Geography & Environment Publications

Participatory Research Approaches and Social Dynamics that Influence Agricultural Practices to Improve Child Nutrition in Malawi

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Supplement 2



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The Soils, Food and Healthy Communities project in Malawi uses an interdisciplinary participatory approach to improving child nutrition with resource-poor farmers. The overall research question is: Can legume systems improve soil fertility, food security, and child nutrition? Over 2000 farmers are now experimenting with legume systems in the region. While this article examines the social issues that mitigate the potential success of legume options tested by the farmers, it does not aim at discussing extensively the complex web of interactions between soil fertility, food security, and nutritional status of children. Instead, its focus is on the research process, and more specifically on the social dimensions and participatory approaches, which influenced farmersrsquo adoption of organic matter technologies and legume options. The Farmer Research Team was critical in mobilizing community interest in changing agricultural practices to improve child health, but faced challenges in village politics and workload. The linkage with child nutrition was a major reason for increased adoption of legumes, and gender relations played a key role in the adoption. A deeper understanding of the limits of participatory approaches helped to develop innovations that may be replicated elsewhere, such as inclusion of grandmothers and a farmer apprenticeship program.


Dr. Rachel Bezner Kerr is currently a faculty member at The University of Western Ontario.

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