Agriculture in Malawi
A brief overview

Agriculture accounts for 35% of Malawi’s GDP and employs 90% of the rural population. However, 50.7% of the population engaged in agriculture lives below the poverty line. Low agricultural productivity has been attributed to: dependence on rain farming; low uptake of improved farm inputs; high transport costs; inadequate farmer organizations; insufficient extension services; and incomplete credit, input and output markets. In response, the Malawi Growth and Development Strategies for 2011 – 2016 identified agriculture and food security as one of nine priority sectors aiming at increasing agricultural diversification, sustainable land and water management, access to inputs, extension services and markets and strengthening farmer institutions.

In 2006, the Government of Malawi implemented a targeted farm input subsidy program. While this program has increased food production, primarily maize, the program has been criticized for its limited links to extension services and output markets. It is in this context that the Anchor Farm Model of the Clinton Development Initiative comes in.

The Clinton Development initiative
The anchor farm model

To assist the Government in achieving its Growth and Development Strategies, the Clinton Development Initiative (CDI) established the Anchor Farm Model (AFM) in 2008. Its multi-pronged approach was designed to increase agricultural production, income, and food security through the promotion of yield-enhancing integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) practices – and soybean production in particular – by smallholder farmers in central Malawi. CDI uses a large commercial farm as a hub to reach out to surrounding smallholder farmers.

They actively work to achieve their goal of increased agricultural production, income and food security by: Disseminating production knowledge using demonstration plots, farmer clubs, lead farmers and farmer field days; Improving farmers’ access to input markets, in particular credit and seed markets through CDI’s contract with seed companies and their intermediary role in the credit market; and Proving access to structured output markets through CDI’s established relationship with international soybean buyers and by offering storage at the time of harvest through a warehouse receipt system.

A unique feature of the program is the farmer clubs. At the start of each season, CDI organized farmers in farmer clubs of 10 to 20 members (see Figure below). Each club elects a leader who is provided with the relevant agricultural inputs and training. The club leader on its turn informs the club members, who on their turn can inform the other village farmers.

To date, CDI has reached more than 28,000 smallholder farmers Malawi. They aim covering a total of 100,000 smallholder farmers in Malawi and expand to Tanzania by the 2015/16 growing season.

Integrated Soil Fertility
Management Techniques

Integrated Soil Fertility Management, commonly referred to ISFM, encompasses a wide range of soil fertility management practices, include the use of organic and inorganic fertilizer, soil conservation methods (such as ridges), the introduction of legumes in the cropping system, improved fallow, composting, incorporation of crop residue after harvest and the introduction of "fertilizer" trees.
See the website of the Africa Soil Health Consortium for more information.

ISFM - Malawi
the evaluation

With funding of the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie), ISFM-Malawi aims to support CDI in their scale-up. ISFM provides potential solutions to increasing smallholder productivity, but to date, little information exists on how to implement these solutions. Knowledge of the cost-effectiveness of the numerous AFM components will enable stakeholders, including farmers, government agencies, non-governmental organizations and the private sector to make evidence-based decisions. This research strives to directly address the unmet demand for empirical evidence on interventions related to smallholder farmer productivity, soil fertility, and market participation in Malawi. This will be achieved through the random assignment of 250 villages into:

    1. Control villages;
    2. Villages invited to establish demonstration plots and participate in other dissemination activities;
    3. Villages who receive marketing assistance.

In addition to evaluating the impacts of (2) and (3) on farmers' adoption, yield and welfare, we will explore solutions to increase the effectiveness of demonstration plots through improved functioning of farmer clubs. Using detailed panel data (covering 5 years), ISFM-MALAWI will identify the channels though which impacts take place and explore the heterogeneity across household composition, wealth, time and risk preference, and soil properties. The latter allows the evaluation to draw lessons for sub-Saharan Africa with the goal of increasing ISFM adoption across the continent.

More details on the evaluation can be found on the Data and Papers page.