LILONGWE, 16th February, 2023 (AEJ) - Centre for Agricultural Transformation (CAT) will fund six under-graduate students from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) to carry out various studies aimed at exploring practical solutions to the myriad of challenges facing smallholder farmers and agribusiness initiatives in Malawi.
CAT works with partners through its smart farms located at Bunda, Natural Resources College campus and Makoka research station in Zomba to demonstrate proven technologies that can assist smallholder farmers diversify away from tobacco to other alternative value chains and increase crop productivity.
The smart farms acts as platform where experts interface with these farmers for them to see, learn and adopt different innovations and agricultural technologies. As CAT works with farmers and its partners, it noted a need to introduce a research on demand concept.
Total financial support to the students in monetary value is worth US$13,500, an equivalent of MK14.5million at current exchange rates thanks to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World through Agricultural Transformation Initiative.
The grant awardees are four male and two male students drawn from LUANAR’s Bunda College campus. They were selected after a competitive and rigorous process conducted by both the University and CAT.
In a statement, CAT explains that the grant will cover one year of research activities to enable the students undertake specific tailor – designed research areas such as investigating the agronomic uniformity and genetic stability of CG11 groundnut variety.
Other activities include developing tissue culture protocols for rapid propagation of Sukari and Zeru local varieties of banana, evaluate and identify effective integrated pest management approaches for Soya bean and assess effect of sunken beds on yield of rain-fed and irrigated garlic.
The grants will also help to study the field establishment and agronomic performance of chia seeds, and evaluate the potential of used mushroom substrate as an organic fertilizer.
“We are delighted to work with LUANAR towards supporting undergraduate research needs that have an impact on smallholder agricultural production as well as those that can provide solutions to production bottlenecks our agribusiness partners face as they support farmers through various alternative value chains,” explains CAT Executive Director, MacLeod Nkhoma in a statement.
Nkhoma added, “These production challenges were identified late last year through CAT’s visit to its Business Incubation and Commercialization (BIC) partners who are upscaling various technologies and innovations to support smallholder farmers’ adoption across the country.”
Deputy Vice Chancellor of LUANAR Dr Agnes Mwangwela described the move as a great initiative which will go a long way in building and strengthening undergraduate students’ capacity to conduct practical scientific research.
“The University deeply cherishes a practical partnership with the CAT that is cascading down to our students. Following this initial grant, we look forward to an expanded program that would accommodate more students and staff to conduct demand-driven and cutting-edge research for the agriculture industry,” Mwangwela explained on the side lines of the event.
The research activities will be conducted at the CAT’s smart farms located within the precincts of LUANAR’s Bunda and NRC campuses with regular visits to selected agribusinesses located in Lilongwe based on individual production challenges they face while working with smallholder farmers.
In a separate interview, director of science, technology and Innovation at CAT Geoff Kananji highlighted the fact that the idea is that any bottlenecks or agricultural related challenges faced by either smallholder farmers or partners that work with the farmers should immediately be addressed based on empirical evidence and supporting data that should help.
Additional reporting by AEJ’s Charles Mkoka