Research Grants/Fellowships/SBIR

Permaculture Gardens: Investigating Food Security and Alternative Agriculture Among Smallholder Farmers in Malawi

EPA Grant Number: FP917323
Title: Permaculture Gardens: Investigating Food Security and Alternative Agriculture Among Smallholder Farmers in Malawi
Investigators: Conrad, Abigail E
Institution: American University
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: August 1, 2011 through July 31, 2014
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2011) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Emerging Environmental Approaches and Challenges: Social Sciences

Description:

Objective:

The central research question for this study asks: Given the cultural and structural constraints to the implementation and adoption of permaculture agricultural practices, can smallholder farmers use permaculture to improve their household food security? Further, this study will explore how individuals’ perceptions of agricultural production, food consumption, food security and nutrition both shape, and are changed by, permaculture implementation.

Approach:

This study will research three permaculture programs in Malawi and evaluate their impact on the food security of participating smallholder farmers. The study will use ethnographic research methods, and food and nutrition security measures to determine the impact that involvement in permaculture programs has on households. Research will be conducted with both farmers involved in permaculture, and with farmers not involved in permaculture, to compare their food security and food production practices. Nongovernmental organization (NGO) programs that use different permaculture outreach and teaching techniques, implementation methods and NGO types will be examined to determine how these different approaches to permaculture impact its adoption and participants’ food security. Further, this study will explore how individuals’ perceptions of agricultural production, food consumption, food security and nutrition both shape, and are changed by, permaculture implementation.

Expected Results:

Empirically, this project will contribute to existing literature through needed ethnographic documentation of the implementation of permaculture, and its impact on food security, the environment and nutrition, and food consumption practices. Using ethnographic methods and food and nutrition security measures, this study will research and analyze the benefits and limitations of using permaculture as a sustainable agricultural and diet-based or food-systems intervention to improve nutrition and environmental health. In addition, this study will contribute to the knowledge of how the relationships between alternative agriculture practices and structural constraints, and food consumption preferences and practices, impact food security and nutrition.

Potential to Further Environmental / Human Health Protection

This project will contribute relevant and important information to the debate about the impact of agricultural production techniques on food security and nutrition. This research also will directly address the negative interactions between the problems of food insecurity and health. If this study finds that farmers can overcome the structural barriers to changing agricultural production and adopt permaculture, and that permaculture improves food security, then the results would be significant for national policies and development projects far beyond the programs studied. Permaculture programs, with their flexible design system, might then be scaled-up to neighboring countries in the regions that face similar problems.

Supplemental Keywords:

food security, permaculture, alternative agriculture, livelihoods