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Building the resilience and enhancing adaptive capacity of women to climate change – Malawi

Women in southern Malawi are improving their livelihoods and making their food sources more secure. This initiative  has established a village savings and loan system that has helped develop small-scale irrigation and promoted cultivation of drought-resistant crops.

Fast facts:

  • 4,800 women involved
  • 24,000 people benefitted
  • 62 village savings and loan groups established

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The problem

Climate variability and change has increased the frequency of droughts and seasonal dry spells in the African country of Malawi, making the livelihoods of poor women there even more precarious. Over the past decade, Malawi’s poor populations have already been placed at high risk of food insecurity.

One of the main factors contributing to this vulnerability is a lack of alternative livelihood strategies. Lending institutions are unwilling to risk providing financial services to poor households due to high transaction costs and risks. This leaves such communities in a vicious cycle, where people are stuck living hand-to-mouth in ever more precarious conditions.

The solution

Targeting the districts of Machinga and Ntcheu, the project’s “village savings and loan” concept provides a financial alternative that helps women access sustainable and flexible loans for their small businesses. In the arrangement, a group selects its own members who each make small deposits at an agreed frequency. Group members can then take out loans at a very low interest rate to start businesses.

Members are trained on group dynamics, conflict management and credit and savings management. They repay loans with interest at agreed-upon rates and intervals, which allows the group fund to grow so that more and larger loans may be made. A disaster risk reduction effort is also building capacity to adjust to extreme climate fluctuations.

Helping the planet

Development of resilient and varied farming systems promotes sustainable utilization of natural resources. For example, as improved farming methods reduce runoff, rainfall is better able to recharge water sources through infiltration. Creating disaster response plans could also prevent degradation of the environment by reducing extractive pressures at times when it’s least able to regenerate.

Helping people

The scheme has enabled women to make a living in new ways. As communities come to understand climate change-related hazards and risks, they’re better able to adapt to and mitigate their impacts. Through the village savings and loan scheme, these vulnerable households – which traditionally depended on rain-fed agriculture – can improve current farming methods, or seek out alternative means for securing food and income.

The disaster risk reduction effort, which includes development of a drought early warning system, should also allow villagers to better plan for and adjust to climatic events.

Spillover effect

The current project is a replica of a previously implemented project from neighbouring districts Blantyre and Balaka. Preliminary results from implementation in Machinga and Ntcheu have been encouraging, indicating further potential for establishing the activities in other districts. The village savings and loan scheme, conservation agriculture, and establishment of early warning systems can be easily replicated in other areas to activate women in building resilience.

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