Malawi: Climate change deepens poverty among subsistence farmers
By Watson Maingo
Born 47 years ago, in a family of subsistence farmers, Annie Ganizani now a mother of seven did not have a chance to get any education.
However when she got married at the age of 22 one of her aspirations was to give education to her kids as a way of ending poverty that has anguished her family from generation to generation.
By then Ganizani, like her fellow subsistence farmers from Kandulu village in Salima District, banked her hopes on small scale farming which has been their life line for many years until production started dwindling naturally after the year 2000.
"Maize, beans and rice are key crops in this area and in those days we were able to produce enough for food and excess for sale on a small piece of land. Farming was a very promising occupation and the only hope for our uneducated community," said Ganizani.
She added, "By then I dreamed of a decent life with a better house, livestock and education for my kids."
Unfortunately her dream was short lived as it was smashed into pieces by prevailing brutal effects of climate change which began manifesting the ugly face in the 2000-2010 decade.
"We first noticed that something was wrong around us after the year 2000 when the rainfall pattern changed abruptly and the rains became more erratic and floods, drought, and dry spells became an annual occurrence," said Ganizani.
She added, "The floods and dry spells quickly resulted into dwindling yields leading to food shortages and subsequently taking us into deep poverty."
"In the 90's or 80's my family never slept on empty stomach but from the period I am talking about it is no longer strange for us to go for days without eating a meal," she said.
Her dreams were finally buried in 2004 when heavy flooding from near-by Lifidzi River completely destroyed her village and farm land.
"After the floods we moved to this new area only to be given a smaller piece of land and with the erratic rainfall pattern we continued harvesting just enough to last us a few months and nothing to sale," said Ganizani
Now 10 years after relocating to upper land Ganizani and her family are poorer than they were in 1999. "I do accept that as a descendant of a subsistence farmer and as a farmer I was born poor, but I strongly believe that if it was not for this climate change, I could have been able to make money out of farming and alleviate my poverty," she said.
Now lost in a maze of climate change and its devastating effects, Ganizani and a few others are moving back to the land they left in 2004 hoping to get closer to waters of Lifidzi River.
"I still hope I can do something that's why I have come back closer to the River. My plan is to try irrigation farming to boost food security in my house," she said.
Although the impact of the effects of climate change have turned upside down livelihoods of many villagers, government of Malawi and other organizations have continued to implement interventions aimed at rehabilitating the broken livelihoods.
Majawa Bwanali is chairperson of the Kandulu Village Disaster Risk Management Committee (VDRMC) and explained that efforts by government and its partners should concentrate on giving the farmers an alternative way of income generating.
"While we appreciate the many Disaster Risk Management interventions I wish that we do more projects that will teach the people climate smart agriculture technologies and irrigation" said Bwanali
According to Salima District Irrigation Officer Ben Longwe, irrigation agriculture is an important area worthy investing more as a way of building resilience of the small-holder farmers.
"It is true that drought and dry spells have become the way of life in this district due to effects of climate change. The problem is that the dry spells have led to scarcity of water reserves for irrigation" said Longwe.
Longwe said that his office has been giving extension services in climate change adaptation projects that have been implemented in the district such as those under the African Adaptation Program (APP), FICA, and GEF (Global Environment Facility) all funded through UNDP.
Assistant District Disaster Risk Management Officer (ADDRMO) Blessings Kamtema said that it is unfortunate that not all victims of climate change related disasters have been rehabilitated despite the many interventions.
"Indeed as one of the districts most hit by the effects of climate change in Malawi, Salima has been receiving support from many organizations. However, these interventions might not have restored the livelihoods of all the affected people due to the fact that the interventions are spread across the district and are area specific," said Kamtema.
Kamtema said with funding from UNDP under AAP projects the Council and the community from Kandulu were able to build a dyke on the Lifidzi River which has in the last three years prevented the river from flooding and causing havoc in Kandulu Village.
Kamtema also said that with support of funds from GEF people of Kandulu village have build an evacuation point which will minimize interruption of education in times of floods as people will no longer seek shelter at a primary school in the area.
DDRMO explained that with funding from UNDP the Council has managed to establish a climate information centre which is source of climate and weather information for early warning and farming planning.
Since 80 percent of Malawians depend on farming for their livelihoods it is clear that unless climate smart agriculture technologies are passed on to all small holder farmers the government goal of ending poverty by 2030, as pointed in the Sustainable Development Goals (2015-2030), will not be achieved.