EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State University researchers have received a $7.8 million grant from the Agricultural Transformation initiative (ATI) to build an independent policy research institute in Malawi dedicated to improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and transforming Malawi’s agricultural sector.
This policy research institute project will address the growing awareness that international demand for tobacco is declining and that developing countries that are highly dependent on tobacco as a cash crop will need support to diversify and transform their rural economies.
“Forward-thinking initiatives like this are critical to the prosperity of many southern African nations like Malawi, where tobacco accounts for over half of the country’s national export earnings,” according to Thomas Jayne, MSU Foundation professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics (AFRE). “Malawi is arguably the world’s most tobacco-dependent country, but many other southern African countries will also need an effective transition strategy. This grant is intended to develop and implement such a strategy.”
To spark this transformation, MSU researchers will work closely with public, private and civil society stakeholders in Malawi to build a platform for transparent and evidence-based public discussion about the ways forward. The foundation for this discussion will be the creation of an autonomous self-sustaining agricultural policy research institute in Malawi.
“This project will address the growing need to facilitate an economic environment in Malawi that can support agricultural diversification,” said Candida Nakhumwa, country director, ATI. “MSU’s expertise in agriculture development will be invaluable in the work to transform the sector in support of smallholder tobacco farmers who are seeking alternative livelihoods.”
“Rural welfare in Malawi will depend on how rapidly the country can find sustainable and profitable income-earning alternatives to tobacco,” said Milu Muyanga, an assistant professor in AFRE based in Malawi who is working with Jayne on the project. “The ATI team reached out to MSU to build a Malawian-led institute that can contribute to the country’s agricultural transformation process.”
Jayne and Muyanga are the principal investigators of this initial three-year grant which builds upon MSU’s longstanding commitment to capacity development in Africa.
“It’s important to us that our activities in Malawi, and Africa in general, are dedicated to supporting local solutions led by those who have a real and longstanding stake in the outcomes,” said Jayne. “This is a hallmark of the College of Agricultural and Natural Resources work in Africa for decades, and this approach is promoted across MSU through the Alliance for African Partnership (AAP).”
Over the next three years, Jayne and Muyanga will collaborate across campus with faculty members from their own department as well as those from Geography, Entomology and Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences and with local Malawi partners to form this research institute. Other partners include the Malawian National Planning Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Purdue University and ORG/First Hectares.
“MSU shares our commitment to help improve the diversification and efficiency of the agriculture ecosystem in Malawi,” said Jim Lutzweiler, vice president of Agriculture and Livelihoods, Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. “We know this project will drive real change that will help smallholder tobacco farmers.”
One of the project’s activities will be to convert an expired USAID-supported effort – the New Alliance Policy Acceleration Support (NAPAS) Project – into an activity whereby the new policy institute provides technical and policy support to the Ministry of Agriculture.
“It has been great partnership between the Ministry and MSU in the implementation of the NAPAS project, said Readwell Musopole, deputy director, Department of Agriculture Planning Services in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development in Malawi. “It is the Ministry's expectation too that this engagement will build strong capacity for the Ministry for evidence-based policy making.”
Jayne and Mkandawire also stressed the important indirect role that AAP has played in attracting international attention to MSU’s partnership model with African organizations.
“Our role at MSU is to build the capacity of policy makers and researchers already there, through trainings, technical support, and strengthened partnerships and coordination between government, civil society, and the private sector,” said Richard Mkandawire, the Africa director of the Alliance for African Partnership.
The ATI is a core pillar of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, an independent, U.S. nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization with the purpose of improving global health by ending smoking in this generation and supporting the diversification of tobacco-dependent economies.