Collaborating for enhanced agricultural extension services for sustainable agricultural production and productivity

Under the European Union funded KULIMA programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has since 2018 worked collaboratively with the Government of Malawi on farmer field school implementation to enhance agricultural extension and advisory services with the aim of improving agricultural production and productivity. 


Agriculture in Malawi is characterized by low production and productivity. Smallholder farmers face multiple challenges, including the negative impacts of climate change- flooding, prolonged dry spells and droughts, unreliable rainfall patterns, and the emergence of pests and diseases such as the fall armyworm and banana bunchy top disease. Agricultural advisory services therefore offer critical support for smallholder farmers in the face of such challenges.


Farmer field school (FFS) is recognized by Government, in the National Agricultural Extension Service strategy, as one of the strengths of the agricultural extension and advisory services subsectors. This year on 4th and 11th March 2022, sixty-two (62) agricultural extension workers and ninety-two (92) lead farmers graduated as farmer field school (FFS) master trainers (MT) and Community-Based Facilitators (CBF) respectively, from the FFS master trainers (MT) course, under the KULIMA Programme.


“Farmer field schools are essential in promoting agricultural technologies and good agricultural practices in the face of many challenges facing the agricultural sector in Malawi,” said the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Dalitso Wirima Kambauwa. She added that the Ministry of Agriculture promotes the use of FFS to build capacity of farmers to achieve household food, income and nutrition security.

 Speaking of the contribution of KULIMA to Malawi’s vision of a highly productive and commercialized agriculture sector, FAO Representative, Zhijun Chen said:

 “The aspirations in Pillar 1 of the Malawi 2063 on agricultural productivity and commercialization are possible, only if we have a vibrant extension service, which is responsive to the unique and location specific needs of the farming communities.”

 The recent graduates are part of a broader plan that targets training of 600 FFS Master Trainers and 8 000 Community Based Facilitators will be trained who in turn will support at least 13 400 community outreach groups with over 400 000 productive farming families to improve their productivity, diversification and income generation.

 To date, 371 MTs and 366 CBFs have been trained.  Furthermore, 18-month long CBF courses are ongoing at 249 sites in communities in the ten districts where the project is being implemented which are Chitipa, Karonga, Mzimba, Nkhatabay Nkhotakota, Salima, Kasungu, Chiradzulu, Thyolo and Mulanje. The CBF courses are being facilitated by graduates from the first, second and third cohort with an enrolment of 7 558 CBF lead farmers.

 FFS training courses are being conducted at Lisasadzi, Thuchila, and Mzuzu residential training centres in Kasungu, Mulanje, and Mzuzu districts.

 Attendance at the March graduation event included the Deputy Minister as guest of honour, the Head of Corporation of the EU Delegation in Malawi, Ivo Hoefkens, government officials, partners from the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers, members of the press and FAO.


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The Government of Malawi in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are currently working to enhance water, sanitation and hygiene practices for COVID-19 awareness and prevention among farming communities. They are facilitating this through provision of handwashing buckets, soaps and information materials to rural farming communities. The items are valued at $950,000 and are being funded by the European Union (EU).

“With the distribution of inputs such as buckets and soaps for handwashing coupled with additional information materials to enhance personal protection, it is expected that households adopt better preventive behaviour and can continue engaging with food production and nutrition activities,” said Luis Amaya Ortiz, Head of Project Coordination at FAO.

Following rapid development of the pandemic in December 2020, Malawi has since been overwhelmed by a second wave of COVID-19. An increase in confirmed cases and related deaths due to the pandemic led the government to reinstitute measures such as restrictions to movement, mass gatherings and a six-week school closure period.

In this context, availability of hand washing supplies and increased awareness of COVID-19 and its consequences to human health remain important for preventing spread of the disease and for promoting safe behaviours among communities not only in urban, but also in rural areas. These are also critical to reinforce behavioural change communication and continuity of activities being implemented under the EU-funded KULIMA and Afikepo programmes, which are aimed at improving agricultural productivity and ultimately, food and nutrition security.

KULIMA and Afikepo are being implemented through outreach platforms of Farmer Field Schools (FFS) and care groups, where activities involve extensive group interactions. Measures have been implemented to reduce numbers in routine meetings and field activities following government protocols as well as emphasizing physical distancing and use of masks. Rebecca Phiri, a community based facilitator for Alinafe FFS in Kasungu district, confirms however that lack of handwashing facilities for group activities has been a challenge.

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, our groups used to meet regularly, but since the coming of this disease and the knowledge we gained about the disease, things changed. Being able to protect ourselves was difficult especially once away from home. The idea of getting together in groups without protective equipment has been frightening,” she said confirming that the buckets and soaps will make a difference.

For farmers such as Rebecca, the rain-fed season is the time when agricultural and field learning activities are intensified. Fear of risks associated with physical meetings without adequate protection pose a setback to farmer learning within her farmer field school.

Maria Kambulo a care promoter in Nkhotakota district says that she was in same predicament and that having dedicated handwashing material will help with reducing risk of transmission during meetings. She voluntarily supports two care groups, each with ten cluster leaders who themselves voluntarily support eight to ten households with nutrition and related issues.

“The posters and leaflets, in our own language, will help us to continue raising awareness of the pandemic to households, just as the leaflets will be useful for awareness of community members who may not have heard about it yet,” she said.

The provisions include 52,951 handwashing buckets to care group volunteers and 1,000 units for farmer field schools, 799,820 bars of soap for hand washing and 52,000 posters and 470,000 leaflets. Overall, the initiative aims to improve awareness of COVID-19 and contribute to prevention of transmission for 578,455 households in the 14 districts of Chitipa, Karonga, Mzimba, Nkhatabay, Kasungu, Nkhotakota, Salima, Chiradzulu, Thyolo, Mulanje, Phalombe, Zomba, Neno and Blantyre rural.

This distribution is part of the ongoing efforts that project partners have carried out since July 2020 under the National COVID-19 Response Plan launched by the Government. Previous efforts include awareness drives using road shows, community radio stations, and orientation sessions about the pandemic.

According to the Public Health Institute of Malawi, the first cases of COVID-19 in Malawi were initially confirmed in April 2020. To date, Malawi has conducted 209,096 tests for COVID-19, and has had recorded 32,894 confirmed cases and 1,088 deaths. The country received its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility, 360,000 doses, on 5 March 2020.


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The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in Malawi have contributed to disruption of food systems, agri-value chains, extension service provision and an overall slowdown in economic activities, posing a strain on farmers’ ability to invest in or afford farm inputs which they sorely need for agricultural production.

With financial support from the European Union (EU) through its on-going programmes and contingency funds, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has distributed 3,600 metric tons of fertilizer, comprising  NPK and Urea, to 45,000 farming households in 14 districts across Malawi, in order to support productive farming activities in the 2020/2021 rain-fed season.

Speaking of the importance of supporting farmers with inputs, FAO Representative, Zhijun Chen said:

“COVID-19 presents a complex environment where operating safely has meant reduced contact among farmer groups affecting the extension services, disruptions to marketing activities, making farm inputs difficult to access and slowing down overall economic activities. This has led to loss of income for farmers with whom FAO is working. These inputs are aimed at cushioning farming households to reduce the risk of hunger and malnutrition resulting from low food productivity and production.”

The fertilizer procurement and distribution has been made possible through funding of USD 3 400 000, provided under the KULIMA Programme  contingency fund and a further USD 890 000, through reprogramming of ongoing EU-funded projects KULIMA and ‘Strengthening Community Resilience to Climate Change in Blantyre, Zomba, Neno and Phalombe districts’.

The two projects support improved productivity and strengthened resilience to shocks resulting from climate change, respectively. They are being implemented in the districts of Chiradzulu, Thyolo, Mulanje, Phalombe, Zomba, Blantyre, Neno, in the south, Kasungu, Nkhotakota, Salima, in the centre, and Chitipa, Karonga, Mzimba, and Nkhatabay in the North. The fertilizer distribution has therefore been to farmers that the projects are supporting in these districts.

One of the recipients of the fertilizer, Evelyn Savala, of Weremu village, Traditional Authority Ndalama in Thyolo district confirms that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected her regular economic activities and that the fertilizer received will fill a gap to help secure food and nutrition for her household.

“I of course managed to source fertilizer on my own, but it is not enough to cover what I need for the size of my field. Money has been hard to find, our businesses have not gone well this year because of this disease, with what FAO has given with EU support I am thankful because I am confident that my household will have adequate food and we will not go hungry,” she says.

The support is part of FAO’s COVID 19 emergency response initiative, which is a part of the wider Government of Malawi national emergency response plan of 2020 (Agriculture Cluster).

The distribution of fertilizers which took place between December 2020 and January 2021, has also been supported by Government of Malawi Ministry of Agriculture, relevant district councils, the Auditor General’s office, who provided logistical support, making available to FAO, 11 trucks to ensure that the input delivery was seamless.

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BY Towela Munthali, FAO

 On 30th September 2020, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in conjunction with the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), handed over 307 motorcycles and 7 cars to the Government of Malawi. The vehicles came as part of support for five interventions which are being funded by the European Union (EU), the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office of the UK government (FCDO), and the Government of Flanders.

The vehicles and motorcycles, handed over to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health, will support the provision of operational and technical support for ongoing interventions that are aimed at strengthening agricultural productivity, nutrition sensitive agriculture, community resilience to climate change and natural resources management in 16 districts across Malawi.

Speaking during the handover ceremony, the guest of honour, Minister of Agriculture Hon. Robin C. Lowe MP emphasized the difference that the motorcycles would make to provision of extension services.

“It’s a pity to learn that our extension workers are walking on foot while their counterparts elsewhere use motorcycles, so being supported with these will mean a great improvement in the mobility of extension workers,” he said. His remarks were in sync with those of the Deputy Minister for Health, Chrissie Kamanga Kalamula Kanyasho, who said that the coming in of the motorcycles would enable frontline workers to reach hard-to-reach places to promote adequate nutrition.

Honourable Lowe said that the donation was in line with the Government of Malawi’s vision for food security, economic empowerment for all citizens in Malawi and that the vehicles and motorcycles would go a long way towards supporting the implementation of the Malawi Growth and Development strategy (MGDS III) and the National Agriculture Investment Plan.

Representing FAO and UNICEF, the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Maria Jose Torres said: “The United Nations recognises the important role played by frontline extension workers in facilitating transformative knowledge and hands-on skills among farmers. It is this noble role of our frontline extension workers that make farmers’ livelihoods smarter to face prevailing climate change conditions and evolving economic challenges”.  The UN Resident Coordinator also underpinned that provision of multi-sectorial advisory services, especially to farmers in remote locations, will ensure that no one is left behind as Malawi works towards attaining the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 2 of achieving Zero Hunger

On his part, the EU Acting Head of Cooperation, Jose Maria Medina Navarro, highlighted the impact that delivery of quality extension services through the programmes that are funded by the EU will have on communities.

“We are working to improve the nutritional status of 750 000 households, and to make sure Malawian children can grow to their full potential. The EU-funded programmes will also support more than 400 000 farming families, who will benefit from good quality extension services and from increased agriculture production,” he said.

Echoing this sentiment, Lucy Hayes of FCDO, pointed to gains already made under the FCDO funded Promoting Sustainable Partnerships for Enhanced Resilience (PROSPER).

“We are working hand in hand with the Ministry of Agriculture to strengthen the agricultural extension system and encourage the uptake of climate smart agriculture practices and new technologies. In its first year, PROSPER trained over 1 000 Lead Farmers who established demonstration plots and formed follower-farmer groups of over 40 000 farmers.

The distribution of vehicles and motorcycles is across five projects, with 240 motorcycles supporting implementation of EU-funded programmes KULIMA, Afikepo and Strengthening community resilience to climate change in Blantyre, Zomba, Neno and Phalombe projects; 60 motorcycles and six cars distributed to support the FCDO-funded Promoting Sustainable Partnerships for Empowered Resilience project; six motorcycles and one motorcar handed over to the Ministry of Agriculture’s Department of Land Resources Conservation to support the Government of Flanders-funded project,  Land use planning and sustainable land and water management for improved agricultural productivity in Kasungu and Mzimba districts.

Overall, the vehicles are earmarked for distribution to extension service providers in 16 districts across Malawi namely Chitipa, Karonga, Nkhatabay, Mzimba, Nkhotakota, Salima, Kasungu, Chiradzulu, Thyolo, Mulanje, Chikwawa, Balaka, Mangochi, Phalombe, Blantyre, and Neno.

FAO’s support to food, nutrition and income security

 EU-funded interventions

FAO and UNICEF are supporting the implementation of the Afikepo Nutrition Programme with financial assistance from the EU, and in close coordination with the Department of Nutrition, HIV and AIDS (DNHA) and the Department of Agriculture Extension Services (DAES). Afikepo, which means “let them [the children] develop to their full potential,” specifically seeks to address chronic malnutrition in Malawi. The activities of this project are supporting the diversification and intake of safe and nutritious foods to achieve optimal nutrition for women of child bearing age, adolescent girls, infants and young children.

Further, FAO is also supporting the Ministry of Agriculture through the Department of Agricultural Extension Services with the implementation of the project “Revitalising agricultural clusters and ulimi wa m’ndandanda through farmer field schools” within the framework of EU KULIMA Programme. The specific outcome of the project is sustainable increase of agricultural productivity and diversified production, in the context of a changing climate. The project aims at strengthening agricultural advisory services through scaling up the farmer field school (FFS) approach implementation in the country.  The Afikepo and KULIMA interventions implemented since June 2017 are contributing for the implementation of the National Multi-sectorial Nutrition Policy 2018-2022, the National Agriculture Investment Plan 2018-2023 and other relevant national priorities

FAO is supporting the Ministry of Agriculture with implementation of resilience building activities supported under the EU Global Climate Change Alliance, which has aimed to support community-based resilience building climate variability and change, through strengthening participation of small-scale farmers in sound safety nets and productive investments.

Promoting Sustainable Partnerships for Empowered Resilience project

The FCDO-funded Promoting Sustainable Partnerships for Empowered Resilience project (PROSPER) is implemented in Chikwawa, Mangochi, Phalombe and Balaka districts. This project is part of the wider FCDO-funded Building Resilience and Adapting to Climate Change programme (BRACC) with an investment of up to £90.5 million. It aims to strengthen the resilience of an estimated 300,000 poor and vulnerable households, around 1.7 million Malawians, to withstand current and future weather and climate related shocks and stresses.  The programme is aligned with the National Resilience Strategy, NAIP and Climate Change National policies.

The Government of Flanders-funded project which FAO is implementing with the Department of Land Resources Conservation, called Land use planning and sustainable land and water management for improved agricultural productivity in Kasungu and Mzimba district, aims to achieve sustainable land and water management to improve agriculture productivity in Malawi.  The project is part of an inter-ministerial initiative established by the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Lands and is aiming to facilitate integral management of land in Mzimba and Kasungu districts, particularly fostering integral approaches to tackle land tenure and sustainable land management.

Part of the consignment



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