It’s hard to believe that my time in Malawi is coming to an end and that I’ll begin my long journey home on Friday. This week will be my last in Lilongwe, which means my time working with the Agricultural Research and Extension Trust is also coming to an end – at least in the sense that I will no longer be working in their offices, and seeing the ARET staff on a daily basis.
However, I don’t think this is the end of the story. That is, I have a strong feeling that I will be back, and even more that I’ll continue working with ARET. To say that the country has captured my attention and imagination is an understatement. More than that, the work that I’ve been doing with ARET so closely aligns with my various research programs and interests, that it would be foolish to ignore the many opportunities and collaborations that are available here.
Last week I spent several days at the Malawi Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services conference (MaFAAS). The intent was to get a better sense of the status of agriculture in Malawi, most specifically the various extension services offered, the technologies used, challenges faced, and potential opportunities. While I managed to capture all of the information I needed, the MaFAAS offered so much more. It was a chance to meet the people who are actively working to develop and improve the resiliency and capacity of the country. The discussions and presentations were all quite inspiring, and I found myself mentally preparing a research program that could tie together several elements of what I learned.
Over the weekend I had the opportunity to sit and think about what I’d learned and how this might fit in to the broader vision that I presented to the folks at ARET today. This included recommendations focused on the development of what I think are several key partnerships, outreach activities within the local community, necessary technologies (both old and new) to strengthen and improve extension services, and a directed social media campaign, to name a few.
While sitting and pondering how I could and should integrate what I’d learned at MaFAAS, I was struck by just how perfect this partnership has been. It pulls together my interests in computer science and community engaged scholarship, transdisciplinary studies, alternative data collection methods, public health risk assessment, food security, and statistics. I can honestly say that I wasn’t expecting that when I applied to the Leave For Change program, and I definitely didn’t expect it when I received my mandate with ARET.
Leaving here on Friday is going to be tough, but I know that I won’t be gone forever. The Warm Heart of Africa is too incredible to only visit once.