The dependence of Malawi's economy on rain-fed agricultural production and commodities trade places Malawi in a particularly vulnerable position in the event of climatic-rainfall variabilities.
Of recent, Malawi has been experiencing significant variations in weather
patterns, ranging from severe drought conditions to extreme flood events.
These extreme variations seriously affect agricultural production and development,
since the output from new technologies and innovations that may raise productivity
and profitability varies markedly with rainfall availability. Furthermore,
because most rural people depend on agriculture for subsistence, unreliability
of rainfall causes losses in incomes, and increased general vulnerability
to food security (GOM/WFP, 1996).
Lying between latitude 9° 22' and 17° 7' S. and between longitudes 32° 40' and 35° 55' E, the climate is characterised by three main seasons: cool and dry, from May to August; warm and dry, from September to November; and warm and wet, from December to April. The five-month rainy season begins earlier in Southern and Central Regions, from November to March. Annual rainfall ranges from 600mm in lower shire valley and Karonga lakeshore plains, to over 3000mm in high elevation areas. Temperatures range between 20° to 35° C, but may approach and surpass 40° C in the Rift Valley areas (Mkanda, et. al., 1995).
The climate of Malawi is strongly influenced by its position within the sub-continent in relation to the pressure and wind systems of the Southern Hemisphere. Changes in the distribution of rainfall take place in response to the movement of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) and associated belts of distribution. Climate change and variability are caused amongst others by disturbance of the ITCZ, shifts in the global circulation pattern, deforestation, rate of evapo-transpiration, green house gas emissions and disruption in the hydrological system.
Climatically Me world is regarded as a system with on-going interactions
between the ocean and atmosphere. It has been noted that the 1991/92 drought
which affected most of the Southern Africa was largely caused by the El
Nino phenomenon, which is caused by a periodic warning of the tropical
Pacific Ocean and related shifts in the atmospheric circulation and brings
climatic disruptions to low latitude areas.
In recent years, Malawi has experienced extreme climatic events, ranging from drought (1991/92) to flood (1996/97). Even during the flood year of 1996/97, some parts of the extreme north of the country experienced drought. Thus, changes in the amount of rainfall vary in different areas of the country in space and time. There is also scientific evidence that there is seasonal maximum and minimum temperature deviation over the mean influenced by climatic variability (Figs. 9.1 and 9.2).
Planting dates also vary from year to year and as a result of seasonal climate variability. It is generally recognised that staggering planting dates is crucial for a number of reasons:
Climatic variability, including drought and floods, has significant impacts on all sectors of the economy through inter-sectoral links and multiplier effects.
9.2.1 Impacts of climatic changes and weather variations
In the last three decades, Malawi has experienced significant variability and unpredictability in seasonal rainfall. For example, three droughts have occurred since the late 1970s: in 1978-79, 1981-82, and 199192. The agriculture, water, forestry, fisheries and wildlife sectors are greatly affected by these drought events (Mkanda, et. al., 1995).
Impacts on non-agricultural sectors
While agriculture and livestock sectors are directly affected by drought? water shortages, resulting from drought or inter seasonal rainfall shortages, have significant impact on other sectors as well. Of recent the ability to generate hydra electricity from the utilities in Malawi has been drastically affected. Further, the manufacturing sector has also been severely affected due to water shortages.
The impacts of climate variability on water availability and influence on Lake Levels are discussed in detail in Chapter 6.
Inter-sectoral links and knock on effects
The effects of climatic change in general, and drought in', particular, are felt across the whole economy because of the intricate linkages of the various economic sectors. Upon following the failure of agriculture due to drought, the sectors that directly depend on agriculture such as agro-industries, are seriously affected as a result of reduced supply of raw materials. In turn, the low incomes realised by the smallholders depress the effective demand for goods and inputs by the agricultural sector. Furthermore, these events at times trigger increased unemployment.
Effects on balance of payments
Considering that the agricultural sector accounts for a significant share of total exports, foreign exchange earnings are extremely vulnerable to drought in Malawi, a situation that aggravates balance of payments problems. During dry spells the economy generally slows down, and authorities may pass measures to reduce imports, evening the demand for staple food and raw materials.
The impacts of drought are felt in the government budget. On the income or revenue side, drought leads to reductions in tax revenues as a result of lower personal and corporate earnings. In terms of expenditure, drought and poverty relief programmes can become a considerable burden on the government budget.
Price effects and food security.
Drought has a cost-push effect on inflation through food price increases.
For example, after the 1991/92 drought, the annual rate of food price inflation
in Malawi increased significantly. Furthermore, since food constitutes
an especially large expenditure component for lower income groups, food
price increases have serious food security Implications.
The following measures have been adopted to mitigate the effects of a predicted climatic variability:
The Meteorological Department is the implementing agency for the Convention on Climate Change and is facilitated by the Environmental Affairs Department as the National focal point for the Programme.
At national level, networks are being strengthened with the agricultural
community, water resource agencies, and the Famine Earl Warning System
(FEWS). At regional and international level, development of capabilities
to conduct research with institutions such as the Drought Monitoring Centres
(DMCs) in Harare and Nairobi, Climate Analysis Centre (CAC) in Washington,
and University of Kwazulu-Natal, are being promoted.
Information on climate change and variability is utilized in the following areas:
Climate variability influences the types of technologies that are developed
and transferred to end-users. This is particularly so in agriculture. There
is need, therefore, to develop technologies that will be adaptable to climatic
fluctuations (Table 9.1).
The challenge to the Malawi education and communication system is to determine how best to:
Climate change data plays a vital role in agricultural planning and production. The success or failure of agricultural activities, in particular land management, largely depends on whether or not climatic change factors well taken into account during planning.
In Malawi, agro-ecological zones have been identified without incorporating
all the necessary variables. Therefore, there is still need to formulate
programmes that would delineate the country into agro-ecological zone using
modern Geographical Information System (GIS) techniques.
The economic impact of climate variability affects countries differently,
depending on their economic structure. For example, countries with simple
economies like Malawi are affected by drought severely. After a year of
drought, recovery is not immediate on the return of rains. Drought shocks
cause food insecurity through reduced harvests and food shortages, and
may cause a host of economic difficulties.
Climate Change and variability have resulted in creation of a Regional Early Warning System (REWS) under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). This works in collaboration with national early earning units to conduct pre-harvest assessments of expected crop production and to advance warnings of the likely impact of the forthcoming harvest on food availability and import needs for the coming marketing year. A national early
warning system also exists in Malawi, comprising the agro-meteorology
and agricultural planning components. At global level, the implications
are already felt as the origin of El Nino over the main oceans affect Malawi
A comparison of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions for the major gasses,
carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide by full molecular weight shows
that the contribution of carbon dioxide is the highest and that at least
97% originates from agricultural land-use sources (Fig.
9.4). A similar analysis of the sectoral contributions of ammonia based
on full molecular weight shows that a greater part originates from the
energy sector (83%) followed by the agricultural sector (15%) (Fig.
9.5). Comparing sectoral contribution of GHGs based on TCO2
Equivalent shows that the highest contribution is from Land-Use (68%),
Energy (26%) and Agriculture (5%) as shown in Fig.
9.6. These results are all from 1990.
An assessment of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions have been conducted under
the following sectors: energy, industrial processes, solvent and other
product use, agriculture, forestry and land use change, waste management
and air pollution. The National Environmental Action Plan recognises problems
associated with climate change and air pollution. However, more emphasis
was placed on issues related to climate variability.
In relation to climate change and air quality the Malawi National Environmental Policy recognises the following guiding principles (Malawi Government' 1996)
Contributors | Preface | Acronyms | Overview
Chapters: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | Appendix I
Lists: Maps | Figures | Tables | Boxes | References