In Malawi, the El Niño climatic event is causing further challenges for farmers who have already faced periods of low rainfall for the past 2 years. In July of 2016, the Pathways Malawi team, accompanied by summer intern Amelia Conrad, and Ministry of Agriculture staff, undertook a study to assess the impact of the drought on Pathways’ communities. The findings of that study emphasized the severity of the drought and the level of need currently experienced by rural villagers throughout large swaths of the country.
Among the households surveyed, much more time is now being devoted to activities like fetching water, a task that is primarily allocated to women and girls. Wells that typically contain water until October were already almost entirely depleted in late July. Water contamination is a serious concern in many of these communities and households are restricting water usage and waking up in the middle of the night to haul water.
Many of the individuals involved in the study expressed concern over the scarcity of food in their communities. In many households, failed crops have resulted in significantly reduced food stocks and individuals struggle to acquire the money needed to purchase food. An elderly man who had very little food stock because of the drought’s negative affect on his crop yields said, “I am very sick and I don’t know what will happen next. I have no means to replenish the food stock. I have only to wait for God’s grace.” 90% of households had altered their eating patterns this year as compared to a typical year and were eating less diverse diets. Households use numerous coping strategies to deal with the effects of the drought. Many engage in casual labor, which takes away from their ability to work in their own fields, and sell livestock. These coping strategies may result in long-term negative consequences of the drought. Female-headed households appear to be especially vulnerable to food insecurity and utilize many negative coping strategies to get by.
Along with food insecurity, the drought has resulted in significantly reduced incomes for many households that rely on agriculture to earn a living. 85% of households reported reduced income as compared to a typical year. In some of the villages visited, all or nearly all of the crops planted had failed this year. Despite efforts of farmers to adopt soil and water conservation techniques promoted by CARE Pathways and the Ministry of Agriculture, the drought has taken its toll on this year’s harvest. With the loss of income and the rising price of basic goods– especially maize– households have been forced to allocate larger portions of their spending to the purchase of basic goods, like cereals and water, while reducing spending in other areas, like the purchase of productive assets and education. Again, these behavior changes cause concern about the long-term impact of this year’s drought.
Upon completion of the drought assessment, Pathways and Ministry of Agriculture staff met to discuss options for addressing the needs observed in target communities. They will continue to work in partnership and with other NGOs and agencies devoted to emergency response in order to assist with both the short-term needs of affected communities and the long-term resilience of Malawi’s rural farmers.