AD210: Climate change, government management pose challenges in agriculture-dependent Malawi

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Jamy Felton and Hangala Siachiwena

Agriculture is the mainstay of Malawi’s economy, contributing 30% of gross domestic product (GDP) and employing a majority of the country’s workforce (World Bank, 2016). Malawi has also been classified as one of Southern Africa’s most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change due to its heavy dependence on rain-fed agriculture and susceptibility to floods and droughts (Government of the Republic of Malawi, 2015). Malawian citizens are clearly aware of their vulnerability, consistently ranking “food shortage and famine” as the most important problem that government should address (Hamer & Seekings, 2017). Successive Malawian governments have prioritized interventions aimed at bolstering food security, including the implementation of fertilizer input subsidies targeting smallholder farmers (Chinsinga & Poulton, 2014).  

The 2017 Afrobarometer survey shows that the effects of climate change have been felt by an overwhelming majority of Malawians. Most citizens say that droughts have become more severe and climate conditions for agricultural production have worsened. More Malawians are going without enough food and without a cash income. 

Perhaps in response, popular ratings of the government’s performance have declined sharply – not surprising in a country where positive ratings of government performance are correlated with improvements in food security (Ferree & Horowitz, 2010). A majority of citizens don’t see the government’s fertilizer subsidy program as an adequate answer and prefer that it be scrapped.   

Given the centrality of agriculture to Malawi’s economy, these survey findings raise concerns about the viability of current agricultural policies and responses to climate change for food security and the economy as a whole.