Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 164th out of 177 in the Human Development Index. This landlocked, chronically food insecure nation is characterized by high population density, high rates of HIV/AIDS, decreasing soil fertility, increasing exposure to climate change in the form of droughts and floods, and poor transport links to international markets.
Representing 70% of agricultural labor and 30% of all smallholders in Malawi, women play a significant role in the sector that often goes unrecognized. Women farmers also face significant constraints in pursuing their livelihoods, due discriminatory attitudes and practices that favor a male-dominated land tenure system. Women also receive lower wages than men, are allocated the lowest quality plots of land for household crop production and are blocked from producing higher value crops or engaging in agro-enterprise due to high input costs and a male-dominated society.
While these barriers persist, there are also growing opportunities to promote sustainable livelihood security for women smallholders. Malawi’s Poverty Reduction Strategy demonstrates a commitment to the poor, and the national Lilongwe Declaration (2005) urged microfinance lending institutions to target women.
With this context in mind, CARE Malawi is implementing Pathways in three districts across the central region of the country – Lilongwe (rural), Dowa, and Kasungu. The overall objective of Pathways Malawi is to enable more productive and more equitable participation of specific segments of poor women smallholder farmers in sustainable agriculture while simultaneously contributing to their empowerment. The initiative will have a direct impact on 12,000 poor women farmers and 48,000 of their household members who are engaged in agriculture, natural resource management, and gender equity activities. More broadly, the initiative aims to benefit 160,000 other community members as a result of improved local governance and management of land and water resources.
Key interventions being pursued by Pathways in Malawi include:
- Engaging groups and community organizations, especially village savings and loan associations (VSLAs) and village umbrella committees, to build solidarity and support for women smallholders, foster improved access to finance and income generating opportunities, and promote better governance.
- Building women farmers’ capacities and skills in sustainable agriculture, literacy, civic participation, business management, and other areas.
- Diversifying livelihood strategies and promoting sustainable agricultural practices with a focus on resilient farming systems; access to agricultural inputs like seeds, irrigation, and extension services; processing technologies and practices; and crop and livestock diversification.
- Developing more inclusive high-value markets that provide opportunities for women in agricultural sectors that are currently dominated by men.
Additional approaches include: promoting improved nutrition, engaging men and boys to advance intra-household shifts in gender relations; engaging elites, power holders, traditional and religious leaders in shifting social norms; community advocacy and sensitization; and policy advocacy.
Pathways operates in three districts across the central region of Malawi – Lilongwe (rural), Dowa, and Kasungu.