Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

Climate change and smallholder farmers in Malawi
Understanding poor people’s experiences in climate change adaptation
October 2006

Acknowledgements: FANRPAN acknowledges the ActionAid website as the source of this document.


Climate change and smallholder farmers in Malawi Southern Africa is one of the regions estimated to be most at risk from climate change. While policy responses to global warming have been mainly driven by debates among scientists, the insights of poor people living on the frontline have been largely neglected. This study seeks to understand what is happening from poor people’s perspectives. A field study was conducted using Participatory Vulnerability Analysis (PVA)1 in two districts of Malawi, Salima in the central region and Nsanje in the south. We selected two villages (Mphunga and Mulembe respectively) that face both droughts and floods.


Malawi is an already severely poor country facing an AIDS pandemic, chronic malnutrition, declining soil fertility, shortages of land and inadequate agricultural policies. About 6.3 million Malawians live below the poverty line, the majority in rural areas, with more than 90% relying on rain-fed subsistence farming to survive. Evidence strongly suggests that increased droughts and floods may be exacerbating poverty levels, leaving many rural farmers trapped in a cycle of poverty and vulnerability.2

The situation in Malawi illustrates the drastic increases in hunger and food insecurity being caused by global warming worldwide. UN scientists warned in 2005 that one in six countries are facing food shortages because of severe droughts that could become semi-permanent.3

  1. PVA is a tool developed by ActionAid over the past five years. It is a systematic process that involves communities and other stakeholders in an in-depth examination of their vulnerability and at the same time empowers or motivates them to take appropriate action. The overall aim of PVA is to link disasterpreparedness and response to long-term development. The message at the heart of PVA is that communities know their situation best and so any analysis should be built on their knowledge of local conditions.
  2. Phiri, M G, Ibrahim and Saka, R Alex, 2005, The impact of changing environmental conditions on vulnerable communities of the Shire valley, southern Malawi. Lilongwe, Malawi.
  3. Vidal, J and Radford, T, Thursday June 30, 2005, One in six countries facing food shortage, the Guardian.,,1517746,00.html

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