The problems are significant but so are the rewards as Oregon State University leads an American and African coalition in an effort to improve the lives of rural people in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Rural Livelihoods Consortium has received $2.35 million from the United States Agency for International Development to find ways to revitalize the southern African research network while working to improve and diversify rural livelihoods, beginning in the Chinyanja Triangle regions of Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.
“It’s a daunting challenge,” says Marion McNamara, administrative project director, “because they have a lack of infrastructure such as roads and communications, the schools are poorly funded and unreachable for some people, and the horrible impact of HIV/AIDS affects the productive ability of the family and the community.”
The consortium is targeting small farmers who are ready to move from subsistence to small-scale commercial agriculture, along with vulnerable households, including those headed by females and those affected by HIV/AIDS.
Because of the diverse issues involved, the consortium relies on multidisciplinary teams to develop interventions that will improve the quality of life. Other U.S. partners in the effort are Pennsylvania State University, Michigan State University, Tennessee State University, and Washington State University.
The universities are working with field-based partners in Africa to improve the profitability of farming through such methods as low-input irrigation systems, improved forage for dairy cows and technologies to add value to raw products.
“As with any development project, you want to work yourself out of a job,” McNamara says. “If we’re really successful, the people will have enough food to eat, be able to educate their children, and envision a satisfying future for themselves.”