientists, including participatory dynamics (e.g. focus groups, post-its, photographs), to reveal tacit and codified knowledge of the functional role of agrobiodiversity, and whether/how this agrobiodiversity is valued by farmers and extension services. Workshop participants will be selected by the partnership for good representation of smallholder production systems, taking gender balance into account. To close each workshop, we will present agrobiodiversity principles for UK production systems and answer questions. A report of these processes and results will form the basis for the main Darwin proposal and logframe.
Status Completed
Reference DARPP221
Round 27
Start 01/11/2021
End 28/02/2022

Project Leader

Lead Organisation

Project Partners
DARS - Department of Agricultural Research Services, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Sub-Saharan Africa


Download: Application Form - DARPP221 App - 23/08/2021