Gender, Climate Smart Agriculture and Malawi

Why are there still barriers in Adoption of Climate Smart Agriculture by the Smallholder Farmers?


Many technologies of importance to farmers, including climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) practices, have predominantly been developed by agricultural research and other seed companies, and are disseminated through agricultural extension system. However, these technologies do not always reach all farmers, particularly, women farmers who are normally marginalized on agricultural extension services. Even those that reach down to the farmers, they are not always accepted and adopted, resulting in the farmers failure to fully benefit from modern technologies that have been developed to respond to negative impacts of climate change on food production.

Secondly, farmers tend to accept and adopt technologies and innovations when they see the benefits themselves. And for them to easily see those benefits, they must participate in the; trial, testing, evaluation and validation of the technologies and techniques.  Additionally, the local farmers continually experiment and innovate independently of the formal scientific research, though their innovations may not be adequately documented. It is because of such multiple problems that a study was designed to investigate the participation of innovative women farmers in Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) Practices in Kabudula in Lilongwe-Malawi.



Women Farmer Preferences of Climate Smart Agricultural (CSA) Practices

Farmers have their own preferences of agricultural technologies that normally suit their socio-economic status and the environment in which they live. Though the bulk of the agricultural technologies that reach the farmers pass through the extension system, the technology preferences of the Extension Workers and those of the farmers often differ. To pursue a common agenda between agriculture extension and the farmers, there is need to go with the farmers’ preferences, which should in turn inform their priorities.

A field process was conducted in Kabudula in Lilongwe – Malawi to establish whether the preferences of the farmers on CSA practices were the same as those of their Extension Workers.


Focus Group Discussions was the strategy that was used to let the women analyse and prioritize the CSA practices that were important in the area. Guided by a checklist, the women discussed a series of topics, under themes that included; the commonly used CSA practices in the area, importance of each agriculture practice, the most challenging CSA practice, the most labour intensive CSA, and subsequently carry out pairwise ranking of CSA practices. The Extension Workers that directly work with the women in the area were also requested to rank the CSA practices. And below were the results from the exercise;

Identification of the CSA Practices

After extensive discussions on the CSA practices for the area, the group identified six key practices. The practices that were identified were as per the list below, but not in priority order.

  1. Early planting
  2. Planting of Early Maturing crop varieties
  3. Use of Inorganic Fertilizer
  4. Use of Compost and Animal Manure
  5. Use of Planting Basins
  6. Continuous Soil Cover


Importance of each CSA Practice in Relation to the impacts of Climate Change

The analysis of the 6 identified CSA practices in relation to the impact of climate change on food security in Kabudula revealed important aspects that make the practice to be classified as CSA. The key aspects associated with the practices included; crops escaping late drought, crops withstanding drought, crops being tolerant to drought, inducing fast crop growth, enhancement of soil moisture retention, enhanced water accumulation for plant growth, enhanced soil fertility improvement, and improved soil structure. The table below summarizes the; identified CSA practices, specific practices associated with them, and the relevance of each practice in dealing with the negative impacts of climate change on food production and security.


CSA Practice Specific Practice/element Importance
Early planting Early land preparation

Timely seed procurement

Planting with first planting rains

The crop escape the late drought



Planting early maturing crop varieties Maize (zea mais) – DKC80-53 (hybrid), Kanyani (hybrid), Ambuye Angafe (local), Kachamsana (local).

Groundnut (Arachis hypogaea) – CG7

Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) – Napilira )

Pumpkin (Cucurbita maximo) – Kandondo (local)


·         Beans, groundnuts and pumpkins escape late drought.

·         Pumpkins withstand drought.

Use of inorganic fertilizer Application of basal dressing fertilizer It enhances fast crop growth
Use of manure Compost manure and

Animal manure

Enhances moisture retention in the soil

Enhances fast crop growth

Use of planting basins Planting Basins Help accumulation of water for plant growth
Continuous soil cover Mulching


Reduces water loss from the soil.

Decomposed mulch helps in improvement of soil fertility and structure.




Sources of Seed for Fast Maturing Crop Varieties

The other interesting issue was the discussion by the group to identify the sources of seed for the identified fast maturing varieties of crops. The table  below gives a summary of the seed sources;

Crop Source of Seed
DKC 80-53, Kanyani hybrid maize seed Agro-dealer outlets
Kachamsana – local maize variety Farmers share the seed locally
Ambuye Angafe – local maize variety Farmers share the seed locally
CG 7 Groundnuts Government of Malawi Farm Input Subsidy

Programme, Farmers share the seed locally

Napilira Beans Local Agro-dealers, Government of Malawi Farm Input Subsidy Programme, Buying locally from farmers, sharing of seed locally
Kandondo pumpkins Farmers share seed locally


Most Challenging CSA Practice

The group identified continuous soil cover using maize stalks for covering the soil as the most challenging practice in the area. It was unanimously agreed that the farmers use maize stalks for continuous soil cover. However, there were five competing uses of the maize stalks that were identified. Below are the competing uses of the maize stalks;

  1. Used for making compost manure
  2. Used as feed for livestock
  • Used for sterilizing soil for tobacco nurseries
  1. Used as fuelwood for cooking
  2. Used as fencing material

The Most Labour Intensive CSA Practice

The women identified Basin Planting as the most labour intensive of all the CSA practice in the area. This was after intense debate among the women, with both Basin Planting and Continuous Soil Cover demanding a lot of time and energy from the farmers. Only 2 out 8 (25%) women from the group have tried basin planting. The rest of the women reported to only have seen the practice through farmer to farmer learning visits. Since 75% of the group members made judgement about the labour-intensiveness of the practice without actually testing it, it can be observed here that their judgement was based on perception.

Ranking of the CSA Practices

The first step to rank the CSA was to let the members of the focus group give a local symbol for each of the six CSA practices that were identified by the group. The symbols were to depict the hidden meaning behind each of the identified CSA practices. For any symbol to stand for any of the CSA practices, a consensus by the group. All the members of the group had to extensively discuss and agree in order to arrive at the agreed symbol. For the six identified CSA practices, six symbols had to be identified. The table that follows contains the CSA practices and the agreed symbol against each practice.


Symbols for the CSA Practices


CSA Symbols
Early planting Green Tree Branches
Planting quick maturing crop varieties          Maize cobs
Continuous soil cover   Dry thatch grass
Application of manure   Heap of Manure
Application of inorganic fertilizer   Soil lump
Basin planting Plastic basin









Pairwise Ranking

To rank the CSA practices, the women drew a matrix on the ground to help in ranking of the CSA practices based on how they withstand the effects of climate change. Pairwise ranking technique was applied.

  Basin Planting Early Planting Fast Maturing Crop Varieties Continuous Soil Cover Manure Application Inorganic Fertilizer Application
Basin Planting  
Early Planting    
Fast Maturing Crop Varieties      
Continuous Soil Cover        
Manure Application          
Inorganic Fertilizer Application            


Consolidated Scores and Rank for Each CSA Practice

From the Pairwise matrix, the women consolidated the scores for each CSA. The scores have been summarized in the table below:

Basin planting 3 3
Early Planting 2 4
Fast Maturing Crop Varieties 1 5
Continuous Soil Cover 4 2
Manure application 5 1
Inorganic Fertilizer Application 0 6



Based on the consolidated scores for each CSA practice, the practices were ranked into the following priority order, as summarized in bar chart below;



CSA Ranking by the Extension Workers

The frontline Extension workers were also requested to independently discuss and prioritize the CSA that they thought were the most important to promote in the area, considering the fact that they had been working with the farmers in area and they have the knowledge and experience of the performance of various agriculture practices.

The extension workers went through the same process that the farmers performed in the identification and ranking of the CSA practices. They came up with the following CSA practices as key in the area.

  1. Conservation Agriculture (minimum soil disturbance, maximum soil cover and crop rotation)
  2. Irrigation
  3. Rearing of small stock (goats)
  4. One stem planting technology
  5. Basin planting
  6. Compost manure


Ranking of the CSA Practices

The result of the ranking for the CSA practices for the farmers, in order of priority, were as follows;

  1. Conservation Agriculture
  2. One stem planting technology
  3. Compost manure
  4. Rearing of small stock
  5. Irrigation
  6. Basin planting

The Two Priority Lists of CSA Practices by Farmers and Extension Workers




The results showed that there was great divergence between the preferences of the women farmers and that of the extension workers. The first observation was the way the extension workers packaged some of the CSA practices like Conservation Agriculture (CA) and Irrigation. For instance, the extension workers had considered CA as one CSA package comprising; minimum soil disturbance, maximum soil cover, and crop rotation, while on the other hand the farmers in their deliberation isolated only continuous soil cover (maximum soil cover) as one of their CSA practice of preference. Similarly, on the irrigation as a CSA practice as indicated by the extension workers may need some breakdown to reflect the actual basket of technologies from which the farmers can choose those of their preferences based on their skills and other capacity considerations. For instance, under irrigation there should be an effort to break down the technologies to water delivery technologies like; treadle pumps, solar pumps, and drip irrigation equipment. The observation is important because certain CSA practices, like CA, must go as a package, while others like the irrigation water delivery technologies should go as individual technologies. And there must be common understanding of these packages between the farmers and the extension workers.

Another key observation was that there were significant differences between the farmer CSA practices preferences and priorities and those of the extension workers as evidenced from the above bar charts. The priority orders and composition of the CSA practices by the two groups were very different. According to the farmers’ preferences, their CSA practice number one in their context was manure application, while the extension workers felt that the priority number one CSA practice for the farmers in their context was Conservation Agriculture.    This was reflected throughout the two priority orders for the two groups. Save for basin planting and compost manure application, the rest of the technologies for the two groups were different and differently packaged.

With that type of scenario, it is compelling to think that if the extension service providers would want to promote the CSA practices among the farmers, they would more likely push for those technologies which they think are a priority to the farmers. But whose agenda would that be? And would the farmers massively adopt such technologies which are not top on their priority list? One of the major reasons why farmers don’t adopt some of the CSA practices is that those technologies are not on their priority list. And for those technologies to go onto their priority list, they must normally try them, test, and evaluate them on their own or through their fellow farmer.

From this field process, it was clear that the women farmers were able to analyse, evaluate and prioritize the CSA practices. Giving the farmers an opportunity to prioritize CSA practices of their choice would help the extension workers to have a strong entry point into promoting CSA practices that are on the farmers agenda, while letting the farmers keep on trying and testing those CSA practices which have potential to come onto their priority list.

Although Basin Planting featured on both priority lists, it transpired that only 2 out of 8 women had ever tried the technology. But all the 8 women were aware of the technology. It only showed that not all awareness could be translated into practice. Drawing onto this, it is imperative to go further and find out why the farmers choose to practice some and not other CSA practices which they are aware of.

Following the above results and discussion, it can concluded that the farmers have the capacity to prioritize CSA practices of their preference. The preferences of the farmers may not directly speak to the preferences of the extension workers even if those extension workers frequently interact with the farmers. Though the farmers may be aware of certain CSA practices, the awareness may not directly translate into practice.