Malawi is a largely agro-based economy marked by subsistence, small-holder farming. Almost 80% of the population is reliant on rain-fed, small-holder agriculture [1
]. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world with 50.7% of the population living below the poverty line and 25% living in extreme poverty [2
]. Food insecurity is also prevalent; around 20% of the population are classed as undernourished [3
]. The largely rain-fed nature of subsistence farming and limited resources of many farmers make Malawi’s food supply particularly sensitive to water and climate stresses [1
]. Climate change will worsen the fragility of agriculture in the region through an increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as droughts and floods [5
]. Pressure is further applied to natural resources and food security due to the growing population; Malawi is projected to have a five-fold population increase by 2100 [7
]. Furthermore, plans for agricultural development in Malawi including the expansion of irrigation, will result in more water-stress in some regions [8
]. Conservation and climate-smart agricultural technologies will be an important part of ensuring a sustainable future in Malawi’s agricultural development [2
], this has been acknowledged in country’s own development plans [1
]. To ensure maximal uptake of such practises, understanding how communities become aware of and adopt sustainable agricultural practises will be critical.
Over 100,000 water-points such as boreholes, hand-dug wells, and surface water provide the domestic water supply for around 65% of Malawi’s population (82.3% of the rural population and 19.8% of the urban population respectively) [12
]. Most of these water-points consist of boreholes fitted with hand pumps designed to provide water for up to 250 people. Many boreholes were originally constructed by the Government of Malawi (GoM); however, since the 1990s, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the private sector have massively increased the number of boreholes. Boreholes provide improved water provision as they are not reliant on rainfall and river flow which can be unreliable; however, unsustainable water use is currently leading to the depletion and degradation of groundwater in Malawi [13
]. Unsustainable water use in Malawi is anticipated to increase with population growth and an increasingly commercialised agricultural system implementing large-scale irrigation [12
]. Encouraging patterns of sustainable water management and will be essential for Malawi in achieving sustainable development goal 6 (SDG6): clean water and sanitation [16
]. Furthermore, ensuring sustainable agricultural practices that promote sustainable water management strategies will be key to ensuring Malawi will meet sustainable development goal 2 (SDG2): zero hunger [17
Borehole-garden permaculture (BGP) presents one example of sustainable water management. Excess water around boreholes accumulates as a result of rainfall, water spilt during borehole use, and some users using the borehole as a washing point [18
]. Many boreholes are fitted with concrete ’aprons’ at the base of boreholes alongside a soakway used to channel runoff water away from the waterpoint [19
]. BGP proposes a method of borehole management in which excess water accumulating around boreholes is channeled into community-managed gardens (typically at the end of the soakway), providing a low-cost and sustainable method of irrigation for community gardens [20
]. Effective BGP gardens can provide year-round food to supplement diets and have therefore been proposed as a method of increasing food security. Training, resourcing, and promotion of BGP is provided by a variety of stakeholders including NGOs and the GoM [20
]. Alongside the benefits of sustainable water use and increased food security and nutrition, BGP presents public health benefits through removal of stagnant water which act as key breeding grounds for the malaria transmitting Anopheles
mosquitoes and other water-borne diseases such as bilharzia [24
]. Rivett (2018) [20
] also proposed that funds generated from BGP could supplement the costs of borehole maintenance in Malawi. Work to expand the scope of sustainable agricultural and water management techniques, such as BGP, in Malawi has been carried out for more than 30 years [20
]. However, despite the many advantages of the practice, this study found that uptake of BGP around Malawi has remained low with only 2.4% of water-points across Malawi adopting BGP.
Malawi’s agricultural development plan involves the formation of cooperatives by small-holder farmers; small-holder cooperatives would enable access to increased financing to adopt technologies [25
]. As a largely community-led practice, understanding the uptake of BGP should elucidate some of the complex nature of community adoption of agricultural techniques [26
]. Understanding decisions made by group co-option of sustainable agricultural practises may further illuminate how best to target messaging regarding climate-smart agriculture to newly formed small-holder cooperatives. The lessons learnt relating to how a community adopts BGP may become evermore important in the changing landscape of Malawi’s agricultural sector.
This study aimed to enhance the understanding of BGP in Malawi through focusing on the research questions: (1) What is the extent of BGP awareness and adoption in Malawi? (2) Do the analysed variables influence BGP awareness and adoption? (3) What lessons for the future promotion of BGP can be learnt from where communities are aware of or adopt BGP? A dataset of over 100,000 water-points from across Malawi was analysed to identify the scope of BGP awareness and adoption. Evaluating socioeconomic, biophysical, and waterpoint specific factors through generalised linear model construction enabled this study to identify the key driving factors in BGP awareness and adoption.
The variables influencing the awareness and adoption of sustainable agricultural techniques are complex [10
]. BGP implementation requires decisions through community management and engagement. The adoption of BGP, and other sustainable agricultural techniques, is dependent on communities being aware of BGP and choosing to adopt the practise [10
]. Both stages are influenced by a range of factors including socioeconomic, biophysical, and waterpoint specific variables [20
]. Investigating the processes of communities becoming aware of BGP and adoption of the practise as individual steps, with unique variables influencing them, can help to elucidate areas of focus for policy and practise.
Although this research analysed a range of variables including socioeconomic, biophysical, and waterpoint specific variables, this study did not analyse all the variables which influence this process, and it does not aim to provide a conclusive description of all variables involved. The socioeconomic variables analysed were a measure of the average level of the specific socioeconomic variable at a given location. Although this aimed to provide information on the average status of the community (i.e., poverty level), this may not be a true reflection of the status of the community as a whole. In the case of poverty, the average poverty level in a region may not sufficiently explain the availability of financing to a given community. This study revealed the large spatial heterogeneity of BGP adoption, while this may reflect the socioeconomic, biophysical, and waterpoint specific variables explored in this study, there are also significant regional differences. Many of these differences centre around traditional authorities and may reflect the differences culture and ethnography between regions. Although this study does explore some of the reasons why communities did not adopt BGP, further qualitative data would be beneficial to further explore the reasons behind BGP adoption and rejection.
4.2. Summary of Variables Influencing BGP Awareness
The knowledge of BGP is influenced by a range of variables including socioeconomic and biophysical variables as well as waterpoint specific considerations [10
]. Population density was found to be an important variable, communities in areas with lower population densities (rural areas) were more likely to be aware of BGP, Table 7
. The rural nature of BGP practise may also explain some of the other variables found to be significant in where communities were aware of BGP including poverty levels and the proportion of female-headed households, both of which are higher in rural areas [72
]. However, such trends may not be completely explained by differences in rural and urban areas. For example, NGOs may also focus work in poorer areas too therefore leading to a higher level of BGP knowledge in poorer areas.
Biophysical geographical variables were significantly linked to where communities were aware of BGP, Table 7
. Increased water availability, both through irrigation and precipitation, resulted in an increased knowledge of BGP. Areas with higher levels of irrigation generally have a more established agricultural sector, it may be that they are more likely to have heard of sustainable agricultural practises such as BGP. Although in the case of irrigation this may be partially explained by population density, no significant relationship between precipitation and population was observed indicating that the link between precipitation and BGP awareness cannot be explained by population density.
However, although areas with unreliable rainfall were less likely to be aware of BGP, these are some of the areas where BGP could be most beneficial through providing reliable irrigation to the BGP garden and enabling year-round food production [20
]. Sustainable water management will become more critical with projected increases in temperature and reductions in rainfall in Malawi due to climate change, particularly in areas already experiencing water scarcity [5
]. Areas already experiencing unreliable precipitation should be key targets of sustainable water management techniques such as BGP. As well as areas with lower precipitation trends, areas with high malaria susceptibility would benefit from BGP as the removal of stagnant water around boreholes prevents mosquitoes breeding [24
]. However, despite the evident benefits, areas with an increased malaria susceptibility were less likely to be aware of BGP. Furthermore, this trend cannot be explained by communities in rural areas being more aware of BGP as Malaria susceptibility is negatively correlated with population density. This trend also does not appear to be the result of BGP practises already implemented in the area as adoption rates of BGP are not high enough to significantly change the malaria susceptibility. The underlying reason for why areas with less reliable rainfall and higher malaria susceptibility were less to be aware of BGP is not entirely clear. It is likely that these reflect where NGOs and influential individuals have focused efforts in expanding the knowledge of BGP [23
Communities in which users walked further to access the waterpoint reported higher awareness of BGP, this may be explained in that rural areas have more disparate users and therefore this reflects the higher awareness of BGP in rural areas. Water-points with more users also had higher BGP awareness, despite rural areas having fewer users; the importance of the number of users of a waterpoint in where communities had heard of BGP highlights the importance of community knowledge [26
]. The importance of community knowledge and social capital in where communities were aware of BGP was further highlighted by the significant role that neighbours played in increasing knowledge of the practice; communities closer to other communities practising BGP were significantly more likely to have heard of the practice. Furthermore, awareness of BGP from neighbours was the most commonly cited reason for how communities became aware of the practice, Figure 3
External inputs also had a significant effect on which communities were aware of BGP. Communities that pay a tariff or user fee for the waterpoint had higher levels of BGP awareness. This may indicate that communities with active management have more external input and are more likely to be aware of BGP. However, the opposite trend was observed for communities with water-points for which preventative maintenance is performed; where preventative maintenance was performed there was reduced awareness of BGP. This was a surprising result and understanding the dynamics for why this may be the case was beyond the scope of this study; however, it does suggest that providers of preventative borehole maintenance could be used more in promoting awareness of BGP in communities.
4.3. Summary of Variables Influencing Where BGP Is Adopted
Regarding where borehole-permaculture is most likely to be adopted if communities are aware of the practice, physical constraints are important [43
]. Communities in areas with reliable rainfall (higher precipitation trend) were more likely to adopt the practice. Communities in areas with increased levels of irrigation were also more likely to adopt BGP, suggesting a similar trend to precipitation in that communities in areas with greater water availability are more likely to adopt BGP. It may be that areas with more reliable rainfall and increased irrigation have a more robust agricultural system and therefore may be more inclined to adopt new agricultural techniques. Alternatively, areas with lower water availability may have alternative water priorities. For example, ‘animals’ was given as a reason for the rejection of BGP in areas aware of it in almost 500 cases: this referred to either animals eating crops grown or excess water being used as drinking water for animals. When limited water is available, retaining pools of water around boreholes to use as drinking water for livestock may be a higher priority for communities than using the water for crops [20
]. Rivett et al., 2018 [20
] suggested that water quality/salinity could be a constraint on BGP adoption as water salinity can prevent crop growth. Drier areas may have greater problems with salinity and therefore this may explain the reduced BGP adoption in areas with reduced precipitation trend [75
]. The observed result that 457 water-points listed salinity or poor water quality as a reason for BGP rejection supports this. Although communities in areas with increased water availability showed greater adoption of BGP, communities at risk of riverine flooding were less likely to adopt BGP. This may become an evermore important consideration in encouraging the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices as climate change is likely to lead to an increased frequency of extreme weather events [5
]. In the case of BGP adoption, the formation of a BGP garden requires investment of both time and finances. Communities at risk of riverine flooding may be less willing to invest the temporal and financial commitment required to develop a BGP garden if the garden is at risk of destruction by extreme weather events such as flooding. The temperature trend is another climatic variable that was significant in where BGP was adopted. Communities that were aware of BGP in areas with higher temperature trends were more likely to adopt BGP, the underlying reason for this trend is not understood. Soil fertility was another important consideration in BGP adoption, communities in areas with higher soil organic carbon were more likely to adopt BGP. It may be that areas with high soil organic carbon have a more robust agricultural sector and are more willing to adopt agricultural practises. Communities that had reduced access to markets were also more likely to adopt BGP. It may be that communities with reduced market accessibility have a greater requirement to grow their own food and therefore BGP gardens have a more significant role in supplementing diets.
Other physical constraints, such as the absence of common land at the end of the soakway, were highlighted from asking communities why they were not practising BGP, Table 5
. This was often due to land around boreholes being owned by individuals rather than by the water-users association of waterpoint committee. Such physical constraints in land availability may partially explain some of the increased prevalence of BGP in more rural communities. Waterpoint functionality is also a significant physical constraint; communities with water-points where water is unavailable for some months of the year were less likely to adopt BGP. Furthermore, partial or non-functionality was the 4th most commonly listed reason for why BGP was not taken up by communities aware of BGP. 35.2% of the surveyed water-points reported some level of non-functionality, ensuring improved waterpoint functionality in Malawi will therefore also be important in expanding the adoption of BGP.
The presence of an established waterpoint committee was an important variable in where BGP was adopted, emphasising the importance of community organisations and coordination in natural resource management [76
]. The number of women on the waterpoint committee was a significant variable in where BGP was adopted; waterpoint committees with more women were more likely to adopt the practice. Waterpoint committee guidance stipulates that at least 50% of the waterpoint committee members should be women. Committees following the waterpoint committee guidance regarding female representation may be more likely to adopt other good practices in waterpoint management such as BGP. The maximum distance a user walks to collect water from a waterpoint was a statistically significant variable too, communities with more dispersed users appeared more likely to adopt BGP. It is not clear why this would be the case; however, the distance users walk is strongly correlated with both population density and the number of people who use the waterpoint.
Socioeconomic factors were also significant in where BGP was adopted in communities that were aware of BGP. The development of a BGP garden requires financial investment, limited money and no access to seeds were both cited as reasons for why communities that had heard of BGP did not adopt the practice, Table 5
. Therefore, it was surprising that communities in areas with higher poverty levels were more likely to adopt BGP. It may be that communities in areas with high poverty levels are more reliant on initiatives such as BGP gardens to supplement diets and provide an additional source of income. Areas with higher levels of mother education had higher levels of BGP adoption highlighting the important role of women in BGP adoption. Female-headed household index was also an important variable in where BGP was adopted, communities in areas with higher proportions of female-headed households were less likely to adopt BGP. This may reflect the largely male-dominated nature of land holding and ownership in Malawi [77
] in which the capacity for women to adopt BGP is restricted by land ownership, this would be an insightful area for further study. Healthcare infrastructure was another significant variable in where BGP was adopted, areas with more healthcare infrastructure had higher levels of BGP adoption. It is not entirely clear why this would be the case, however, as BGP has important public health benefits it may be that communities in areas with increased healthcare infrastructure will receive more encouragement to adopt practises which lead to the removal of stagnant water, such as BGP.
4.4. Key Lessons for Government and NGOs
BGP presents an effective technique for ensuring sustainable water use and is particularly beneficial as a method of sustainable irrigation in areas with unreliable rainfall. The removal of stagnant water from boreholes furthermore presents an important public health benefit through the removal of mosquito breeding grounds [24
]. However, despite the evident benefits to communities, this investigation found communities in areas with a lower precipitation trend (unreliable rainfall) and with higher malaria susceptibility were less aware of BGP; the areas that stand to benefit most from the technique are less likely to have heard of BGP. This research therefore suggests that NGOs and the GoM should focus their work on expanding the awareness of BGP to such areas over the coming years.
Community management of boreholes has the capacity to provide a sustainable and empowering method of waterpoint management; reducing the reliance on external NGOs and government input [78
]. However, concerns have been raised regarding community’s capacity to reliably manage water-points [13
]. Indeed, this study found that 35.2% (28,560) of water-points surveyed reported being partial or non-functionality. Using proceeds from BGP to maintain boreholes provides an innovative solution to many of the challenges communities face in the management of boreholes [20
]. Collaboration between stakeholders in sustainable agriculture and water management in Malawi is well established [9
], this research highlights that collaboration between stakeholders in waterpoint management and those involved in BGP is also necessary in maximising the benefits and extent of BGP practise. Currently, areas with preventative maintenance performed on the water-points are significantly less likely to have heard of BGP, despite these water-points with greater external input. Engaging service providers responsible for borehole maintenance in spreading awareness of BGP and how to access training provides one method of ensuring increasing synergy between borehole management practises.
It is well established that social ties represent a critical consideration in the adoption of sustainable practises [26
]. Throughout the process of the promotion of BGP, the value of neighbours and community ties cannot be underestimated. The proximity to neighbours practising BGP was not found to be a significant variable in where BGP was adopted in communities aware of it; this is despite this having been shown to be a significant variable in the adoption of other sustainable agricultural techniques [28
]. This may partially be a reflection that social ties are more complex than merely a product of proximity [73
]. However, proximity to a borehole-practising waterpoint was a significant variable in which communities were aware of BGP, highlighting the importance of social networks in the sharing of information [73
]. Furthermore, neighbours represented the main way in which surveyed water-points reported being aware of BGP. NGOs and governments could capitalise on this resource by equipping communities to educate neighbouring communities about sustainable practices. Similar examples of practices have been seen in the promotion of sustainable agricultural practises elsewhere; for example, the Ethiopian government implemented an agricultural extension model bringing together a ’role model farmer’ with four neighbouring farmers to promote social learning [29