In land-locked Malawi, most phosphate fertilizers are imported from China and Morocco via the port at Mozambique. However, the country’s only fertilizer company, OPTICHEM, also manufactures fertilizers using local phosphate mined in Phalombe, a short distance from Blantyre, Malawi’s second largest city. Most of the food crops grown using these fertilizers are consumed in and around the City of Blantyre or for tobacco and tea exports. Malawi’s Ministry of Agriculture provides ambitious seed and fertilizer subsidies to farmers, most of whom are subsistence maize farmers. Deforestation and water pollution are two interrelated environmental challenges for the region, linked to energy demand, crop production and fertilizer use practices.

The P-FUTURES project aims to bring key local actors together, including peri-urban subsistence farmers, the wastewater service provider from Blantyre City Council, and the country’s primary fertilizer producer so that such challenges can be overcome. Food security, fertilizer access, improved sanitation and reversing environmental degradation are important drivers for the greater region of Blantyre.


Local research partner:
Center for Water, Sanitation, Health & Appropriate Technology Development (WASHTED), University of Malawi -The Polytechnic

Key contacts:
Dr. Bernard Thole & Save Kumwenda


Transformation spotlight: Identifying change agents in the fertilizer sector
6-Fertilizer--sale-MalawiLargely relying on imported phosphate via the port of Mozambique makes Blantyre vulnerable to disruptions and price fluctuations in the global phosphate market. The production of local fertilizers using renewable sources presents a great opportunity to increase farmer fertilizer security in Blantyre. The country’s only fertilizer company, OPTICHEM, with their production in the centre of Blantyre, have had recent success producing the country’s first commercial chicken manure fertilizer. OPTICHEM overcame the common odour challenges associated with manure use in urban areas by mixing the manure with local crop waste – tobacco husks.

The production manager and the company are proud of the success the product has had on the market, and are conceptually open to other organic feedstocks for fertilizer production. Quantities of organic feedstock continue to be a challenge for commercial production however. While there is a strong market demand for finished ‘renewable fertilizer’ products, the quantity and steady supply of organic feedstock – whether from manure or wastewater – is a limitation for commercial viability. As the production manager noted “don’t talk to me about 5 tonnes a day, come back when you have 100 tonnes a day”.


6.1 Workshop group work malawi

The Blantyre P-FUTURES Phase 1 workshop was hosted by the University Malawi – The Polytechnic, on 9th February 2015 to collectively explore where we are now, where we want to be and how we might get there. Participants were diverse, ranging from water and sanitation NGOs to Blantyre City Council’s head of heath and social services (see PARTNERS).

Workshop objectives were to:

  • Explore risks and vulnerabilities for Blantyre to the global phosphorus challenge (such as fertilizer price spikes, algal blooms, growing food demand, inefficient sanitation infrastructure, etc.)
  • Explore opportunities for Blantyre to effectively adapt to such challenges, taking into account Blantyre’s future visions and existing plans
  • Contribute to shaping the future research agenda for P-FUTURES in all four cities to develop tools to transform the way cities manage phosphorus


Exploring the current situation: Following introductory presentations on the emerging global phosphorus scarcity and pollution challenge, local participants highlighted their current sector priorities, pressures and drivers, to create a shared knowledge base. Small groups subsequently mapped out how their sectors inter-related to eachother, to phosphorus and how Blantyre was specifically vulnerable to the global phosphorus challenge.

Developing future transformative goals: After sustainable phosphorus vignettes from around the world, including other P-FUTURES cities, participants were asked “if there’s one big sustainable phosphorus initiative you would like to see in Blantyre, what would it be?”. Small groups developed shared goals, and were asked to ‘spruce up’ their goals to ensure they were bold, sustainable and transformative. Finally, groups were asked to develop slogans that best represented their goals.

Identifying transition pathways: Facilitated small groups were asked to identify what was enabling or constraining their ambitious goals from being achieved. They were asked: “What are the types of activities, projects or tools needed? Who else should be involved?” Groups formulated these as actions required to achieve their goals.

Outcomes & key highlights

Influence diagram of current Blantytre interlinked challenges: deforestation, fertilizer use & water quality.

Current situation: local stakeholder priorities:

  • seeking phosphorus security via manure instead of purchasing fertilizers
  • food security for subsistence farmers
  • reducing or avoiding pollution of drinking water
  • seeking up to 100% sanitation coverage in both urban and rural areas, via appropriate technologies and practices

Future transformative goals: In small groups, participants developed a range of goals:

  • Reduce Malawi’s (and hence Blantyre’s) dependence on imported phosphate by 50% by 2025 and 80% by 2035
  • Profitable nutrient recovery from all wastewater ensuring no nutrients are discharged to water and value-adding to waste management
  • Reforestation of all catchment areas in Blantyre by 2020
  • Protection of drinking water sources for all Blantyre residents from upstream phosphorus pollution

Transition pathways: Initiatives identified to enable necessary shifts towards these goals include:

  • civil education through media campaign and engaging peri-urban Village Chiefs
  • create a multi-stakeholder platform for farmers-scientist-policy makers (starting in Blantyre, then expanding to Malawi)
  • farmer co-op to discuss the benefits of reuse and coordinate shared infrastructure needs for organic fertilizers
  • integrate phosphorus requirements and goals into Blantyre urban strategic plan
  • regulation and enforcement, including from the Ministry of Agriculture to implement a 50% reduction in the dependence on imports, effective coordination, reforestation
  • temporary artificial incentives to encourage renewable phosphorus entrepreneurs to enter the market
Field Visits

During a week of field visits in January 2015, a P-FUTURES team of local and international researchers visited neighborhoods and peri-urban farmers in and around maize covered Blantyre, in addition to Blantyre’s wastewater treatment plant, landfill, and fertilizer production plant. The research team was able to hear about how things have changed in the city and rural surrounding region over time. For example, government programs have shaped the nutrient availability landscape through fertilizer subsidies and even through the recent distribution of dairy cows. Immediately prior to the international research team’s arrival, the region was hit by devastating floods. The international team was able to witness both the damage, and rapid response of farmers, residents, NGOs and companies to the crisis situation. The immersive field visits enabled a more shared understanding of local priority areas when discussed in the workshop setting. For example, the international researchers saw first hand the serious need for improved road infrastructure for farmer access to fertilizers and markets, which farmers discussed during workshop activities.


Dr. Vanwyk Chikasanda, Dean, Faculty of Education and Media Studies, University of Malawi – The Polytechnic,

Dr. Bernard Thole, Associate professor, Physics and Biochemical Sciences / Water Sanitation, Health & Technology Development (WASHTED), University of Malawi – The Polytechnic,

Mr. Save Kumwenda, PhD student, Ecological Sanitation, WASHED University of Malawi – The Polytechnic,

Dr. Tracy Morse, Research Fellow, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Strathclyde,,

Dr. Elizabeth Tilley, Researcher, Development Economics, Humanities, Social and Political Science, ETH Zurich and Eawag,,

Dr. Salule Masangwi, Director, Centre for Water, Sanitation, Health and Appropriate Technology Development (WASHTED), University of Malawi – The Polytechnic,

Participating stakeholder institutions:

  • Blantyre City Council (Wastewater plant operator)
  • Urban farmers
  • Blantyre City Council (Health & social services)
  • Blantyre
  • Blantyre Water Board
  • Blantyre ADD
  • OPTICHEM Fertilizers
  • Nambazo mining in Phalombe (Tundulu rock)
  • Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi
  • Consumer Association of Malawi
  • Resident
  • The Polytechnic
  • Water for People
  • Plan Malawi
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