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Bettie Kawonga

To ensure nourishing food on every plate, achieved in ways that create sustainable community businesses while maintaining a healthier planet

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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR)

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Researcher Institution

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

1.Ministry of Agriculture: Extension and Research Institution 2. Young Farmers Clubs: Young Farmers

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.luanar.ac.mw

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Lilongwe

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Malawi

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Central Region covers an area 35,592 km^2

What country is your selected Place located in?

Malawi

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Our team members affiliated with these Institutions (LUANAR and Department of Agricultural Research) as well as active and interested agribusiness youth groups are located within the central region in Malawi. Communities in the central region are currently searching for an alternative source of livelihood to move away from Tobacco production. Land in this area is degraded due to over 50 years of monocropping and deforestation through tree cutting (timber for construction of barns for drying tobacco and for wood used in curing tobacco)

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Central Region in Malawi is dominated by Chewa, Ngoni, and Yawo communities. These communities are traditionally crop farmers mostly growing cash crops such as tobacco, groundnuts, and soya beans on Lilongwe-Kasungu plains. Other communities in the central region who live along Lake Malawi and Lake Malombe are traditionally fish farmers. Crop production is limited in the low-lying areas along these two lakes due to low annual rainfall compared to other areas in the central region such as the Lilongwe-Kasungu plains. Compared to communities on the Lilongwe-Kasungu plains, communities along the two lakes rely on fish farming as a main source of income. Fish such as Tilapia forms a major part of diets of communities along the two Lakes. However, in recent years, resilience of these communities along Lake Malawi and Lake Malombe has been threatened due to dwindling fish populations. Over-fishing contribute to reduced fish population on the Lakes. People of Central region practice unique cultures and tradition dances such as Chisamba. These cultural practices instill discipline, hard work, and respect in the people.

Agriculture especially growing of tobacco and groundnuts dominate the rural economy in central region. For many decades, tobacco, pulses (beans), and groundnuts have performed well on the central region plains (Lilongwe-Kasungu Plains). Central region crops especially tobacco contributed to over 50% of Malawi's gross domestic product for almost five decades creating one of the most vibrant communities in Malawi through job creation. However, changes in government policy on tobacco growing has affected the rural economy due to reduced tobacco production and revenues. The consequences of reduced tobacco production include increased urban migration and increased pressure on limited natural resources especially forests (rapid deforestation in rural and peri-urban areas due to cutting down of trees for sale in urban areas).

Increased urban migration increases pressure on natural resources such as water and forests as most urban dwellers in Malawi rely on firewood and charcoal for cooking. This creates a vicious cycle of poverty and hunger as forests become depleted affecting eco-systems. These negative impacts (poverty, hunger, under-nutrition) can be potentially reversed through increased adoption of agro-ecological practices to heal our planet, regenerate our soils, increase biodiversity, improve water cycle, and improve human health and nutrition. To change our current food system towards more diversified agro-ecological practices, strong leadership to drive dialogue among all stakeholders (public, private, civil society, farmer associations and cooperatives) in this new transformational and resilient food system in paramount. Unfortunately, our policy makers move to such action is usually slow. Hence the urgent need for more informal leaders to emerge such as the youths in central region in Malawi. Youth engagement will create a silent revolution in Malawian Agriculture that would drive the Nation and the world towards sustainability.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

35592

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

7

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Agriculture especially growing of tobacco and groundnuts as mono-crops has for centuries formed a back-borne of Central region rural economy. With decades of mono-cropping, use of synthetic fertilizer, and use of pesticides in tobacco, biodiversity is lost, and soils are degraded. Additionally, with erosion of farmers financial resources over time due to dwindling economic benefits of farming tobacco and groundnuts, central region communities are more vulnerable than other communities in Malawi. Most families currently suffer the double burden of consuming too much carbohydrate-based diets with too little micronutrients leading to increased cases of stunting among children with consequences on cognitive development and health. Our vision seeks to drive a change and redesign Malawi’s central region’s food system towards a more diversified agro-ecological system that is more resilient using youth education and engagement as a tool to increase adoption of this envisioned food system. Youths are technologically savvy. Thus, youths can use information technology and big data to improve production efficiency, process, and transport products at a faster rate to consumers. 

Although agro-ecological methods have enormous potential to heal our planet, soil health tends to improve gradually, lengthening the time it takes to experience the positive effects of improved soil conditions or soil biology. Farmers may find that it takes an interminable amount of time for soil health and biodiversity to fully benefit from regenerative agriculture. Thus, the efficiency of agro-ecological methods will depend on the cost savings derived from improved nutrient content in foods (which can reduce costs of fortifying foods), improved taste, and increased use of organic matter.  Additionally, farmers may increasingly shift towards producing high-valued crops at the expense of indigenous crops that may not be equally priced but may be critical in maintaining biodiversity. Research with communities such as those in the central region of Malawi will help to gain insights into this situation. Compared with the current food system in central Malawi, in the current envisioned food system, consumers will most probably drive the change in agribusinesses. Also, changing consumer food trends will cause market disruption for existing agribusinesses.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The people of Central region in Malawi understand the complexity of their current situation. Complex challenges require holistic approaches integrating socio-economic, cultural, environmental and policy issues. Our vision of nourishing food on every plate, in every family, in every community while maintaining a healthier planet seeks to transform central region’s food system towards a diversified agro-ecological farming system using youth education and engagement as a tool to increase adoption of agro-ecological practices. Youth engagement will create awareness of inter-connectedness of the current food system with climate, water, and biodiversity.

Our vision will drive increased discourse in the use of agro-ecological practices such as integrated farming practices, scientific management of farm wastes, new generation of eco-friendly and cheaper agricultural biological inputs, improved water use efficiency and fertilizer use, value addition, and sustainable diets. Youth who are in majority (60% of the total population) offer an opportunity through youth education as a tool to reach out to older generations to increase adoption of new technologies such as minimum tillage, drip irrigation, and dietary diversification. Rural youth education could operate as "Regenerative agriculture for Life (Reg4Life) young farmers clubs" and "rural mobile classes (Reg4Life mobile farms to showcase agro-ecological practices, Reg4Life mobile kitchens to demonstrate nutritious recipes prepared using local ingredients harvested from eco-friendly farms and Reg4Life young chefs’ competition as a tool to incarnate the agro-ecological or regenerative farming practices, sustainable diets, and dietary diversification in youths). Youth engagement in purchase of agricultural products, processing, and marketing will create jobs for the youth and others hence accelerating rural development.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

A thriving community of healthier and well nourished families actively participating in agro-ecological production system and rural economy.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Nourishing food on every plate, in every family, in every community while maintaining a healthier planet vision will be achieved through increased adoption of agro-ecological farming practices on smallholder farms and dietary diversification. Agro-ecological farming practices implemented through youth education as a tool for technology adoption will contribute to regeneration of soils and will promote biodiversity. Youth engagement to purchase agricultural products, process (e.g nutrient dense ready to eat products) and sell them in a public-private partnership will contribute to sustainable use of limited resources and will create thriving and healthy communities capable of once again creating job opportunities for generations to come.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website

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Bettie Kawonga 

Nice to see that your university is leading the charge to redesign the food system for central Malawi and engaging young people on the process however I want to know how your content on how to address the current challenge facing your community will translate to you achieving your vision.

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