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Adapting to Climate Change in Malawi

Posted by Sara Cowan Campaigns and Activism Co-ordinator

22nd Apr 2014

Malawi crop picking
Kathryn Porteous recently visited Malawi to find out how Scottish Oxfam projects are yielding results for some of Africa's poorest people.

Thoblwa smiles proudly as she shows me around her crops - "I've been farming for so long I don't even know when I started", she tells me. I am immediately struck by how immaculately presented Thoblwa's crops are and she takes great delight in educating me about the importance of keeping them this way.  

Thoblwa is a farmer in Marsula TA, close to the capital Lilongwe. She is being supported by the Catholic Development Commission (CADECOM), a Malawi-based Oxfam partner, with seeds and agricultural training, as well as techniques to enable her to become more resilient to droughts and floods, as a result of changing climate.

I ask Thoblwa if the changing climate and weather in Malawi has been noticeable and she nods earnestly in agreement. "Yes - there has been a big change over the years. Previously, the rains came in October. Now, they come in December. The fertility of the land has changed so much too - it's not like before, it's much harder to grow."

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world and, with agriculture the mainstay of the economy, climate change adaptation is of critical importance to ensuring a secure future.

Oxfam recently launched "Hot and Hungry: How to stop climate change derailing the fight against hunger", which looks at how unprepared global food systems are to cope with climate change and how it may push the fight to eradicate hunger back by decades. Few countries are adequately prepared for the increasing levels of climate risk however Malawi is currently enjoying higher levels of food security than countries such as Niger that have a comparable level of risk and income. This appears to show that taking the right pre-emptive measures can make a vital difference to food security in a warming world. 

As we walk around, Thoblwa tells me that her crops are planted in raised beds with troughs in between to allow flood water to be stored. Each line also contains a break and funnel in the dirt, a tactic used to ensure that excess flood water can drain away quickly. Her impressive presentation shows one way of starting to adapt to Malawi's changing weather.

Thoblwa is just one of the many Malawians who are currently benefiting from projects funded by the Scottish Government that are worth more than £700,000. As well as receiving improved ground nut seed for planting, Thoblwa is also part of a women's cooperative. Along with other women in the community, she is learning about changing weather patterns and agricultural techniques to build resilience to ensure that their farming adapts to the changing conditions. They are also aiming to combine their produce and become linked to better markets in order to command a decent price for their harvests.

Melton Luhanga is the director of CADECOM and he explained to me the purpose and aims of the cooperative. "What we are doing here is providing an enabling environment for the farmers. We are looking at what gaps exist and we also have a focus on climate change. We now have farmers who are ready to change their lives. It's a strength-based approach. We want to empower people so that they only need to rely on themselves."

During my visit I met so many farmers who had been stuck in a cycle of poverty their whole lives. Unable to grow enough to make a profit, farmers like Thoblwa simply cannot work their way out of their situation. But I saw real hope from these projects. For the very first time farmers are grouping their produce together to negotiate for higher prices and have the knowledge and farming skills to become resilient against climate change and weather shocks. This is a business model which is working for farmers like Thoblwa and I left Malawi feeling confident that when the funding ends next year, she will be in a position to continue as an active member of a cooperative, earning a decent living and providing for her family. 

As I thank Thoblwa for sharing her experience she tells me: 'I've already seen a change. I've seen a difference in the farming process and cultivation. I believe that this method will help improve income levels here, compared to before, when prices were always quite low. It is very exciting! Other farmers in the area now want to join - they can see this is a better strategy".

Blog post written by Sara Cowan

Campaigns and Activism Co-ordinator

More by Sara Cowan