Centre for Agricultural Transformation (CAT)

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The Centre for Agricultural Transformation (CAT), a science, technology and business incubation centre, was founded in May 2019 in Lilongwe, Malawi and funded by the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW).12 The stated aim of CAT is to support smallholder Malawian farmers in diversifying their incomes and livelihoods to reduce their reliance on tobacco farming. The project states it will achieve this through the “development of new technologies, partnerships and income opportunities”. 13


An FSFW operations statement released in May 2020 summarised CAT’s delivered and planned activities.4 In the section of the statement concerning Agriculture and Livelihoods, FSFW stated that, in 2020, it aimed to:4

“Launch Center for Agricultural Transformation (CAT) at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) campus. Promote and accelerate the use of digital technologies and advanced data analytics to accelerate agricultural transformation in Malawi.”

In a 2019 job advertisment for an Executive Director, CAT stated that by the end of 2023 the systems and infrastructure would be in place to grow activities domestically within Malawi and regionally.5

Relationship with the tobacco industry

CAT Funded by Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (2018)

In July 2018, the FSFW launched a request for proposals up to the grant amount of US$10 million for CAT in Malawi, under the area of agriculture and livelihoods with a contract renewable after 5 years.67 CAT received a 5-year grant from FSFW’s Agricultural Transformation Initiative (ATI) . The ATI webpage states that its mission is to support the diversification of tobacco-dependent economies.1 The ATI states that, as Malawi is a country reliant on tobacco production, it needs economic diversification to reduce poverty and food insecurity. CAT is intended to be a “flagship” project for the ATI, with the intention of expanding the programme to other tobacco-dependent countries.6 CAT works with a consortium of four partner organisations: the charitable arm of Land O’Lakes International Development (Minnesota, USA) which is a food and agriculture business; the University of Minnesota (Minnesota, USA); Stellenbosch University (Stellenbosch, South Africa); and the Malawi University of Science and Technology (Thyolo, Malawi).3 These partners were chosen as leading agricultural and development institutions.8 As of May 2020, the FSFW lists Land O’Lakes International Development and the University of Minnesota on their awarded grants archive. However, it does not mention Stellenbosch University, a 2018 grantee, or the Malawi University of Science and Technology as receiving grants for the CAT project.92

Belgian architects Org Architecten have been commissioned by the Foundation to design the centre in Lilongwe.  FSFW has promised contributions of  US$133,645.10 2 The project is being delivered in partnership with the Malawi National Planning Commission, First Hectare Capital and the Mwapata Institute.10

Malawi Agricultural Policy Advancement and Transformation Agenda  (Mwapata) Institute describes itself as an independent agricultural policy think tank based in Lilongwe .11 It was created by Michigan State University as part of a $7.8m grant from the Foundation. MSU staff are on the Institute’s board.1213


As of May 2020 CAT was yet to appoint a director, three months after an initial recruitment advertisment. on 15 May 2020, Land O’Lakes advertised again for a Center Director:

“responsible for coordinating the physical space, grounds, and operationalization of the Centre for Agricultural Transformation. This includes facilitating partnership activities that leverage the CAT Centre; building a network of agricultural researchers and practitioners in Malawi; providing strategic oversight to demonstration plot infrastructure design and management; designing the facility layout and supplying with furniture and equipment; coordinate and market activities in and around the Centre including the Grand Opening scheduled for early 2021; and working closely with CAT partners to make the vision for the physical Centre a reality.

To deliver on the duties and responsibilities outlined below, the Centre Director will work closely with other CAT team members based in Lilongwe and will be supported by an Agronomy Services Manager administratively on coordinating field-based activities on CAT land.”14

Dr. Candida Nakhumwa is FSFW’s Country Director for Malawi responsible for activities in that country.15


FSFW outlines the core activities of CAT as:

  • awarding grants to agricultural entrepreneurs, businesses and research institutions working in the area of science and technology
  • acting as a central hub for science, technology and innovation
  • delivering technical and business assistance to grant awardees.1

In addition to CAT’s main research and commercialisation outputs, it has stated that it will “contribute to the public good through education, extension, applied research, policy engagement and study tours”.6

At FSFW’s Agricultural Transformation summit in November 2019 there was a discussion on the use of data to help transform agricultural markets which included CAT’s ground sensor pilot programme.16

CAT has recently identified “groundnuts as their preliminary value chain focus”. It has stated it will look to ”encourage labour-saving interventions” aimed at smallholder farmers.17


In 2019, the Foundation said the Centre had completed an AgTech Challenge where school children came up with ideas for labour-saving devices for groundnut production.18

TT resources

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  1. abcdFoundation for a Smoke-Free World, Centre for Agricultural Transformation in Malawi to help smallholder farmers diversify their livelihoods, FSFW website, 13 May 2019, accessed May 2020
  2. abcFoundation for a Smoke-Free World, Form 990-PF, 2019 Tax Return, 15 May 2020, accessed May 2020
  3. abFoundation for a Smoke-Free World, The Centre for Agricultural Transformation invites organisations to submit expressions of interest to deliver new and improved technologies to the agricultural sector in Malawi, FSFW, 2 March 2020, accessed May 2020
  4. abFoundation for a Smoke-Free World, Operations Update, 15 May 2020, accessed May 2020
  5. Land O’Lakes Ventures, CAT Executive Director, Devex, 12 February 2019, accessed May 2020
  6. abcFoundation for a Smoke-Free World, Request for expressions of interest centre for agricultural transformation in Malawi, FSFW, 23 July 2018, accessed May 2020
  7. Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, Strategic Plan 2019-2021, FSFW, undated, accessed May 2020
  8. Land O’Lakes Ventures, Malawi/CAT, Land O’Lakes Ventures, undated, accessed May 2020
  9. Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, Awarded Grants, FSFW, undated, accessed May 2020
  10. abOrg Architecten, Projects, website, undated, accessed May 2020
  11. Mwapata Institute, About, website, undated, accessed May 2020
  12. Mwapata Institute, About Staff, website, undated, accessed May 2020
  13. Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, MSU awarded $7.8 million grant to promote agricultural transformation in Malawi, 22 April 2019, accessed May 2020
  14. Devex.com, job advert, 15 May 2020, accessed May 2020
  15. FSFW, Our Team, website, undated, accessed May 2020
  16. Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, The Second Annual Agricultural Transformation Summit, FSFW, 14 November 2019, accessed May 2020
  17. Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, Agricultural Transformation Initiative Newsletter, Third Quarter 2019, FSFW, 2019, accessed May 2020
  18. FSFW, newsletter, Quarter last 2019, accessed May 2020