Smallholder farmers' understandings of and responses to climate change in Malawi: a case study of Mphunga group village, Salima district

Saruchera, Munyaradzi Matthew (2019-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2019.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Climate change is one of the most pressing livelihood issues of our time, adversely affecting the natural environment and national and local economies. Addressing climate change is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations’ new development agenda. Sub-Saharan Africa is among the regions that are most adversely affected by climate change. Among the poorest countries in the world, Malawi is vulnerable to declining soil fertility and extreme weather events. The country’s high reliance on natural resources and subsistence farming exposes grassroots communities to the negative effects of climate change. The purpose of my study was to investigate the understandings and experiences of smallholder farmers from Mphunga Group Village in Salima District in the Central Region of Malawi, and their responses to the impacts of climate change and extreme weather patterns on their livelihoods. Of particular interest was how farmers’ interactions with different sets of social actors (experts and non-experts) influence their understandings of and responses to the phenomenon of climate change, as well how significant social capital is for their coping strategies. In using Mphunga Group Village as a case study, I employed an actor-oriented approach and the sustainable rural livelihoods framework in my conceptual framework. The actor-oriented approach provided the primary philosophical framework for examining farmers’ perspectives on climate change while the sustainable livelihoods approach was used to analyse farmers’ livelihoods, resource and institutional contexts, and the significance of social capital within that. I used a mixed-methods methodology, employing various research methods, while also reflecting on the limitations of the study and research ethics in relation to my experiences in the field. The key findings of my study are as follows: i) awareness of climate change and extreme weather events is discernible among young and elderly farmers, but their understandings and experiences represent different knowledge systems; ii) social practices, networks, gender and education play an important role in influencing farmers’ perceptions and understandings of climate change; iii) three main explanatory frameworks, namely: natural causes, spiritual and cultural lapses, and human activities, inform farmers’ understandings of climate change causes, but a significant group was not certain about the causes of climate change; iv) livelihoods diversification, agricultural intensification/extensification and labour migration are key coping and adaptive strategies being deployed by farmers, and v) while funders, NGO and government agencies are playing an important role in supporting farmers to cope with and adapt to climate change, they have entrenched a dependency syndrome among farmers. In this mix, social capital and social networks play a significant support role as informal safety nets for farmers as they cope with natural shocks and vulnerability to climate change.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Klimaatsverandering is een van die dringendste bestaanskwessies van ons tyd en het ’n nadelige invloed op die natuurlike omgewing sowel as nasionale en plaaslike ekonomieë. Om klimaatsverandering die hoof te bied is een van die 17 volhoubare ontwikkelingsdoelwitte op die Verenigde Nasies se nuwe ontwikkelingsagenda. Afrika suid van die Sahara is onder die streke wat die spit afbyt wat klimaatsverandering betref. Malawi, een van die armste lande ter wêreld, is besonder kwesbaar vir afnames in grondvrugbaarheid en al hoe meer uiterste weersomstandighede. Weens swaar afhanklikheid van natuurlike hulpbronne en bestaansboerdery is die land se gemeenskappe op voetsoolvlak veral blootgestel aan die negatiewe uitwerking van klimaatsverandering. Met my studie wou ek bepaal wat boere op kleinhoewes in die Mphunga-groepsnedersetting, wat in die distrik Salima in die sentrale streek van Malawi geleë is, dink en beleef namate hulle die impak van klimaatsverandering en uiterste weerpatrone op hulle bestaan probeer hanteer. Van bepaalde belang was hoe boere se interaksie met verskillende stelle sosiale rolspelers (kenners én nie-kenners) hulle begrip van, en reaksie op, die verskynsel van klimaatsverandering beïnvloed, sowel as die rol van sosiale kapitaal in hulle hanteringstrategieë. Ek verken dus hierdie kwessies aan die hand van die Mphunga-groepsnedersetting as ’n gevallestudie. Die studie gebruik ’n rolspelergerigte benadering en die volhoubare landelike bestaanskonstruk as konseptuele raamwerk. Die rolspelergerigte benadering bied die hoof- filosofiese agtergrond vir ’n ondersoek na die boere se sienings van klimaatsverandering. Die volhoubare bestaanskonstruk is op sy beurt nuttig vir die ontleding van boere se bestaanshulpbronne en institusionele kontekste, sowel as die belang van sosiale kapitaal daarin. Voorts volg ek ’n gemengdemetode-benadering tot die gevallestudie, gebruik verskeie navorsingsmetodes, en besin ook oor die beperkinge van die studie en oor navorsingsetiek met betrekking tot my ervarings in die veld. Die kernbevindinge is soos volg: i) Sowel jong as bejaarde boere is bewus van klimaatsverandering en uiterste weersomstandighede, maar hulle begrip en ervarings dui op verskillende kennisstelsels. ii) Sosiale praktyke, netwerke, gender en opvoeding speel ook ’n belangrike rol om boere se opvattings en begrip van klimaatsverandering te beïnvloed. iii) Boere se begrip van die oorsake van klimaatsverandering word deur hoofsaaklik drie verklarende raamwerke gerig, naamlik natuurlike oorsake, geestelike en kulturele oorvleueling, en menslike aktiwiteite, hoewel ’n beduidende getal boere nie seker is oor die oorsake van klimaatsverandering nie. iv) Die vernaamste hantering- en aanpassingstrategieë wat die boere gebruik, is diversifisering van bestaansmiddele, verskerping/uitbreiding van landboubedrywighede, en arbeidsmigrasie. v) Hoewel finansiers, nie-regeringsorganisasies en staatsagentskappe ’n belangrike bydrae lewer om boere klimaatsverandering te help hanteer en hulle daarby te help aanpas, gee dit aanleiding tot ’n afhanklikheidsindroom onder boere. Te midde hiervan speel sosiale kapitaal en sosiale netwerke ’n beduidende ondersteuningsrol as informele veiligheidsnette vir die boere terwyl hulle natuurskokke en toenemende kwesbaarheid vir klimaatsverandering probeer te bowe kom.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/107005
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