Reeling From Climate Change, Malawi Is Turning to Community-Led Adaptation

Reeling From Climate Change, Malawi Is Turning to Community-Led Adaptation
A woman is handed a bag of maize meal at a World Food Programme distribution center in Neno district, southern Malawi, March 24, 2024 (AP photo by Kenneth Jali).

Malawi is currently grappling with the most severe drought in recent memory, a stark reminder of the destructive impacts climate change can have, particularly on countries whose economies are heavily dependent on smallholder agriculture. Severe climate impacts in the country, one of the world’s poorest and least developed, have already constrained Malawi’s economic growth in recent years, and are forecast to reduce its gross domestic product by multiple points each year going forward. With little funding available for national-scale climate adaptation projects, Malawi has become a laboratory for low-cost community-led projects to share knowledge and increase climate resilience at the local level.

Malawi’s drought is part of the same severe dry spell linked to the El Nino phenomenon that has impacted neighboring countries like Zambia and Zimbabwe, and it has had devastating consequences for the country, leading to food insecurity, economic instability, and social upheaval. In late March, Malawi’s president, Lazarus Chakwera, declared a state of disaster for 23 of Malawi’s 28 districts, highlighting the situation's urgency. This is the fourth consecutive year Malawi has had to make such a declaration.

Malawi’s agricultural sector, which employs slightly more than 62 percent of the population, was particularly hard hit, with decreased rainfall and higher temperatures leading to widespread crop failures—about 44 percent of the corn crop failed or was negatively affected. The drought has pushed many smallholder farmers, who rely on subsistence farming for their livelihoods, further into poverty.

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