There are real fears that the long-term impacts of climate change are undermining the ability of sub-Saharan Africa to endure extremes in weather, leaving huge numbers of people exposed to hunger and disease.
The region is seen as particularly vulnerable because rain-fed agricultural practices are important to its economies and the presence of armed conflict in several countries exacerbates the situation, frequently turning drought into famine.
As part of an initiative to build the region’s capacity to address challenges around food and water security, 26 mostly African early career researchers received field work training as part of a Summer School programme in Malawi. The participants, mostly PhD and post-doctoral researchers, undertook a series of activities to cultivate their research skills linked to climate change resilience.
Designed and led by Dr Kate Schreckenberg from King’s Department of Geography, along with Professor Laura Lewis (University of Southampton) and Professor Sosten Chiotha (LEAD-Malawi), the main objective was to enable the researchers to draw on their combined social and biophysical expertise to come up with locally-appropriate solutions.
“The main objective was to train the early career researchers to work holistically in interdisciplinary groups, to identify and help resolve problems of climate change and water and food security in a participatory way with communities,” said Dr Schreckenberg.
Getting first-hand experience in Malawi
The early career researchers visited the villages of Chankhunta and Chinsamba in Malawi, to interview the local community, enquiring about main food sources and how different people cope when food production fails.
They found that agriculture remains the dominant livelihood source for the households. Rain-fed agriculture is the main practice, with only a small proportion of the population having access to wetland plots that can be cultivated in both the dry and wet season. Discussions with younger and older community members revealed that their food production no longer sustains them for the whole year because of reduced farm size and decreasing soil fertility. Problems were very interlinked, for example, firewood scarcity meant women had to use maize stalks to fuel their cooking fires rather than as mulch for the fields.
In fact, people were moving away from agriculture to earn their livelihood, and increasingly turning to casual labour, such as working on other people’s farms or brick making, as a way of earning cash to buy food.
This suggests that diversifying livelihood options is very important for food security and poverty reduction. In feedback meetings, community leaders recognised the need to acquire different skills and that education was the best way to prepare the next generation.