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Pioneering Career Fellowship Supports Malawian Women To Enhance Agri-food Policies

Lilongwe, Malawi 11th April, 2023 (AEJ) - Eight Malawian mid-career women are amongst 49 African women selected as Fellows in the first cohort of The Gender Responsive Agriculture Systems Policy (GRASP) Fellowship, an initiative of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

This new competitive career development Fellowship is targeting African women in agri-food policies who can support the implementation of gender-responsive agricultural policies in Africa.

With most livelihoods dependent on agriculture, Malawians are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate-related shocks and stresses, and households headed by women suffer the most. As such, effective policies are critical if research innovations are to provide gender-inclusive, sustainable solutions which allow Africa to develop equitable agri-food systems capable of feeding its growing population.

Drawn from diverse organizations including the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and government agencies, the 49 AWARD Policy Fellows hail from six African anglophone countries (Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zambia). The Malawian women, and others selected for the GRASP Fellowship, are set to participate in a series of interventions designed to enable them to become more effective policy practitioners.

A pressing need for effective policy

Since 2020, 42 weather-related disasters have occurred in Malawi, compared to 12 in the preceding 20 years. These climate-induced shocks are threatening the food security of millions of Malawians – 20% of the population were predicted to need emergency food assistance as of March 2023.

To address these concerns, effective policies are critical. Sarah Ephrida Tione, one of the 2022 AWARD Policy Fellows, who works at the Ministry of Agriculture, believes that policymakers need to better incorporate research into design and decision-making if policies are to be truly effective. “Research should be done to inform policy,” she asserts. “This is a synergy that is key for development.”

Another area for improvement, notes Tendai Museka Saidi of the policy advocacy organisation CISANET, is that many policymakers currently overlook leading voices that can beneficially inform their work. For instance, “nutritionists are often not invited to the decision-making table,” she points out. “But they need to be at the forefront of making sure policies incorporate good nutrition as a key outcome.”

Female future makers

As manager of the United Nations Development Program’s ‘Poverty Environment Action for Sustainable Development Goals Project’, Linda Chinangwa is at the forefront of initiatives designed to empower women and reduce poverty reduction. A key element of this, she reveals, involves community training sessions – an approach that she calls “fulfilling”. Fellow Chikumbutso Mtemwa of the international development organisation Palladium believes it’s essential for women, in particular, to receive training in a range of agricultural-related skills – not just production – and this is a key focus of her work. “I would like to see women also taking an active role in value addition and market access,” she states.

Ultimately, as Fellow Ponyadira Corner Kabwadza notes, there is no future for agriculture if we do not protect the environment – a message she relays to her students at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “Humans are a key element to either the sustenance or degradation of our environment,” she states. “We need to be good stewards of the environment and natural resources around us.” This sentiment is echoed by Fellow Grace Chilongo, Share World Open University, whose focus is on empowering women to adopt climate-smart technologies to create a sustainable agriculture system.

While some of the Malawian Fellows’ work indirectly influences policy change, a few are directly engaged in policy matters on a regular basis. For instance, through her directorial role at Nkhata-Bay District Council, Beatrice Mbakaya of Nkhata Bay district council at the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development offers policy guidance on activities affecting the forestry, agriculture, environment, irrigation, water, and mining sectors. Meanwhile, at the Department of Fisheries in the Ministry of Agriculture, Carolyn Munthali works in facilitating the development and revision of various policies and strategies – with the ambition of becoming “a leading policy expert in my field.”

Getting to grips with GRASP

Chikumbutso Mtemwa appreciates the opportunities that being a Fellow affords. “It is great to be part of such an exciting program which will build me into a better person professionally,” she enthuses. Meanwhile, shares Grace Chilongo, “I would love to develop the skills to establish effective feedback mechanisms between key policy stakeholders and front-line practitioners through the whole policy implementation process.”

A key element of the GRASP Fellowship is its focus on mentorship – and this has been a draw for many applicants. “By engaging a mentor who is a seasoned policy expert, I will benefit from his guidance, knowledge, and experience in the area,” enthuses Ponyadira Corner Kabwadza, speaking about her mentor, Mr Teddie Kamoto, Deputy Director for the Department of Forestry. As well as matching each Fellow with a mentor who is a senior policy professional, a junior policy professional will also be matched with each Fellow, to foster knowledge sharing and experience. “I am pleased to have the opportunity to help shape future young leaders in my field and beyond,” Carolyn Munthali reveals.

Applications for the second cohort of the AWARD GRASP Fellowship are now open for women who are citizens of Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Senegal. Submissions can be made via https://eu.jotform.com/230430982603956, and must be completed by 15 May 2023. For more information on the GRASP Fellowship, click here. About GRASP:

GRASP Fellowship is a career development program growing a pool of confident, capable, African women to lead the design and implementation of gender-responsive policies in Africa. The Fellowship is an initiative of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

For full profiles of each Fellow, and headshots, see: http://bit.ly/3m19T4u

If you would like to contact a Fellow, please reach out to WRENmedia (post@wrenmedia.co.uk) or AWARD (awardqueries@cifor-icraf.org).

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Charles Mkoka
Charles Mkoka is one of AEJ News Editorial Production Crew

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