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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Focus: How GEF, AfDB helped Malawi rural households adapt to climate change

Malawi’s vulnerability to the devastating impacts of climate change is caused by the country’s significant exposure to climate variability. Agriculture and rural livelihoods are highly sensitive to climatic change. They have very low adaptive capacity at the community and national levels. As a result, a wide range of climate-induced devastations have occurred in Malawi during the past 30 years, including flooding, late rains, and dry spells. These impact all regions in the country but vary depending on geographical location. The phenomena threaten smallholder farmers in all regions.

Goat production in Chikwawa: A farmer at GVH Moses shows the standard goat enclosure and the goats he reared

Drought and poor rainfall affect crops, yield and household food security. Crops dry up before maturity, damage due to floods, soil degradation (soil erosion, loss of soil fertility, and siltation of fields), shortage of water, reduction in yield, and consequently food insecurity are among the negative impacts. Since agriculture is the major source of income for most farmers in Malawi, rural livelihoods are significantly affected by these problems. Malawi has of late experienced food shortages in some parts of the country, with about 1.9 million households requiring food assistance since 2007.



In response to the above challenges,  the Climate Adaptation for Rural Livelihoods and Agriculture (CARLA) project was designed and implemented in three of six priority districts with the goal of building community resilience by developing and implementing adaptation strategies and measures that will improve agricultural production and rural livelihoods. The project is to ensure that the capacity to support community-based adaptation to climate change are enhanced and that communities are able to implement integrated climate change adaptation strategies and interventions that improve agricultural production and rural livelihoods.

The African Development Bank’s (AfDB) Board approved a $3 million Global Environment Facility (GEF) grant for the CARLA project on November 10, 2011. The implementation agreement was signed the following year. The project took off on April 12, 2012 and was concluded on June 30, 2016. The overall goal to improve communities’ resilience to climate variability and climate change by developing and implementing adaptation strategies and measures that will improve agricultural production and rural livelihoods were largely achieved. It focused on integrated climate change adaptation strategies and interventions that improve agricultural production and rural livelihoods; and enhanced national and district agencies’ capacities to support community-based adaptation to climate change.



  • CARLA reportedly increased household agricultural productivity (maize from one ton per hectare to 4.5 tons per hectare) and reduced food insecurity from nine months of hunger in a year to zero for direct project beneficiaries.
  • A total of 6,665 goats were distributed at the end of the project. Farmers who benefited from the project have testified to the success of the programme.

The project was implemented in three districts and in each district there was a model village where various climate change adaptation measures were being piloted. The target sites were in Mwakabanga village in the district of Karonga, Moses in Chikhwawa and Kafulama in Dedza District. Best practices from these model villages were disseminated to other communities within the districts and surrounding areas. The adaptation planning process included a stakeholder-led vulnerability assessment and participatory development of a Community Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan, leading to implementation and monitoring of the priority measures in the action plan.

Abraham Simkonda, CARLA Lead Farmer, Karonga District, said: “As one of beneficiaries of CARLA initiatives, I feel very grateful for its timely assistance. The district suffered serious drought this season, but thanks to CARLA I may not feel the impact that much. I will sell some bananas and pawpaws to provide basic household needs.

“To show my appreciation, I have set up a nursery in my garden for growing seedlings distributed free of charge to other farmers in the area. So far, I have given out banana suckers to 15 farmers. After giving out the fruit trees, I also train the beneficiaries using skills that officials from CARLA taught me. I have no doubt that, within the next few years, most farmers in this area will have fruit trees in their homesteads.”

The communities have hailed the small livestock development as one of the most successful interventions with wider impact and coverage because of the “pass on” system where the offspring of goats are passed on to other beneficiaries. The types of livestock being distributed (goats) are adapted to the area and are easy to manage. A total of 6,665 goats were distributed at the end of the project.

Eti Nankhonde, beneficiary of the CARLA Goat Pass-On Scheme in Kannga District, said: “I am so happy because I now have five goats which I never dreamt of. With the five goats, hunger will soon be a thing of the past. I expect these goats to reproduce and give me more goats. I urge my friends who have received goats today to take good care of them so that others may benefit from the initiative.”


General impacts of the project cited by beneficiaries 

  • Adoption of resilient behaviour/knowledge of climate change impacts and implementation of climate change adaptation interventions to mitigate its effects using locally available resources.
  • Increased food security among participating households and reduction of the lean period from three months to one month. For example, livestock farmers have been able to adapt to food insecurity through income realized from livestock and sales of livestock products.
  • Improvement in nutrition status through access to, and consumption of alternative sources of proteins from aquaculture, poultry, goats, sheep and pigs.
  • Improved access to safe water and reduction of incidence of water-borne diseases through bore holes.
  • Diversification of sources of income through sales of livestock and livestock products enabling some households to provide their needs, pay fees for children, and acquire building materials.
  • Positive spillover effects of the project to non-beneficiary areas implementing some interventions in the construction of standard goat kraal (shed), cultivation of kitchen/backyard gardens, owning homestead woodlots; fish ponds.
  • Introduction of rice farming in upland areas of Dedza which was not a traditional crop in the area.
  • Increased awareness of political leaders and decision makers on climate change adaptation measures through events like field days. The project also held a national open day on May 5, 2016 in Chikwawa, which was attended by the Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.

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