Adapting farmers to climate variability in Malawi through the IRMP initiative

Delivering climate services trainings in Mangochi, Chikwawa, Balantyre

Michael Goode
Nov 4, 2019 · 4 min read

Authors: Ilenia Babetto, Katiuscia Fara and Dominic Nyirongo

A farmer being trained on how to use climate information for making better cropping decisions. Photo: WFP/Dominic Nyirongo

To have a successful growing season, many of the world’s smallholder farmers need reliable rainfall patterns, so they know when to begin planting their seeds at the onset of the rainy season and have enough water available through to harvest.

Increasing climate variability, or deviations from the standard weather during a given time of year, is making it harder for these farmers to ensure their crops make it all the way to their plates or the market. With 75 percent of the world’s croplands being rainfed, rainfall arriving at the wrong time and place can have a devastating effect on people’s incomes and food security. With a better understanding of their climate conditions, farmers can make more informed decisions on what crops to plant and when.

It’s a busy Friday for the agricultural extension officers of Chikwawa and for Kajawoto village. Community members are gathered around the officers and determined to better understand the weather and what the upcoming months will bring.

The extension officers spent the last four days in a training organized by the World Food Programme (WFP) together with the University of Reading and the Malawi Department of Climate Change and Meteorological services (DCCMS). The officers are learning how to access, use and explain climate and weather information to communities struggling with changing weather patterns through the Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture (PICSA) approach, a collaborative training methodology developed by the University of Reading.

With historical climate data at the ready, extension officers discuss past trends with farmers, as well as the different livelihood options they have under these changing conditions. The training has been delivered to 137 extension officers in the Mangochi, Chikwawa and Blantyre districts of Malawi, where the impacts of climate change are being felt as failed crops have led to worsening food security and nutrition for farming families in the region.

A farmer drawing a resource allocation map during the PICSA field practice. Photo: WFP/Dominic Nyirongo

By the end of the afternoon, extension officers and farmers have learnt how to develop a participatory budget and mapped how to allocate resources within their households for different livelihood options; they have also gained a better understanding of the interplay between weather, forecasts and risks that will help them make decisions when a seasonal or weather forecast points to less than ideal conditions ahead.

“The climate services lessons… have helped me and my village colleagues to be more aware about the climate of our area.”

There is a lot of information to cover in these trainings, but the result is highly rewarding. “The climate services lessons through PICSA training has helped me and my village colleagues to be more aware about the climate of our area, helping us to explore practices that will strengthen our farming and livelihood activities with the guidance of an extension officer,” says Laston Mponya, one of the farmers from the village.

Extension officers will continue to support farmers like Laston in the months to come by sharing the latest seasonal forecast and tailored agricultural advisories ahead of the growing season. The collaboration between extension officers, communities, WFP and DCCMS will give farmers the ability to manage risks to their production and cope with unreliable weather in their region, empowering both extension officers and villagers through knowledge.

A facilitator supports a farmer in analysing climate information during the field training. Photo: WFP/Dominic Nyirongo

To ensure information filters down to the local level, a dedicated radio programme airs in the project area every 10 days, and an SMS system provides weather alerts and on-demand information, reinforcing the trainings given by the officers.

“The PICSA methodology has strengthened my extension service delivery to vulnerable communities to be climate smart.”

Extension officers have found that they are better able to assist communities thanks to the trainings, for example for Rodgers Kanyimbiri the “PICSA methodology has strengthened my extension service delivery to vulnerable communities to be climate smart.”

Madaliso Makondi, an Agriculture Gender Officer explains how “the knowledge gained through PICSA will help me work with women farmers and other vulnerable groups because climate variability and change have a big impact on household-level food security.”

“With increasing intensity and frequency of extreme weather events in Malawi, vulnerable communities are at a greater risk of being food insecure year in year out,” says Dominic Nyirongo, WFP focal point for Climate Services in Malawi, pointing out why these districts are in need of these climate services trainings. “This approach enables vulnerable communities to work with intermediaries to analyse weather and climate information and identify farming and livelihood practices that are best suited to local conditions, thereby improving how households can cope and adapt to a changing climate.”

The climate services training is one of the activities under the Integrated Resilience Management Programme (IRMP) financed by the Government of Flanders.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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