In memory of Professor Ephraim Wadonda Chirwa

Published on 18 July 2019

Professor Ephraim Chirwa, the Director of Research-Africa of the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) Programme and a founding member of the Future Agricultures Consortium (FAC), passed away after a sudden illness on the morning of 15 July 2019.

Professor Ephraim Wadonda Chirwa
Professor Ephraim Wadonda Chirwa/Credit: APRA

An economist by training (with degrees from the Universities of Malawi, Cambridge and East Anglia), his work covered a range of interconnected themes over the past 30 years, including research on agricultural marketing systems, agricultural commercialisation at different scales, the role of farmer organisations, agriculture and social protection, and agricultural policy analysis.

As Director of Research-Africa of the APRA Programme, he oversaw the design and implementation of a four-country comparative panel study of the differential outcomes of various agricultural commercialisation pathways on local livelihoods and rural economies. He also supported longitudinal studies on agricultural commercialisation and agrarian change in six countries. One of those countries was Malawi, where he and the APRA country team were involved in a sophisticated ‘tracker’ study of groundnut commercialisation, tracing the livelihood trajectories of individuals who were interviewed in an earlier household study more than 12 years ago. Findings from those APRA studies will be published in 2020.

As part of Future Agricultures, Professor Chirwa worked for more than a decade with Professor Andrew Dorward of the School of Oriental and African Studies to assess the economic and social impacts of Malawi’s Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP). That research led to the highly influential Oxford University Press book, Agricultural Input Subsidies: The Recent Malawi Experience. He also assisted leading civil society organisations working on agricultural development issues to use his findings to inform and influence policy changes related to FISP.

In addition to his APRA and FAC work, Professor Chirwa was the lead analyst in the drafting of the Agricultural Development Programme in Malawi, which formed the basis for the Agriculture Sector Wide Approach (ASWAp). As Professor of Economics at the University of Malawi, he spent over 23 years teaching undergraduate and post-graduate students in agricultural economics and mentoring multi-country teams to use mixed-methods, interdisciplinary research to analyse the changing dynamics of smallholder agriculture.

Alongside his many scholarly pursuits, Professor Chirwa ran a successful consultancy company, Wadonda Consult, which undertook large survey-based research projects for the Government of Malawi and international organisations, including the UK Department for International Development and many others.

We will remember Ephraim’s extensive contributions to advancing our understanding of African agricultural development, but also his deep and abiding commitment to supporting the farming communities of Malawi. They were always his central concern and motivated his actions throughout his long and distinguished career. We will also recall his love of music and dance and his joy of life. We will miss his intellectual leadership, his generous spirit and the twinkle in his eye.

May he rest in peace.

John Thompson, CEO, APRA

Reflections from other colleagues

“Prof Chirwa mentored a lot of young and upcoming researchers selflessly, including myself, to always strive for academic excellence and venture into publication not just for its own sake but for the greater good of humanity, especially impoverished and marginalised Malawian farmers.

He urged us to always find a way of transforming theoretical complexities into strategic insights that can yield recommendations with considerable practical policy impact on the day-to-day livelihoods of ordinary farmers.

May his soul rest in eternal peace.”

Blessings Chisinga, friend, collaborator and APRA Malawi Country Co-lead

“I am a beneficiary of Prof Chirwa’s generosity in supporting young people; he was always available to answer any questions I had and to pick his brains. His mentorship and support opened a world of possibilities for my professional life. I will miss him dearly.”

Mirriam Matita, friend, collaborator and APRA Malawi Country Co-lead

“As a personality, I found Ephraim to be quite private, but straightforward and candid, and loyal to his friends. His opinions were realistic, sometimes downbeat, but always more objective than cynical.

I particularly admired Ephraim’s commitment to his country and the people he came from. He had many opportunities to work as a staff member of international development agencies, all of which he turned down. Likewise I know he declined political positions, despite one or two highly credible offers.

I had the privilege of meeting his mother, a retired primary school teacher and then full-time smallholder farmer at her home. She was a one-person example of a range of farming best practices and, for me, this spoke volumes about the values Ephraim was exposed to as a young person.”

Jonathan Kydd, friend, collaborator, Chair of the IDS Board of Trustees and ex-officio member of the APRA International Advisory Board.

“Ephraim was a great Malawian, colleague and friend. I first knew Ephraim through our mutual friend, Jonathan Kydd, but I got to know him well when we worked together on the Malawi Farm Input Subsidy Programme from 2006 until my sudden illness in late 2014. He was a man of ability and integrity whom I could always rely on. In 2013 we wrote a book together about the Malawi FISP.

Despite his busy schedule, he and Ireen together ran a happy family home with the two girls and Ireen’s mother, and were very hospitable when I visited.

He helped me personally many times, sometimes at considerable cost in terms of time or other resources, and he was very generous. This taught me that he thought about others. He was also both very appreciative and highly critical of different aspects of Malawian culture, sometimes at considerable personal cost. In all things he was consistent across different parts of his life.

He will be missed by many and his passing is a loss to Malawi.”

Andrew Dorward, friend, collaborator, SOAS researcher till 2014.


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Future Agricultures Consortium

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