Agriculture in MalawiIn high-rise corporate buildings and individual cubicles, a barrier unfolds in the lives of many people who work in air-conditioned offices toward the difficulties of a career in agriculture. Small changes in the weather or environmental conditions impact entire communities. The emergence of the collaboration between new, innovative technological solutions and the farms of Malawi shed light on the future of farming.

Agriculture in Malawi

Malawi is a landlocked country in the southeast Africa. About 80 percent of Malawi holds connections to the agricultural sector as a means of their livelihood, representing the importance of efficient and innovative farming policies. Political leaders implemented the “National Nutrition Policy and Strategic Plan” to complement the pre-existing “Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program”. Together, the policies coordinate government spending and growth in the agricultural sector. Malawi also works with other organizations and governments for additional agricultural support. For example, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) invests in dairy and legume cultivation, provides training to assist in financial and economic improvements and works with local communities to develop lasting solutions.

Concern Worldwide in Malawi

Another organization that provides agricultural assistance is Concern Worldwide. Created in 1968 by a couple named John and Kay O’Loughlin-Kennedy, this group is based in Ireland. It initially started as a response to the independence movement in Biafra from Nigeria that resulted in widespread famine. The organization eventually expanded to countries in need around the world, providing aid and sending volunteers.

In 2021, Concern Worldwide provided emergency assistance to 17.8 million people and health services to 11.4 million people. In 24 countries, Concern Worldwide emphasizes the livelihoods and education of impoverished communities and fights for adequate health and gender equality.

Harnessing the Power of the Sun

One of Concern Worldwide’s latest initiatives is the implementation of a program to improve agriculture in Malawi. Because a large portion of the country relies on the success of agriculture to survive, it is vital that the productivity and efficiency of new technological innovation transfer to the communities to establish a sustainable livelihood. Concern helps install solar-powered irrigation systems with funding partnerships with organizations such as the European Union and Irish Aid.

The new irrigation system allows farmers to avoid problems associated with droughts and other environmental inconsistencies and plant multiple times per year. The collaboration in these local communities ensures that the program will be long-lasting and sustainable. Groups in specific areas assemble into co-operatives, jointly operate the system and make decisions about entering the agricultural market to ensure a profit. The profits provide repayment for the irrigation system, allowing the organization to move on to the next co-operative group. Thus, the system that Concern Worldwide supports encourages productive farming techniques and resourceful business strategies to ensure long-term success for agriculture in Malawi.

Success Builds From Previous Projects

The development of solar-powered irrigation systems builds on prior projects in the region from similar humanitarian groups. Concern Worldwide previously worked with the Promoting Sustainable Partnerships for Empowered Resilience (PROSPER) program to provide treadle pumps in partnership with UK Aid.

It functioned as a means to increase food accessibility and availability. After budget cuts, the organizations that were supporting the project were unable to continue. Thus, there is hope that the new solar-powered system yields more success among renewed efforts in the field of agriculture in Malawi. The solar-powered irrigation system also builds on a prior UNICEF project for a solar-powered water pump in Malawi. UNICEF installed this pump and also trained citizens to operate and fix the pump when needed while creating a way to fund the pump through a community garden. The program assisted in a wide variety of poverty-reducing actions in the areas of sanitation, agriculture, trust in local institutions and time for children to attend school.

A Look Ahead

As more projects such as the prior project that UNICEF implemented as well as the more recent project by Concern Worldwide make a difference in Malawi’s local agricultural communities, individuals remain closer to maintaining healthier and stable lifestyles.

Kaylee Messick
Photo: Flickr

Future of Farming
As humanity changes and technology advances, one thing remains constant throughout human history. People need to eat, and the future of farming requires innovation to maintain sustainable food production levels. Additionally, with 19.81 percent of the global population working in the agricultural sector and the planet’s total population continuing to grow, food production must increase.

Enter the agBOT Challenge, mixing technological efforts in software, robotics and communication to address agriculture’s current and future obstacles. Some of the specific efforts focus on increased internet efficiency in rural areas and use of unmanned equipment to do daily tasks such as seeding, harvesting, watering, etc.

All of this is also planned to be more eco-friendly by reducing carbon emissions and erosion as well as limiting chemical and fossil fuel usage.

For the 2017 Challenge, agBOT teams compete in different categories to come up with technology specifically for seeding/planting and weeding/feeding. The first place winners of the 2016 Challenge came from Saskatchewan, Canada’s University of Regina with an autonomous tractor. The tractor successfully planted several rows of seeds without human control of any kind and with an accuracy that surprised all in attendance.

This competition is not the first attempt at utilizing robotics and more advanced technology. Twin Brook Creamery has used a robotic milking system on their dairy farm for years.

Many fear that as a result of this, there will be a diminishing need for human labor that could lead to fewer agricultural jobs. In impoverished areas, however, these technologies would more beneficially function in assistance with human activity to maintain and direct robotic technology, doubling as a path for increased food production in hunger-stricken areas as well as a means for areas with less technological innovations to catch up to the rest of the world.

In the United States, agricultural jobs are already on the decline even without robotic replacement, as higher and higher numbers seek white-collar employment. Robots may then become a necessity to fill the void in developed nations left by diminishing agricultural workers.

The agBOT technology is the future of farming and will only continue to grow more efficient with each passing year. The benefits that agBOTs could provide to the worlds’ hungry may be a fundamental step in eradicating world hunger.

Aaron Walsh

Photo: Flickr