Anne Barton and Tim Heaton, Department of Sociology
Malawi has the eighth smallest GDP per capita out of all the countries in the world (CIA World Factbook 2014). The large majority of Malawians rely on subsistence farming to survive in the midst of poor circumstances. The School of Agriculture for Family Independence (SAFI) equips these subsistence farmers with the necessary skills to become self reliant. Self reliance is the idea that families can support an independent lifestyle in the long term, even during unforeseen circumstances. Through training on various subjects, farmers learn the necessary skills to reach this ultimate goal. This research focused on evaluating the success of the program and determining how farmers’ lives improved as they became more self reliant. I specifically sought to determine whether increased self reliance led to better nutritional status. I hypothesized that there would be no significant positive relationship between self reliance and nutrition. As farmers become more self reliant, they will choose to use their resources for material goods or forms of entertainment rather than more nutritious foods.
I lived at SAFI for three months to conduct interviews and collect data. I developed a questionnaire to determine the answers to the research question. The questionnaire was broken down into different sections. With the help of the staff, I randomly picked a list of 35 graduate families whom I visited. I also selected 30 incoming students who had not yet completed the program. Due to logistical difficulties, I was only able to interview 15 of these families. This group served as my control group. I used two primary translators: one female and one male. During the interview, the translator would ask the question in Chichewa and then translate the response back into English. I recorded the answers on a spreadsheet. Before the interview began, the translator explained that the interview was confidential and voluntary. The questions measured how well they implemented the curriculum and how this affected their levels of self reliance and nutrition. I measured self reliance by creating an index of relevant questions. Each question measured a different aspect of self reliance: food security, crop production, access to resources, savings, and whether or not the farmer considered him or herself to be self reliant. The index produced a score between 0 and 100 which measured how self reliant the were. I measured nutritional status through questions on how often they ate all of the food groups, how many meals they ate each day, whether or not they had certain illnesses in the past month, and if they treated their water. After collecting all of the data, I ran statistical tests to determine the relationships.
I explored two main relationships. First, I looked into whether or not curriculum adaptation improved self reliance. I studied this relationship to determine if SAFI had its desired impact. If students were not more self reliant after completing the program, I would not be able to measure how increased self reliance affected nutrition. Second, I looked into the relationship between improved self reliance and nutrition.
I found that program participation significantly increased levels of self reliance. The self reliance measure is based off the index, which measured whether or not the family had adequate access to farming inputs, were food secure, considered themselves to be self reliant, and had savings. Each subject received a self reliance score based on this index. The data shows that there is a positive, statistically significant relationship between curriculum adaptation and self reliance. This means that an increase in the percentage of the curriculum that is adapted will lead to an increase in overall self reliance. In fact, as the students adapt one more part of the curriculum, they will become .74% more self reliant. To find these results, I controlled for graduation year, gender of interviewee (whether the man, woman, or both were present for the interview), and drought. While holding these factors constant, I can say with 95% confidence that curriculum adaptation is positively correlated with self reliance. When compared to those who did not participate in the program, there was a statistically significant relationship between program participation and self reliance at the 99.6% confidence level. This means that those who have received a SAFI education are more self reliant than those who do not. I found that, on average, SAFI graduates are 65% self reliant. Those who had not completed the program were only 48% self reliance.
Next, I looked into the relationship between self reliance and nutritional status. Now that I had confirmed that there was a statistically significant difference between my treatment and control group, I was able to see if there was a relationship between increased self reliance and nutrition. I measured nutritional status based on how often the family ate foods in all essential food groups, how many meals they ate each day, whether or not they treated their water, and if they had recently had malaria and diarrhea. I acknowledge that this is a rather limiting definition of nutritional status. However, it was the best measure I could get considering the circumstances and the nature of a survey study. After running a regression, I determined that there was not a statistically significant relationship between nutrition and participation in SAFI. This means that graduating from the SAFI program does not have affect nutritional status. Therefore, I cannot say that there is a relationship between nutrition and self reliance.
I originally hypothesized that there would be no difference in the nutritional practices. I was able to support this hypothesis because I did not find sufficient evidence showing a relationship between self reliance and nutrition. It would appear that increased self reliance (which includes measures of savings) does not influence nutritional status. I believe that as the students become more self reliant, they gain more income. This income allows them to become more independent; however, they do not use the increased money to purchase more nutritional foods. I believe that families use their money to buy more farm inputs, material possessions, and forms of entertainment. The diet of a typical Malawian is very traditional; it is deeply rooted in the culture. I believe that Malawiians do not see or understand the need to eat a balanced diet. Though they reported that they were eating enough to not be hungry, their overall nutrition is not increasing. Malnutrition is a nutrient deficiency resulting from an unbalanced diet, not just a lack of food. Combatting malnutrition will prove much more difficult than simply improving self reliance.
My research supports the idea that the SAFI program is achieving its desired impact. However, my data also shows that self reliance does not lead to better nutrition. Development programs, such as SAFI, that seek to increase a family’s income or level of self reliance are very important; however, I believe that they could be even more influential if they could adequately address the problem of malnutrition. I would like to further my research to understand why famers behave they way they do and how SAFI could effectively combat nutrient deficiencies to provide an even better lifestyle for subsistence farmers.