LUANAR to develop two Malawi biodiversity data portals with JRS funding

Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) is on a mission to mobilize biodiversity data in Malawi by 2022. Researchers are on their way after receiving two JRS grant awards totaling $592,000. Efforts began in 2019 with two JRS planning grants to LUANAR that laid the groundwork for both projects. These projects will now begin developing data portals and tools to break down barriers to biodiversity knowledge in Malawi and connect this knowledge to action.

The Pollinators Informatics project, led by LUANAR’s Dr. Trust Kasambala Donga, will bridge the gap between biodiversity data and farming practices by implementing the Malawi Pollinators Biodiversity Portal (MPBP), a data portal for Malawian bee pollinators. The Farms4Biodiversity project with Soils, Food, and Healthy Communities (SFHC), a farmer-led organization that promotes agroecological practices to improve food security in Malawi, is a major partner in this initiative. Traditional pest control measures rely heavily on synthetic pesticides, but agroecological interventions are providing farmers with low-cost and sustainable pest control interventions. In addition to establishing the portal and mobile data collection application, one of the key objectives is to populate the portal with crop-pollinator interactions data in different scenarios of agroecological interventions. The project will utilize data collected from 80 farms across Malawi, half of which are implementing farmer-selected agroecological interventions. This portal will mobilize pollinator data for Malawian farmers and other users, enabling pollinator biodiversity and agroecological interventions to inform farming practice.

LUANAR will also develop a data portal that focuses on freshwater biodiversity and the loss of freshwater fish in Malawi. Researchers and policy makers currently lack accessible data that is necessary to develop relevant conservation policies and address the loss of riverine fish species. Professor Emmanuel Kaunda at LUANAR will lead this project, Saving the critically endangered riverine fish species of Malawi, which will develop the Malawi Fish Biodiversity Portal (MFBP), a mobile data collection application, and mobilize thousands of fish data records. This collaborative project involves partners that bring expertise and experience from similar initiatives, including the Department of Fisheries (DoF), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the National Commission for Science and Technology.

Both the Malawi Pollinators Biodiversity Portal and Malawi Fish Biodiversity Portal will borrow technical elements from the Uganda Freshwater Biodiversity Portal, a JRS-funded project with the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFIRRI). NaFIRRI’s lead web portal developer, NugSoft Technologies, will collaborate in the development of the MBP and MFBP, along with local developer Mhub. By enlisting NugSoft and Mhub in both projects, project activities and timelines could be synchronized and meeting expenses cofunded, increasing efficiency and reducing costs. In addition to sharing select back-end technology and designs, both projects rely heavily on training and outreach activities to ensure continued use of tools, access to knowledge, and uptake of data by decision makers. Together, these investments will advance biodiversity informatics in Malawi and support decisions that protect biodiversity and the livelihoods of people who depend on pollinator and aquatic ecosystem services.