Researchers at East Lansing’s MSU Receive $7.8M to Help Diversify Agriculture in Malawi

Researchers at Michigan State University in East Lansing have received a $7.8-million, three-year grant from the Agricultural Transformation Initiative to build an independent policy research institute in Malawi, a country in southeast Africa. The institute will work to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.
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tobacco crop
MSU researchers are working in Malawi, Africa to help farmers find alternatives to tobacco cash crops as international tobacco use declines. // Photo courtesy of Michigan State University

Researchers at Michigan State University in East Lansing have received a $7.8-million, three-year grant from the Agricultural Transformation Initiative to build an independent policy research institute in Malawi, a country in southeast Africa. The institute will work to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.

As international demand for tobacco declines, developing countries that are dependent on it as a cash crop need support to diversity and transform their rural economies.

“Forward-thinking initiatives like this are critical to the prosperity of many southern African nations like Malawi, where tobacco accounts for over half of the country’s national export earnings,” says Thomas Jayne, MSU Foundation professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics. “Malawi is arguably the world’s most tobacco-dependent country, but many other southern African countries will also need an effective transition strategy. This grant is intended to develop and implement such a strategy.”

The researchers will work with public, private, and civil society stakeholders in Malawi to build a platform for transparent and evidence-based public discussion about ways forward. The foundation for the discussion will be the creation of an autonomous, self-sustaining agriculture policy research institute in the country.

“Rural welfare in Malawi will depend on how rapidly the country can find sustainable and profitable income-earning alternatives to tobacco,” says Milu Muyanga, an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics. “The ATI team reached out to MSU to build a Malawian-led institute that can contribute to the country’s agricultural transformation process.”

Jayne and Muyanga are the principal investigators of the initial grant.

“It’s important to us that our activities in Malawi, and Africa in general, are dedicated to supporting local solutions led by those who have a real and longstanding stake in the outcomes,” says Jayne. “This is a hallmark of the College of Agricultural and Natural Resources work in Africa for decades, and this approach is promoted across MSU through the Alliance for African Partnership.”

Jayne and Muyanga will work with faculty in their department, those from geography, entomology, and plant soil and microbial sciences, and with local Malawi partners. Other partners include the Malawian National Planning Commission; the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Water Development; Purdue University; and ORG/First Hectares.

“This project will address the growing need to facilitate an economic environment in Malawi that can support agricultural diversification,” says Candida Nakhumwa, country director for the Agricultural Transformation Initiative. “MSU’s expertise in agriculture development will be invaluable in the work to transform the sector in support of smallholder tobacco farmers who are seeking alternative livelihoods.”

The Agricultural Transformation Initiative is a core pillar of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, a nonprofit based in the U.S. The foundation wants to stop smoking and support the diversification of tobacco-dependent economies.

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