Farming for change: developing a participatory curriculum on agroecology, nutrition, climate change and social equity in Malawi and Tanzania

Abstract

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.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    See http://soilandfood.org/projects/participatory-integrated-curriculum-project/.

Abbreviations

HIV:

Human immunodeficiency virus

NGO:

Non-governmental organization

PAR:

Participatory action research

SFHC:

Soils, Food and Healthy Communities organization

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Acknowledgements

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.

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Bezner Kerr, R., Young, S.L., Young, C. et al. Farming for change: developing a participatory curriculum on agroecology, nutrition, climate change and social equity in Malawi and Tanzania. Agric Hum Values 36, 549–566 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-018-09906-x

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Keywords

  • Critical food systems education
  • Agroecology
  • Transdisciplinary
  • Food sovereignty
  • Gender
  • Critical pedagogy