Farmer Center is starting to take shape!

SFHC is building a new Farmer Research and Training Center, just outside of Ekwendeni, to provide a site for farmer training, agroecological experimentation, recipe testing, demonstration gardens and research. Our long term vision is that this center will be a place where visitors can learn from and work with farmers – they will be able to see demonstration gardens of agroecological methods, attend trainings run by SFHC, try out new delicious recipes, and (eventually) stay in the new dormitories. The Center is being constructed with funds from the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada, as part of the Malawi Farmer to Farmer Agroecology project.


Secret ingredient in fighting hunger

How can we fight hunger in Africa? What technologies work? This issue, often debated these days, is compelling discussed in a new TEDMED talk by Raj Patel, who raises the example of SFHC in his talk.

Sneak preview of food film highlights SFHC work

Raj Patel, a scholar and activist known for his renowned book about the food system, Stuffed and Starved, is working on a new documentary called Generation Food. SFHC is one of the focus organizations in the film. A preview was recently released, which highlights the efforts of one of our community promoters and long-term SFHC volunteer, Anita Chitaya. It is inspiring! Check it out!

Farmer-led Curriculum Tested in Dedza

The first week of a new farmer-led curriculum, which integrates teaching on agroecology, nutrition, climate change and gender and social equity, was tested with 300 households in the Dedza District the first week of March. There was a lot of interest and enthusiasm for the material this first week of training. An additional 200 households will participate in this curriculum training in Mzimba District the third week of March. The curriculum, which was developed through a collaboration between SFHC, Cornell University, Michigan State University, University of Manitoba, Action Aid Tanzania and Chancellor College, University of Malawi, uses drama, dialogue and other teaching methods, and draws on the long-term methods used by SFHC. The curriculum is 2 weeks in length, and the second week of training will take place in April. The curriculum development was funded by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future at Cornell University. It will also be tested in Tanzania with 400 households in 2016. We intend to make this curriculum available for public, not-for-profit use once we have revised it based on farmer feedback.

New Paper on Local Orange Maize as Vit A Source

Orange maize

In collaboration with scientists at the University of Manitoba, lead by Dr. Trust Beta, and with Chancellor College, we have published a new paper in the scientific journal Food Chemistry that shows evidence of the high value of local, open-pollinated orange maize as a source of vitamin A. Known locally as mtinkinya, the local orange maize used to be eaten as a porridge, but had declined in use. We collected 26 samples of white maize and 35 samples of local orange maize samples from farmers in central Malawi in 2014. The average amount of beta-carotene, for example, was 40 times higher in local orange maize than white maize samples. Based on the analysis, 100 grams of local orange maize samples were estimated to provide between 8 – 17% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A for an adult man. These results provide important support for our approach, which supports diverse cropping systems, agrobiodiversity and local indigenous knowledge. Details on the paper will be listed under our research results.

Dedza Field Day hosts 2500 farmers

On February 25, one of SFHC’s annual Field Days was hosted in the area surrounding Dedza, in the southern region of Malawi. This is a new area for the MAFFA project, and we were delighted with the level of participation: a total of 2301 people attended (1178 men and 1213 women) excluding 230 children. Field Days are educational and promotional events held in the rural communities each year. They consist partly of several field visits, where outstanding farmers show their fields and explain to the audience the techniques they have used. It is a method of sharing ideas to farmers who are new or experienced members of the project, and showcasing the successes of households using agroecological techniques. The District Agricultural Development Officer and the Traditional Authority Kachere both commended MAFFA for the great crops and crop husbandry technologies displayed. They expressed excitement about farmer to farmer visits and learning, reviving orange maize and the cooperation with the Agricultural office which they said was good for continuity of MAFFA’s work.

Photos from recent Dedza Field Days below. Photo credit: Carmen Bezner Kerr.

Woman enjoying some of a new recipe shared at field day, using crops encouraged through MAFFA. Really, it was good!
Woman enjoying some of a new recipe shared at field day. Really, it was good!
Woman showing her beautiful pigeon pea/maize crop!
Woman showing her beautiful pigeon pea/maize crop!
Farmers presenting samples of their invented recipes to be tasted using legumes, local maize and other crops promoted through MAFFA.
Farmers presenting samples of their invented recipes to be tasted by the crowd, using legumes, local maize and other crops promoted through MAFFA.
Farmer’s sign in front of a successful maize field describing practices followed for that year.
"Agroecological ways of promoting food and nutritional security" - our pretty cool T-Shirt
“Agroecological ways of promoting food and nutritional security” – our pretty cool T-Shirt

Regional farmer exchanges to happen in February

In the upcoming month, the MAFFA project will be holding farmer exchanges within both the north and central regions, as well as between the two areas. Farmers will stay for around one week with their host households, to learn from other communities. The goal of these exchanges is for MAFFA participants to trade knowledge in farming techniques and experiments done in in other areas. As households have conducted experiments through MAFFA on a variety of topics in the past three years (including experimenting with different planting methods, introduction of more crops such as sorghum, millet, cowpea, tree-planting, residue incorporation, compost manure and so on, there is a lot of experience to be shared. We hope this will encourage further experimentation and sharing. The Farmer Research Team is helping to organize this event.

JANUARY: Youth update, Gender training, PM&C evaluation, and new nutrient analysis

We are happy to announce that our second Youth Community Promoter, Cristina Hara, has returned from maternity leave! Cristina is happy to be back at work and looking forward to 2015’s activities.

More Objective 4 of MAFFA news: the Youth Clubs in the Ekwendeni region have expressed interest in growing the crops used in their small business initiatives.  The youth clubs have been developing food businesses with a variety of products (breads, juices, doughnuts, groundnut and sweet potato fritters, etc) to sell as a source of livelihood in local areas. Previously they have bought locally rather than grown the ingredients. The MAFFA youth promoters and the rest of our team will be investigating opportunities for youth agriculture in the coming months.

Sidney Madsen’s visit to Malawi has gone well so far; after several weeks in Ekwendeni in the Northern region, she will soon be traveling to Lobi in the Central region to continue her research. Sidney has been staying with participating farmers and FRT (Farmer Research Team) members in Chimbongondo and Kabwanda areas, among others, to study and evaluate MAFFA’s participatory approach. Sidney has worked closely with Sume Mbewe, our Monitoring and Evaluation Officer. She intends to hold project meetings using the Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation method, to introduce this format to the MAFFA team. We are delighted that her trip has been enjoyable, efficient and successful so far. (See more about Sidney Madsen’s work with SFHC here:

Gender training: In January, several days of training and discussion were held in Lobi on gender equality. As Objective 5 of MAFFA focuses on giving women increased decision-making power over agriculture, food security and income, this is an important component of our work.

Nutrient cereal analysis: In Objectives 1 and 3 of MAFFA  (See for a summary of MAFFA’s objectives): Alongside Dr. Trust Beta, three research associates at the University of Manitoba, from China and Korea, have been analyzing samples of legume and cereal varieties sent to them. Their goal was to perform a thorough nutrient analysis of the many varieties grown and studied through MAFFA; the results so far have been positive. Their findings will be presented at the American Association of Cereal Chemists, in Minneapolis in October. Stay tuned!


Seed distribution to over 4000 households

As of December, SFHC and other partners have completed seed distribution to the 4000 new participating households of the MAFFA (Malawi Farmer-to-Farmer Agroecology) project. This year’s seed included a range of varieties of pigeon pea, groundnut (peanut), bambara groundnut, beans, and for the first time, finger millet! Finger millet, a drought tolerant and nutritious grain, is pest resilient and useful for years of inconsistent rain, and good for combating child malnutrition.

We based our selections on what we learned from the seed fairs held in August. Fairs were held in both locations (Lobi and Ekwendeni), where farmers brought and displayed their preferred local varieties of several crops. An informal discussion was conducted to decide which varieties farmers were most interested in, and once we had chosen which ones to distribute, households selected their preferences. This is the first year that we have been able to learn from farmer knowledge through the seed fairs, and we are excited to see the results in the coming season.

Sidney Madsen studying MAFFA’s participatory approach

In January, young collaborating researcher Sidney Madsen will be traveling to Malawi to study and evaluate MAFFA’s participatory methods. She will also be working to set up a new participatory system of Monitoring and Evaluation for our project. One of our objectives for the MAFFA project is to expand and improve our participatory approach within the Farmer Research Team (FRT) and throughout broader project management (Objective 2 of MAFFA project). We are working towards inclusive processes with the FRT groups contributing to the project, in order to create a socially just, participatory, democratic method of project organization. Sidney will be spending seven weeks in Malawi, visiting both locations, Lobi and Ekwendeni during her stay. Her visit and research is funded by the grant from the Canadian government as well as funds from Dr. Bezner Kerr at Cornell University. Safe travels, Sidney!