In the Southern Africa community of practice (CoP) countries of Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania, hunger and protein malnutrition are major problems. The proportion of severely or moderately underweight children under five years old is estimated at 15 percent in Tanzania and Malawi and 21 percent in Mozambique. The region also suffers from soil infertility and low overall system productivity due to a number of factors, including drought, field and storage pests, bacterial contamination of certain crops, and farmers’ limited access to quality seed.
Legumes, which are widely though not efficiently cultivated, have the potential to increase overall system productivity and improve soil health through biological nitrogen fixation and increased quantities of organic matter. More effective cultivation of legumes will provide grain to the market and offer greater diet diversification through protein-rich pulse and leaves. Regional governments and international funders have expressed increasing interest in legumes, and recent government farm subsidy programs are encouraging more legume production. However, aspects of national policies (such as those covering cultivar registration and seed systems) remain weak, and greater national research capacity is needed to realize the crops’ potential to improve soil and human health.
Initially the Southern Africa community of practice (CoP) supported research on constraints to legume productivity, including foliar diseases, parasitic weeds, low availability of nitrogen and phosphorous, and access to good quality planting seed. With a new regional theory of change, the CoP has expanded its focus to include improvements in crop productivity and post-harvest practices. The CoP is also researching the links between household food security and improved nutrition and incomes with growing attention on reducing the threat of aflatoxin contamination. The CoP supports cross-cutting research in agriculture policy and communication as well.
As the strategy continues to evolve, the regional team is exploring the factors that enable project technologies and processes to be taken to scale. Farmers and partners are key to this exploration. Therefore, two major priorities are increasing farmers’ involvement in testing varieties and validating technologies and involving partners from a wider range of fields (health, community development, gender, etc.) to better understand how agronomic practices, nutrition, and market opportunities intersect.
The regional team has identified specific research goals to help determine pathways for scaling within specific contexts. The team is working with project teams to gain a more nuanced understanding of AEI (agroecological intenstification) variables (soils, climate, altitude, socio-economic drivers, etc.) to determine what level of specificity is appropriate for recommendations. The team is also encouraging projects to take a more targeted approach to spatial analysis and supporting studies on ecological pest management to collect hard data on the impact that pests have on legume yields.