Farmer Innovation in Malawi

A new study conducted in 2011 by Find Your Feet aimed to document and promote farmer innovations in the district of Rumphi in northern Malawi. It did so through focus group discussions with farmers in four of the Extension Planning Areas of the district; through individual interviews with farmers (14 in total); and through visits to renowned innovative farmers (14 in total).

Due to the nature of agriculture farmers must adapt and innovate to ensure a stable and high level of food production. The outcomes of smallholder farmer innovation have not always been recognised, however, and it is only in the past thirty years that there has been a move away the traditional and linear ‘top-down’ approach to technology transfer to a recognition of the value of farmer knowledge and the importance, as end-users of technologies, of their inclusion in broader innovation systems.

The end product of this investigation is a set of case studies detailing innovations which range from developing low cost pesticides using plant combinations and making low cost, organic fertiliser from anthill soil to increasing maize yields through improved plant spacing and addressing the challenge of soil infertility through a new type of manure pellet.

Because farmer knowledge and innovation is often ‘unrecognised and under-utilised’ both within the farming community and between farmers, scientists, extension workers and researchers, Find Your Feet highlight the importance of ‘establishing innovation systems’ that bring together these different actors. They conclude the report with several recommendations:

1)    Recognise the knowledge and practice of farmers;

2)    Disseminate successful farmer innovations;

3)    Facilitate increased dialogue between all actors involved in agricultural extension.

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