Just Released! Order “Waking Up to Climate Change” by George Ropes, and receive 25% Discount. Learn More

HOME          CATEGORIES          OUR TAKE

Climate Change and the Place You Know the Best by Barnard Blogger Thandi Nyambose

I chose to focus my blog on Malawi, my father’s place of birth. He is from Lilongwe, the capital city, but he grew up in a rural village called eManyaleni, where his parents were subsistence farmers cultivating primarily maize. When I was young, he told me stories about catching fish with his hands in the river and trapping tiny songbirds to roast on sharp sticks. He hunted for honey in the hills above his village, laughing off stings because the waxy honey was so delicious. It all sounded like a series of idyllic adventures to me as a child. He doesn’t talk about the things he didn’t have growing up. No electricity, often not enough food or water. My father is the only one from eManyaleni to go to college; the only one to come to the US; the only one to have a PhD. The first time I traveled to the village I was seventeen, and it holds a very important place in my heart.

It frightens me to see the way climate change is ravaging this country as I feel a very personal connection to it. The biggest threats facing Malawians are periods of intense drought and delayed, erratic rainfall, which are increasing in both variability and intensity (Stringer et al., 2009). These risks manifest in many tragic ways. For example, the New York Times reports of a communal well in a Malawian village that was contaminated by January floodwaters that swept away homes and crops (Revkin, 2007). Not only can this sort of heavy rainfall displace entire villages, it brings with it the threat of both disease and malnutrition.

Because nine out of every ten Malawians live in rural areas and rely on rain-fed subsistence agriculture (Stringer et al., 2009: 756), periods of drought have been linked to severe famine. As the population continues to expand rapidly, more and more people who rely on agriculture, particularly maize as a cash crop, will have their livelihoods in the hands of the frequent climactic hazards (Ellis et al., 2003). This year, farmers were relieved by good rain and a bounty harvest, but it came after a long three years of drought in Malawi (Bafana, 2017). And this is not the first time: in the 2004-2005 growing season, drought left behind a “catastrophic maize harvest” putting five million people — more than a third of the country — in need of emergency food resources (Rosenberg, 2014). Events of this sort will continue to fuel rural-to-urban migration, as the unpredictability of rainfall shifts Malawians away from their reliance on agriculture as a main source of income and into the urban workforce. Other steps being taken to adapt to the current and future impacts of climate change include planting hybrid maize and modifying the growing season to adjust to new rainfall and temperature patterns (Stringer et al, 2009: Table 5). Many smallholder farmers move completely away from mono-cropping, diversifying into legumes like groundnuts and soya (Bafana, 2017). Some supplement with tobacco. This way if one crop fails due to drought, they may be able to compensate with income from the others. However, many still feel unsure of what crop to plant, and when. I hope that 10 years into the future we will have developed an effective way to manage these climate extremes for an already vulnerable population. I believe that a change in agricultural practice is a start, but there is a long and challenging journey to go.

Comment on this article

ClimateYou moderates comments to facilitate an informed, substantive, civil conversation. Abusive, profane, self-promotional, misleading, incoherent or off-topic comments will be rejected. Moderators are staffed during regular business hours (New York time) and can only accept comments written in English.

2 Responses

  1. This is a great piece. I learned so much about Malawi and the massive impacts of climate change there. I agree that changes in agricultural methods are a great place to start. It must be hard to implement such things, especially given the fact that most people rely on subsistence farming. Do you see a future with larger changes to ag practices, akin to the industrialization we’ve seen in the U.S.? Would the Malawian government have a hand in this? Thanks again for sharing your story and that of your father. This was a really interesting a beautiful read.

  2. I love pieces like these — personal accounts of these places help illuminate the social impacts of environmental change in ways objective news/journal articles cannot. Thank you for shedding light on the issues at Malawi. The Malawian dependence on agriculture is definitely a source of concern in this time of environmental degradation. Is it possible that GMO’s could present a possible solution to combatting this issue and preventing food shortages?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.


More Posts Like This


My Take on Climate Change

According to information given on the website Climate.org, there are a number of statistics which are indicative of the current climate condition: For example, carbon dioxide in the Atmosphere — 414 (Carbon Dioxide…).  According to the Climate Portal of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “Atmospheric CO2 levels of


Youth Activists Triumph in Groundbreaking Climate Trial

A landmark legal decision has overwhelmingly justified every human being’s right to a healthy environment. The huge victory by young climate activists in Montana is a win for young people all over the world whose future will undeniably be shaped by the effects of climate change. The case,


The Impact of the Paris Climate Change Agreement in the United States

The United States, under the Obama administration, joined the Paris Agreement in 2015 and committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. However, in June 2017, the Trump administration announced its intention to withdraw from the agreement (Shear). In April 2021, President Joe