Mapping Agroecology

With funding from the McKnight foundation, SFHC is partnering with experts in GIS technologies to map where and how our impact is being felt. We focused on two indicators of impact: the pathways for sharing seeds and knowledge.

Since 2000, SFHC has worked with over 10,000 farming households in the Northern and Central Regions of Malawi. We have covered a lot of ground. We have been able to assess the impact of our work on our project objectives, collect careful data and observe excellent results, published in prominent scientific journals. The Mapping Agroecology Project provides a unique opportunity to assess the longterm impacts and sustainability of our work, and to synthesize data from past projects to identify the strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in the work we have done.

Through the McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program, (part of the “Legume Best Bets” project of the University of Malawi, Bunda College of Agriculture), we are exploring our impact with a multi-tiered assessment. As agroecology rests on the principle of participatory knowledge sharing, we have collaborated closely with participants in the study to identify the criteria for evaluation.

The survey and participatory data collection will assess what aspects of our work had a lasting impact: in farming practices, nutrition and gender equity, and the social networks upholding these shifts.
The geospatial data, collected by farmers trained on GPS and GIS technologies, will map networks of seed sharing and training on agroecological methods that have resulted from the project.

Research Questions and Goals: our research is guided by the following four questions.

  1. What types of agroecological, nutrition and gender equity practices are sustained by smallholder farming households over time?
  2. What kind of information and seeds do they share? (i.e. distance, quantity, depth of information)
  3. What social networks support the maintenance of these practices?
  4. What are some key gaps in agroecological knowledge and training?

Methods (in brief): In July 2019, 609 farmers participated in a survey. Participants were randomly selected from 6 village areas (3 in Dedza and 3 in Mzimba), each of which received seed and training from the MAFFA project between 2012-2017. The survey focused on issues such as farmers’ experiences working with SFHC, what they learned and wish should be changed, current farming practices, child feeding practices, climate change and attitudes about gender, their experiences with seed and knowledge sharing in their communities.

SFHC farmers involved in the data collection were trained on how to use GPS technologies and electronic data collection tools such as Open Data collection Kit ODK. The quantitative data they collected on the spread of seeds and knowledge is under analysis using the SPSS software to generate descriptive and inferential statistics.

As per the methods of evaluation that were co-identified by SFHC staff, volunteers and participating farmers, we will be following up with further participatory data collection methods. These may include focus group discussions, interviews, matrix scoring, social and wealth rankings in order to collect both qualitative and quantitative data.

The data collected from the GPS is being analysed to map out farmers practicing agroecological methods, nutrition and gender practices, seed borrowing/sharing and repayment activities. Further analysis of the qualitative data will involve carrying out content analysis in which the key themes and patterns will be identified from the narratives recorded during the focus group discussions and interviews as well as the open ended questions from the survey interviews. The process of the content analysis will involve shifting from the deductive to inductive and then to deductive analysis.

Once the quantitative, qualititative and geospatial data has been collected and preliminary analysis has been done, the research team will carry out a participatory workshop with a subset of previous SFHC participants from the 6 village areas and SFHC to present the findings and discuss lessons learned. The final results will reflect this dialogue and analysis.

“99% of respondents said that they have incorporated agroecological techniques into their farming practices since participating in SFHC’s MAFFA project”

– July 2019 Mapping Agroecology survey analysis

Results: The results of this project are still under statistical analysis. We’ll share this tantalizing graph that came from the first round of reporting: while a whopping 99% of respondants said that they have incorporated agroecological techniques into their farming practices, here is the breakdown by gender and practice. Check back for updates!