Sustainable Intensification in Jeopardy: Transdisciplinary Evidence from Malawi

First release: November 11, 2021

Malawi has been a trend-setter for agricultural policies in Africa for decades. The

countryʼs focus on maximizing staple production through input subsidies, mainly for fertilizer, has been adopted by numerous other African governments. However, this study uncovers disturbing trends that indicate intensification and sustainability are at risk in Malawi. Two time-series of satellite data and combined results of several farmer survey-based analyses that span decades suggest declining land productivity and yield response rates to fertilizer.

These indications that narrowly focused policies may be harmful in the long run for Malawi are a warning to policy makers in the country and around the continent that a more holistic strategy that considers soil health will be necessary for sustainable intensification in agriculture.

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Declining "greenness" found from satellite data (shown here from 30 years of data as red areas -- gray is non-agricultural) is one troubling indicator for Malawi. There are others.

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Contributors

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Sieglinde S. Snapp

Brad G. Peter

Thom S. Jayne

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William J. Burke