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Evidence-based Policy for Climate Smart Agriculture in Malawi

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Whitfield
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

This project will study the relationship between evidence (such as that generated by research undertaken at the University of Leeds and PICC faculties) and societal and policy responses to climate change. It will analyze the case of climate smart agriculture in Malawi, in which a number of PICC academics have been engaged in contributing to a growing body of research.

The Context


‘Climate smartness’ is a popular, but contested and diverging, objective of agricultural development aimed at addressing the coinciding challenges of adapting food production systems to climate change, reducing agriculture’s global carbon footprint, and providing food for a growing population.

Conservation agriculture (a combination of minimum tillage, the maintenance of permanent soil cover, and soil fertility management) is an example of a technology that is being strongly promoted through internationally funded development initiatives and national agricultural policy (e.g. Agricultural Sector Wide Approach) as a climate smart solution in Malawi. It is a technology around which there is a growing but incomplete evidence base – demonstrating both its potential benefits within controlled field trial settings and its uncertain compatibility with (and varied manifestation within) the resource constraints, climatic and agro-ecological changes, institutional contexts, market systems, and societal dynamics of Malawi’s diverse smallholder farming systems (Whitfield et al., 2015).

Those climate smart agricultural strategies that are backed by significant donor investment, make their way into the campaigns and extension work of civil society organizations, are written into government strategies, and manifest in the fields of farmers, rarely become so solely on the strength of their supporting evidence. Conservation agriculture in Malawi is a case in point. Rather, it is in the inherently social and political processes through which inevitably incomplete evidence is interpreted and passed on – at policy and project levels as well as at community and household levels - that agricultural practice and development is shaped (Whitfield, 2016). The simultaneous and ongoing development of evidence bases and agricultural change mean that projects of climate smart agriculture in Africa represent an excellent case for the observation and interrogation of the relationship between evidence and social-politics that are actually much understudied in this context.

Embedded Research


Leeds related work in contribution to this evidence base includes research into projected climate impacts (Dougill, Challinor); climate and weather information provision and use (Dougill, Stringer); the performance of conservation agriculture within controlled research stations (Steward, Dougill); incentives for conservation agriculture uptake (Benton); institutional networks (Whitfield, Dougill); agricultural supply chains (Tallontire, Anderson); the drivers of disadoption of conservation agriculture (Chinseu, Dougill); the gender dynamics of agricultural practice (Anderson, Chinyamunyamu); and the social-politics of development (Anderson, Chasukwa). These projects represent established relationships and knowledge exchange activities with the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi, the Department of Land Resources and Conservation, the Chitedze Agricultural Research Station, and smallholder farming communities amongst others.

The Project


There is an opportunity through this PhD project to utilize (and disseminate) findings from this body of Leeds research and, in doing so, study the relationship between evidence and societal and policy change. The research will aim to understand the mechanisms through which knowledge and evidence pass (in multiple directions) between agronomic, climate impacts, and social science research; agricultural development projects and policies; and farming communities.

The first phase of this project will involve multi-sited research which retrospectively traces evidence and knowledge gaps (as identified through a systematic review of context relevant research) through their translation into policy and project documents, the operations of development initiatives, agricultural extension messages, and farmers’ in-field practices. This will involve interviews with farmers in project sites, policy makers and project leaders in Malawi, and members of the wider climate change research community as well as an iterative content analysis of project and policy documents.

Building on the network established through these interviews, and those pre-existing through links to Leeds, a second phase of the project will involve multiple stakeholders (including Leeds researchers) in a collective analysis of the implications and value of key evidence and messages to have emerged from Leeds based research (including that of first phase of this project), with emphasis placed on the use of this evidence within a process of social learning (between stakeholders) and potentially feeding into collective actions for change.

The direct and retrospective observation of evidence-based policy processes will be documented and qualitatively analyzed in order to build a theory of evidence-based change and inform recommendations for best practice around research impact and evidence based policy for climate change.

How good is research at University of Leeds in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 79.20

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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