Initiative Result:

Empowering women and youth

Mbili Mbili improves nutrition and incomes of women and youth in East and Southern Africa.

The Mbili Mbili innovation improves nutrition, income, climate resilience, and empowerment in mixed farming systems by encouraging farmer collaboration and gender-responsive production to benefit the overall well-being of more than 1,000 farm families in East and Southern Africa.

Women and youth in East and Southern Africa face many challenges due to limited access to land, reliance on maize monocropping on inherently poor soils, and the impacts of climate change, which require livelihood diversification.

To improve the productivity of legumes in maize-dominated systems, the Mbili Mbili cropping innovation was developed through the Africa RISING project in Tanzania. In 2022, 329 farmers implemented Mbili Mbili on farmer-managed trials, with 44 percent women and 10 percent youth participation, respectively.

Economically, Mbili Mbili has proved to be the most profitable and stable cropping system, generating US$130 higher net returns than common cereal-legume intercropping. It also produced about 0.5 tons per ha more of legume grain and significantly more stover per unit of land, improving diets as farmers consume what they produce.

In 2022, in Malawi, the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT in partnership with the national agricultural research and extension system under the MFS Initiative introduced an adaptation of Mbili Mbili. This involved 330 farm households, with 47 percent women and 16 percent youth participating. This innovation has helped secure women’s land and integrated women’s legumes without compromising maize yields, which are typically male-dominated.

Mbili Mbili provides agronomic solutions by increasing the production of multiple crops per unit area, benefiting farmers facing land constraints, declining soil fertility, and low crop productivity. In Malawi, women farmers often manage poorer-quality soils. Targeting them improves soil fertility and builds soils through legume residue retention, composting, and manure, benefiting these disadvantaged farmers. In rural districts of Malawi, preference rankings by women and youth farmers prioritized Mbili Mbili over sole maize and doubled-up legumes for harvesting more from several crops on the same plot.

Based on scoping studies, farmer field days in Kasungu and Mzimba with about 850 farmers, and stakeholder consultations, the Initiative identified entry points for complementary innovations to inform the co-design process, including the inclusion of soya and groundnuts as important food and cash crops, soil and water conservation techniques, tied ridges and contour farming, multipurpose forages, low-cost soil fertility amendments amid soaring fertilizer prices, and organic and inorganic components to rebuild soil organic matter and enhance nutrient use efficiency. These innovations aim to enhance the effectiveness of Mbili Mbili, especially in dry years, and promote climate resilience, nutrition, and crop diversification, while improved biomass from residues combined with forages will enhance manure production to replenish soil fertility, promoting nutrient cycling and
income diversification through livestock.

Scaling Mbili Mbili using an agribusiness mindset, while making financial products and services available to rural communities, will enable Malawi’s smallholders to reap the full benefits from this innovation.

The Mbili Mbili innovation makes it possible for farmers to use the very same small land sizes to produce more consolidated cereal and legume yields, and at the same time, crop diversification hedges them against the failure of one crop or another, while contributing to improvements in soil fertility from nitrogen-fixing legume crops.

Mr. Lloyd Phiphira, Head of Farm Services National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi

Header photo: A field technician in a maize and doubled-up legume field implements the Mbili Mbili innovation in Malawi. Credit: Emmanuel Mwale/IITA

CGIAR Centers

Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT; IITA.


Department of Agricultural Research Services (DARS)