Farming for change: developing a participatory curriculum on agroecology, nutrition, climate change and social equity in Malawi and Tanzania
How to engage farmers that have limited formal education is at the foundation of environmentally-sound and equitable agricultural development. Yet there are few examples of curricula that support the co-development of knowledge with farmers. While transdisciplinary and participatory techniques are considered key components of agroecology, how to do so is rarely specified and few materials are available, especially those relevant to smallholder farmers with limited formal education in Sub-Saharan Africa. The few training materials that exist provide appropriate methods, such as compost making, but do not explain relationships and synergies between nutrition, social inequalities, climate change and agroecology. Some food sovereignty and agroecology courses aim at popular political education for those with more formal education. Here we describe the process of development of an innovative curriculum, which integrates agroecology, nutrition, climate change, gender and other dimensions of social equity across 2 weeks of training explicitly for smallholders in southern Africa with limited formal education. The curriculum is highly participatory; we use concepts in popular education, transformative and experiential-based learning, and theatre. It is also integrative; we link agroecology with climate change, human and soil nutrition, gender, and related components of social equity. Developed in partnership with Malawian farmers, community development experts and academics from five countries, the curriculum was piloted with 520 smallholder farming households in Malawi and Tanzania, and evaluated using qualitative techniques. Clashes of language, cultural norms, and terminology were as great of a challenge as agreeing on and conveying technical information, to weave into a coherent whole. However, farmers who participated in the curriculum training demonstrated high interest, comprehension of material and interest in immediate application to their lives.
KeywordsCritical food systems education Agroecology Transdisciplinary Food sovereignty Gender Critical pedagogy
Human immunodeficiency virus
Participatory action research
Soils, Food and Healthy Communities organization
We gratefully acknowledge the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future at Cornell University for funding this unorthodox project. Farmer representatives from the Soils, Food and Healthy Communities organization and the Malawi Farmer to Farmer Agroecology project provided key input into the ideas that led to this article. The authors of curriculum include several who did not participate in this article: Laurie Drinkwater, Shupo Kumwenda, Joanne Thiessen Martens and Elias Mtinda, and some technical input from Vernon Kabambe, Elisa Mazuma, Ambonisegwe Mbwaga and Kelvin Mtei. We also acknowledge the trainers in Malawi and Tanzania who piloted the curriculum: Anita Chitaya, Tinkani Gondwe, Esther Kalonga, Esther Maona, Malumbo Mithi, Mwapi Mkandawire, Rodgers Msachi, Blessings Nyirenda, Zacharia Nkhonya, Pressings Moyo, Innocent Mhoni, Burton Gama,Tanazio Moses, Seliya Jabesi, Alice Gubudu,Lesita Malisawo, Maliseni Kenneth, Kennedy Salimbira, Edwin Kasamba Nyathi ,Christina Hara and Paul Nkhonjera. There are many Cornell University students who contributed to the curriculum: Eleanore Baughan, Ann Lei, Valerie Ota (sadly deceased), Julia Schaffer, Tessa Schneider, Evlyn Samuel, and Sarah Zipfel.
- Affleck, William, and Gretel, Pelto. 2012. Caregivers’ responses to an intervention to improve young child feeding behaviors in rural Bangladesh: A mixed method study of the facilitators and barriers to change. Social Science & Medicine 75: 651–658. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.03.030.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Altieri, Miguel A. 1995. Agroecology: the science of sustainable agriculture. 2 ed. Boulder: Westview Press.Google Scholar
- Arimond, Mary, Corinna Hawkes, Marie T. Ruel, Z. Sifri, R. Peter, J. L. Berti, Jan W. Leroy, L. R. Low, Brown, and Edward A. Frongillo. 2010. Agricultural interventions and nutrition: lessons from the past and new evidence. In Combating micronutrient deficiencies, eds. Brian Thompson, and Leslie Amoroso, 41–75. Rome: Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Bezner Kerr, Rachel. 2014. Lost and found crops: Agrobiodiversity, indigenous knowledge, and a feminist political ecology of sorghum and finger millet in northern Malawi. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 104 (3): 577–593. https://doi.org/10.1080/00045608.2014.892346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Bezner Kerr, Rachel, Sieglinde, Snapp, Lizzie, Shumba, Marko Chirwa, Lizzie Shumba and Rodgers Msachi. 2007. Participatory research on legume diversification with Malawian smallholder farmers for improved human nutrition and soil fertility. Experimental Agriculture 43 (4): 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0014479707005339.Google Scholar
- Bezner Kerr, Rachel, Rodgers, Msachi, Laifolo Dakishoni, Lizzie Shumba, Zachariah Nkhonya, Peter R. Berti and Christine Bonatsos et al. 2012. Growing healthy communities: Farmer participatory research to improve child nutrition, food security and soils in Ekwendeni, Malawi. In Ecohealth research in practice: Innovative applications of an ecosystem approach to health, ed. Dominique F. Charron, 37–46. Ottawa/New York: IDRC/Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Bezner Kerr, Rachel, Lizzie, Shumba, Laifolo, Dakishoni, Esther, Lupafya, Peter R. Berti and Sieglinde S., Snapp, et al. 2014. Participatory, agroecological and gender-sensitive approaches to improved nutrition: A case study in Malawi. Invited submission to the FAO Expert Meeting in November 2013, ‘Nutrition-Sensitive Food and Agriculture Systems’ in preparation for ICN + 21. http://www.fao.org/food/nutritional-policies-strategies/icn2/expert-papers.
- Bezner Kerr, Rachel, Hanson, Nyantakyi-Frimpong, Esther, Lupafya, Laifolo, Dakishoni, Lizzie, Shumba, Isaac, Luginaah. 2016. Building resilience in African smallholder farming communities through farmer-led agroecological methods. In Climate change and agricultural development: Improving resilience through climate smart agriculture, agroecology and conservation, ed. Udaya Sekhar Nagothu, 109–130. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Bezner Kerr, Rachel, Hanson, Nyantakyi-Frimpong, Esther, Lupafya, Lizzie, Shumba, Isaac, Luginaah, Laifolo, Dakishoni and Sieglinde S., Snapp. 2018. Knowledge politics in participatory climate change adaptation research on agroecology in Malawi. Renewal Agriculture and Food Systems, 33: 238-251.Google Scholar
- Collins, Patricia Hill. 1991. Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. In Perspectives on gender 2. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
- De Schutter, Olivier. 2013. United Nations Pecial Rapporteur for the Right to Food: Mission to Malawi from 12 to 22 July 2013-End of Mission Statement. Geneva, Switzerland: United Nations.Google Scholar
- Fals-Borda, Orlando, and Muhammad Anisur Rahman, eds. 1991. Action and knowledge: breaking the monopoly with participatory action- research. New York: Apex Press.Google Scholar
- Freire, Paulo. 1970. Pedagogy of the oppressed. The political economy of development and underdevelopment: Translator: Myra Bergman Ramos, 557–575.Google Scholar
- Funk, Chris, Michael D Dettinger, Joel C Michaelsen, James P Verdin, Molly E Brown, and Matthew Barlow, and Andrew Hoell. 2008. Warming of the Indian Ocean threatens eastern and southern African food security but could be mitigated by agricultural development. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 105: 11081–11086.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Harding, Sandra G. 1986. The science question in feminism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
- Hartsock, Nancy. 1999. Postmodernism and political change: Issues for feminist theory. Cultural Critique: 15. https://doi.org/10.2307/1354291.
- Kangalawe, Richard Y.M., Carl Christiansson, and Östberg Wilhelm Wilhelm. 2008. Changing land-use patterns and farming strategies in the degraded environment of the Irangi Hills, central Tanzania. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 125: 33–47. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2007.10.008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Kerr, David. 1995. African popular theatre: From postcolonial to the present. London: James Currey.Google Scholar
- Malawi. Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development. (MAIWD). 2015. Nutrition handbook for farmer field schools. Lilongwe: GPO. Print.Google Scholar
- Méndez, V., Ernesto, Christopher M, Bacon, and Roseann Cohen. 2013. Agroecology as a transdisciplinary, participatory, and action-oriented approach. Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems 37: 3–18.Google Scholar
- Menza, Valeria and Claudia Probart. 2013. Eating well for good health: Lessons on nutrition and healthy diets. Rome: FAO.Google Scholar
- Moncure, Shannon, and Charles Francis. 2011. Foundations of experiential education as applied to agroecology. NACTA Journal 55: 75–91.Google Scholar
- Moseley, William, Matthew Schnurr, and Rachel Bezner Kerr. 2015. Interrogating the technocratic (neoliberal) agenda for agricultural development and hunger alleviation in Africa. African Geographical Review, 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1080/19376812.2014.1003308.
- Msachi, Rodgers, Laifolo Dakishoni and Rachel Bezner Kerr. 2009. Soils, food and healthy communities: working towards food sovereignty in Malawi. Journal of Peasant Studies 36 (3): 700–706.Google Scholar
- National Statistical Office (NSO) [Malawi] and ICF. 2017. Malawi demographic and health survey 2015-16. Zomba, Malawi, and Rockville, Maryland, USA. NSO and ICF.Google Scholar
- Nyantakyi-Frimpong, Hanson, Catherine Hickey, Esther Lupafya, Laifolo Dakishoni, Rachel Bezner Kerr, Blessing Nyirenda, Zachariah Nkhonya, Mangani Katundu and George Gondwe. 2017. A farmer-to-farmer agroecological approach to addressing food security in Malawi. In Everyday Experts: How people’s knowledge can transform the food system, eds. Tom Wakeford, Javier Sanchez-Rodriguez, Marina, Chang Christabel Buchanan and Colin Anderson, 119–134. Coventry: Center for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Coventry University.Google Scholar
- Okoth, James Robert, and Winfred Nalyongo. 2013. Facilitators’ guide for running an agro pastoral field school: An adaptation to agro-pastoral setting. Uganda: FAO.Google Scholar
- Patel, Raj, Rachel, Bezner Kerr, Lizzie Shumba, and Laifolo Dakishoni. 2015. Cook, eat, man, woman: understanding the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, nutritionism and its alternatives from Malawi. The Journal of Peasant Studies 42: 21–44. https://doi.org/10.1080/03066150.2014.971767.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- PATH and CARE. 2011. Infant and young child feeding and gender: A training manual for male group leaders. Washington, DC: PATH and CARE.Google Scholar
- Reynolds, Kristin, and Nevin, Cohen. 2016. Beyond the kale: Urban agriculture and social justice activism in New York City. Athens: The University of Georgia Press.Google Scholar
- Rosset, Peter Michael, Braulio, Machín Sosa, Adilén, María, Roque Jaime and Dana, Rocío, Ávila Lozano. 2011. The Campesino-to-Campesino agroecology movement of ANAP in Cuba: Social process methodology in the construction of sustainable peasant agriculture and food sovereignty. The Journal of Peasant Studies 38:161–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- RWANMREC and PROMUNDO. 2014. Engaging men as fathers in gender equality, maternal and child health, caregiving and violence prevention. Washington D.C.: Rwanda Men’s Resource Center, Kigali, Rwanda and Promundo-US.Google Scholar
- Snapp, Sieglinde, and K. L. Heong. 2003. Scaling up: participatory research and extension to reach more farmers. In Uniting science and participation: Managing natural resources for sustainable livelihoods, eds. Barry, Pound, Sieglinde, Snapp, Cynthia, McDougall and Ann, Braun, 67–87. UK: Earthscan and Canada: IRDC.Google Scholar
- Snapp, Sieglinde S., J. Malcolm, Blackie, Robert A., Gilbert, Rachel, Bezner Kerr and Y. George Kanyama-Phiri. 2010. Biodiversity can support a greener revolution in Africa. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107: 20840–20845. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1007199107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- SUSTAINET, E. A. 2010. Technical manual for farmers and field extension service providers: Farmer field school approach. Sustainable Agriculture Information Initiative, Nairobi, Kenya. http://www.sustainetea.org.
- UNICEF. 2013. The community infant and young child feeding counselling package. New York: UNICEF.Google Scholar
- Werner, David and Bill, Bower. 1991. Helping health workers learn: A book of methods, aids, and ideas for instructors at the village level. 9th ed. Palo Alto: The Hesperian Foundation.Google Scholar
- Wolfe, David W. 2013. Climate change solutions from the agronomy perspective. In Handbook of climate change and agroecosystems: Global and regional aspects and implications, Daniel Hillel, and Cynthia Rosenzweig, eds. ICP Series on Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation, and Mitigation vol. 2. Hackensack, New Jersey: World Scientific.Google Scholar