Frank Tchuwa is a lecturer in rural development and extension at Lilongwe University of Agriculture & Natural Resources (LUANAR) in Malawi and a member of the Best Bets project that focuses on upscaling best fit maize-legume systems through multi-environment trials and farmer research networks. Since 2015, he has been studying for a PhD at the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) at University of Greenwich, UK, supported by the CCRP. He is also co-PI of Malawi Agroecology Hub and PI of the Agri-food Systems project.
In February 2020, Frank successfully defended his thesis “Pushing Boundaries of Farmer Participation: An Analysis of Farmer-Centered Interventions Supporting Soil Health Management in Smallholder Maize-Legume Farming Systems of Malawi.” The thesis examines participatory approaches that, for the last four decades, have influenced the way agricultural development interventions have been implemented in low-income countries yet have generally failed to deliver positive, sustainable outcomes for smallholder farmers. The research analyzed processes influencing farmer-centered interventions in supporting collaborative learning, innovation, and scaling of soil health options in Malawi. He investigated interventions based on the lead farmer, farmer field school, farmer research team, and FRN models. His research shows that engaging small-scale farmers in farmer-centered interventions is influenced by complex, dynamic, and context-specific biophysical, socioeconomic, cultural, psychological, political, technological, and institutional processes. These processes influence the way interventions support or discourage partnerships between scientists, extensionists, and farmers to co-create and scale innovations. They also influence how social networks are created and how these contribute to changing practices and livelihoods in the broader farmer community.
The study recommends adapting farmer-centered interventions to specific contexts, strengthening rural social capital, and providing supporting institutions to engage in collaborative learning and nurturing farmers’ capability to experiment and adapt innovations. The thesis posits that if agricultural research and development organizations are to address difficult problems in low-income countries they need to operationalize systems-oriented farmer-centered interventions.
Tchuwa and the master’s students he supervises are back in Malawi continuing research with FRN for the Best Bets project.