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Country analysis > Malawi Last update: 2008-12-17  

Malawi's National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA)

Ministry of Mines, Natural Resources and Environment
Environmental Affairs Department

Government of Malawi

February 2008

Although this document is dated March 2006, it was officially released in February 2008 by the Government of Malawi.
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Introduction and Setting

  1. Background

    Malawi is a land-locked country located in south-east Africa lying along a sector of the East African Rift Valley between latitudes 9o and 18o S, and longitudes 33o and 36o E. It is boarded by Tanzania in the north and north-east, Zambia in the west, and Mozambique in the south and east. It has a population of about 10.0 million people (NSO, 2002), the majority of whom (>85%) reside in rural areas and are poor , deriving their livelihoods from small land holdings of between 1.0 and 2.0 ha per farm family of an average of five people (MOALD, 1987).

  2. Economic situation

    Malawi is classified as one of the least developed countries in the world, with an estimated annual per capita income of US $2,000 in 1999 (UNICEF, 1993; EAD, 2002a; Malawi Government, 2000, 2002a). The National Human Development Report of 2001 ranks Malawi as one of the lowest in terms of Human Development Index (HDI), placing it at number 163 out of 173 countries in the world (United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)/Malawi Government (MG), 2001). It is one of the poorest countries in Africa, with about 65% of its population living below the poverty line in 1998, and 29% living in extreme poverty (MG, 1995, 2000; MoA, 2005). Health and social indicators are also among the lowest in Africa. Infant mortality is estimated at 134 per 1,000 compared with 92 per 1,000 for sub-Saharan Africa, whereas the average life expectancy at birth is now 37 years, down from 43 years some ten years ago, mainly as a result of various factors including poor living conditions, food and water insecurity, poverty, and diseases, such as malaria, cholera, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. The HIV/AIDS epidemic affected 16% of the adult population and 31% of women in the antenatal care category in 1999 (MG, 2002b).

    More than 90% of the people, mainly comprising resource-poor rural communities, are predominantly engaged in subsistence rain-fed agriculture, 60% of whom are food insecure on a year-round-basis. Female- and children-headed households, the elderly and women are the most vulnerable, a situation that has been exacerbated by increasing poverty and population pressures on a limited land resource base, low economic productivity of the land, labour and capital, and extreme weather events due to climate variability, and low capacity to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change. These have been compounded by rapid environmental degradation as a result of agricultural expansion to marginal lands and deforestation, inadequate knowledge and skills in the productive use and management of land and natural resources, inadequate access to land and credit, poor health services, and gender inequalities.

  3. Major cash and food crops

    The major cash crops are: (i) tobacco which contributes 71% of the foreign exchange earnings (MOALD, 1987), (ii) sugar cane grown under irrigation and delivered to markets by road transport, (iii) tea grown under-rain-fed conditions, but supplemented with irrigation during drought years, (iv) cotton, (v) horticultural crops (e.g., vegetables and chilies grown throughout the country), and (vi) groundnuts, beans, soybeans and other legume crops (grown throughout the country). The major food crops are maize, sorghum, millets, cassava, sweet potatoes, bananas, rice, beans, groundnuts and various pulses, which are produced throughout Malawi.

  4. Vulnerability to climate change

    Malawi is heavily dependent on natural resources, mainly soils, water, fisheries from inland lakes and fuel wood from forests. The biggest lake, Lake Malawi, drains freely into the Indian Ocean through the Shire River then the Zambezi. The Shire River is of great economic importance to Malawi. The Shire River generates more than 98% of Malawi's electricity, supports abundant fisheries, and provides freshwater for irrigation in Malawi's plantations such as Illovo Sugar at Nchalo; as well as other domestic and industrial uses. There are also several regionally important wetlands and marshes in the Shire basin, which include important breeding sites for migratory birds, and are home to several key wildlife conservation areas. The Upper, Middle and Lower Shire River basins are important areas for the production of crops and for the preservation and conservation of forests and wildlife. However, the Lower Shire Valley is vulnerable to floods and droughts. Extensive land use, including the wanton cutting down of trees on the Middle and Upper Shire Valleys, has resulted in severe land degradation and soil erosion, leading to siltation of the Shire River and its tributaries, seriously affecting hydro-electric power generation, human health and fisheries.

    In addition, some tributaries of the Shire River pass through heavily cultivated areas, townships and cities, resulting in water pollution from human and industrial wastes, and agricultural chemicals, which have serious impacts on human health, food, environment and fisheries, and sustainable rural livelihoods. Further, floods have resulted in severe crop loss, infrastructure destruction, including roads and the only rail line that links the south to the center, resulting in serious socio-economic disruptions, food insecurity, and diseases, such as diarrhea, cholera and malaria.

    Specifically, the flood plains, wetlands and forests of the Lower Shire Valley are an important habitat for wildlife and for crop production (rice, cotton, beans, sorghum, millets and sugar cane). More than half a million people living in the Lower Shire Valley are directly vulnerable to climatic extremes such as droughts and floods. National disasters have been declared every few years in this valley. For example, over the last ten years the Shire Valley has experienced some of the worst droughts (1991/92) and floods (2000/01) in living memory. These resulted in low agricultural output, hence hunger, malnutrition and loss of human and animal life, disruption of electricity, and many other socio-economic and industrial activities.

  5. Rationale for developing the NAPA

    It is against this background that Malawi decided to develop its National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA). This was done by synthesizing the vulnerabilities of eight major economic sectors in relation to several international, national and local development policies and strategies, which included Agenda 21, Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), SADC Biodiversity Strategy, National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP),Vision 2020, Malawi Poverty Reduction Strategy (MPRS), Malawi Economic Growth Strategy (MEGS) and the National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP) (UNEP, 2003; UNFCCC, 2003; SADC, 2005; MG, 1998, 2002b). Further, sectoral environmental action plans and disaster preparedness and emergency response plans were also consulted. This process involved a wide consultation with various stakeholders in the public and private sector organizations, including local leaders, religious and faith groups, academicians, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society, and highly vulnerable rural communities throughout the country, (OPC, 1997; SADC, 2002; EAD, 2002a, 2002b).

    The identified short list of urgent and immediate needs for adaptation were ranked using multi-criteria analysis (MCA) to arrive at priority adaptation options that require urgent attention in the following sectors: agriculture, water, human health, energy, fisheries, wildlife, gender and forestry. There is need to urgently implement these priority activities so as to reduce the vulnerability of rural communities to the adverse impacts of extreme weather events caused by climate change, a situation that will enable rural communities adapt to climate change, and attain food security, reduce poverty, reduce environmental degradation and achieve sustainable rural livelihoods.

  6. Objectives of the NAPA

    The NAPA document has been developed to enable Malawi address her urgent and immediate adaptation needs caused by climate change and extreme weather events. Specifically, the document aims at: (i) identifying a list of priority activities, (ii) formulating priority adaptation options, (iii) building capacity for adapting to longer-term climate change and variability, and (iv) raising public awareness on the urgency to adapt to the adverse effects of extreme weather events.

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