Agricultural Transformation Initiative | Foundation for a Smoke-Free World

The Agricultural Transformation Initiative (ATI), an entity funded by the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW), operates in Malawi for the charitable purpose of exploring and promoting sustainable agricultural alternatives for tobacco farmers and tobacco land. ATI supports the development of a diversified agricultural ecosystem to prepare smallholder tobacco farmers for a time when there will be a reduced demand for leaf tobacco.[1]


ATI-supported activities target the following outcomes:

  • Increased knowledge and adoption of agricultural science, technology, and innovation;
  • Diversified agricultural production by smallholder farmers for higher and more secure income streams;
  • Analyses, studies, research, and education of and about agricultural policies that promote agricultural diversification and support advocacy to eliminate constraints on diversification;
  • Improved human and institutional capacity to support the development and adoption of better agricultural practices and diversification; and
  • Increased awareness of the challenges facing smallholder tobacco farmers and Malawi’s agriculture infrastructure, along with evidence-based solutions.

To achieve these outcomes, ATI supports a systems approach to understanding local contexts and potential points of intervention. A systems-thinking approach is well suited to tackling complex development problems, as it incorporates multifactor analysis and feedback loops to foster better decision-making at various levels. In addition, a focus on outcomes ensures that each charitable dollar spent contributes to building capacity and strengthening local and national economies in a sustainable way, helping to foster a better future for smallholder farmers, their families, and their communities.

Strategic approach to economic diversification

A virtuous cycle created by charitable investment in science- and technology-driven innovation and policy research.

  1. Identify alternatives. Smallholder farming is high risk, and the consequences of poor harvests due to failed investments or ineffective practices can be devastating. Shifting from a known to an unknown system requires careful evaluation of the factors that can influence outcomes. For this reason, in its quest to identify innovative and profitable alternative farming and other livelihood options for smallholder farmers, ATI partners with agricultural research institutes to determine which crops/livestock and alternative livelihoods are best suited for a given region. Factors to be considered include production, value chain, commercialization opportunities, and potential applicable policies.


  1. Enhance productivity. Malawi still lags behind developed countries in agricultural productivity. Reducing this gap would increase the profitability of alternative crops, livestock, and other livelihoods. Therefore, ATI focuses on supporting the development and application of new technologies to enhance agricultural productivity, building resilience, and increasing income generation for farmers. This work is driven primarily through the Center for Agricultural Transformation (CAT), a science, business, and technology incubation hub that brings together farmers, researchers, businesses, aspiring entrepreneurs, and students. These groups and individuals use data, exchange ideas, develop business plans, and create partnerships to transform Malawi’s agricultural sector.[2] ATI supports the critical assessment and verification of new technologies, and also promotes the use of agricultural technologies such as tissue culture, soil testing, and drone use. In addition, ATI supports agricultural business incubation and commercialization (BIC), which generates and integrates ideas into entrepreneurial models to help smallholder farmers.


  1. Facilitate commercialization. ATI’s support for business and incubation activities, along with FSFW’s funding of the nonpartisan analysis of policies and human capacity development efforts, facilitate the creation and application of new markets and sustainable business models to improve agricultural diversification and economic opportunity for rural communities. This work is accomplished using multiple methods, including:
    • Deep collaboration with identified partners;
    • Conferences, seminars, and capacity-building sessions on a range of issues, such as economic diversification strategies across sectors;
    • Smart Farms, a platform for testing new technologies and facilitating outreach to smallholder farmers;
    • Investment capital and business case development, together with off-take agreements; and
    • Inclusive supply chain development based on an integrated smallholder commercial model.


  1. Strengthen policy. Through its work with grantees such as the MwAPATA Institute,[3] FSFW, along with its affiliate, ATI, aims to create research and nonpartisan policy analyses to inform and educate about policies and programs in Malawi that will be effective in driving broad-based agricultural sector growth, diversification, and improvement of smallholder incomes. This research provides empirical evidence and education, and promotes data-driven, evidence-based, and coordinated solutions.

malawi: a unique context

Declining demand for tobacco leaf could have devastating effects on farmers in Africa. The Foundation selected Malawi as the first country for its ATI programming because Malawi has a uniquely great need. Malawi’s economy is highly dependent on tobacco, and the Malawian people suffer from a disproportionate burden of poverty and food insecurity. Furthermore, current government, nonprofit, and private sector interests render Malawi a country with promising circumstances for change. The Foundation’s Malawi Country Report provides a high-level summary of the tobacco sector in the country.

Bearing in mind the complex dynamics of the agricultural sector in Malawi in Malawi, the government appears receptive to reducing its overreliance on tobacco. This is evidenced by its explicit focus on diversification and sustainable agricultural transformation in Malawi’s key policy frameworks, such as Malawi Vision 2063 and other initiatives.

Remembering the Farmer

ATI’s projects are valuable only if the benefits trickle down to the individual farmer, so that individuals’ incomes, assets, and consumption are positively affected. Therefore, the smallholder farmer is at the center of all programming.

The United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the world’s shared plan to end extreme poverty, reduce inequality, and protect the planet by 2030. Through the ATI’s agenda, the Foundation seeks to advance SDG 2, “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.” There is particular emphasis on Target 2.3, “Double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers;” and Target 2.4, “Ensure sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices.” [4]

As the Foundation conducts its charitable work in Malawi and beyond, it will continue to prioritize research, community-based initiatives, and innovations. These efforts will simultaneously—and independently—support an inclusive growth model for agricultural diversification and help prepare smallholder farmers and farms for a time when we all are living in a smoke-free world. 


[1] FSFW Strategic Plan, 2022-2024. (2022, March 2).

[2] Centre for Agricultural Transformation. (n.d.). Technology and entrepreneurship for Malawian agriculture.

[3] MwAPATA Institute. (n.d.)

[4] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Sustainable development. (n.d.) Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Skip to content
WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux