The study is being carried out in two regions: Ekwendeni catchment area in the Mzimba District in the Northern region and Traditional Authority (TA) Simlemba in the Kasungu District in the Central region (Figure 1). Both these areas are mid-altitude (1000-1200 m asl), sub-tropical ecosystems, with unimodal rainfall during the months of December to April (700-1300 mm/yr). The typical cropping pattern of smallholders in both sites has been maize (Zea mays) as the dominant staple crop, and other crops grown at low density including tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum), sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) and groundnut (Arachis hypogaea). We have chosen these two sites in the mid altitude Miombo woodland region of Malawi as a focus for research, in part due to the evidence of frequent drought occurrences in these regions in the historical record, and the limited agricultural and social research in the north and central regions compared to the south. Another major reason for selection of these sites is the longer-term partnership with farmer groups in each area. The two sites have some differences that will allow for useful comparison.