Friday, February 19, 2010

Is climate change Malawian? Zachimalawi dives into the big question

Malawi, like the rest of the world, was once regulated by the sun;
everything- time, animal and plant life- revolved around the sun.
Time when the earth was an integral part of man, and man a loving part
of it. The perfumed flowers were man’s sister; the deer, the horse,
the great eagle- his brothers. Humming insects evoked holy memories
and experiences in people, just as rocky crests, juices of the
meadows, the body heat of the pony and warm worms- all belonged to one
Before the famed Dziwe Lankhalamba on Mulanje Mountain turned violent
and started swallowing human souls, shining water moved peacefully in
such rivers as Linthipe, Shire, Mudi, Lilongwe, and lagoons like Chia
without causing floods. The water was not just any other liquid to the
then caring people of Malawi- it was the blood of our ancestors.
Mid-day ghostly reflections in the clear waters of the lakes- Lake
Malawi, Chiuta, Kazuni and Chilwa- told of memories and forthcoming
events in the lives of the people.
The water’s murmur was the voice of our ancestors, and the rivers and
lagoons were our brothers and sisters because they quenched our
thirst, carried our canoes and fed fish to our children. The Akafula,
or Abathwa, the early inhabitants of Malawi, then gave the best
treatment to the rivers, the sought of kindness you would give to your
only brother or sister.
The earth and its people were connected like blood which unites one
family. Whatever befell the earth befell the sons and daughters of
earth. It is as simple as that and a web: man did not weave the web of
life; he is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he
does to himself.
For a long time, this realization remained the settled conviction of a
larger group of people, at least until the formation of independent
nation states of people begun to take effect because, not long after,
things went haywire.
Take language vocabulary, for instance. It is a fact that the British
word ‘scheme’ quickly translates to the American ‘plan’ or ‘proposal’.
Yet the two countries were once one, when Britain was an unmistakable
colony of the United States of America.
They say the world has conflict built into it; a factor that continues
to haunt the modern world.
December 2009 will go down the annals of our world story as a month
when world leaders, both from developed and developing countries, as
well as experts from different fields, met in Copenhagen, Denmark,
under this carpet of on-going confusion, disagreements and conflict.
They gathered under the United (?) Nations Framework Convention on
Climate Change (UNFCCC) 15th Conference of Parties (COP 15) to draw
the way forward on tackling climate change and its associated impacts.
Issues tackled included land use, changes in land use, forestry and
rising global temperatures, all manifestations of man made
concoctions. Malawi’s president, Bingu wa Mutharika, did not make it
to the high level meeting as he wanted to serve the country’s drying
foreign currency reserves. Energy, Natural Resources and Environmental
Minister Grain Malunga wore his shoes.
However, Mutharika was home talking about climate change. He went to
Chiradzulu and planted two trees when the country launched the
National Forestry Season on December 15, 2009.
He remembered his good ole days, when the rains honoured their
Southern region promises early November, keeping those (promises) for
the Central and Northern region for somewhere between late November
and early December, respectively. Always, before the word ‘excuse’
crept into the language of the rains.
“The story is different now. We have prolonged dry spells, which have
already started affecting districts like Chiradzulu. These are the
effects of climate change,” said Mutharika.
Mutharika felt so sorry that, as the children of ‘ancient’ Chiradzulu
and Thyolo used to run and bathe in the rains on days like December
15, there was nothing but the sun and a dry spell for children of
modern-day Chiradzulu and Thyolo!
Sentiments echoed by Natural Resources, Energy and Environment
Principal Secretary, Dr. Denis Kayambazinthu. He bemoaned that
climate change was fast becoming part of the warm-heartedness that is
“The country has experienced a number of adverse effects of climate
change. The most serious have been dry spells, seasonal droughts,
intense rainfall, river line floods, flush floods and unpredictable
rainfall patterns,” said Kayambazinthu.
The scary part of it, he said, is that these are impacting negatively
on food security, water quality, energy and sustainable rural
communities’ livelihoods.
Malawi is at a crossroads. Some of the events attributed to climate
change include the severe drought conditions of the 1991/92
agriculture season and extreme flood events in 2000/01.
An Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change report reveals that
Malawians cut an average 70, 000 trees each year and that, while more
trees are planted during the National Forestry Season, only 60 per
cent survive.
While climate change and global warming are global phenomena, a US
National Environmental Trust report indicates that Malawi is paying an
exorbitant price for the activities of rich nations such as USA,
China, and Britain. The report says Malawi emits less than a quarter
of a million metric tones of carbon equivalent a year, as compared to
over 1,500 million tones emitted by the USA in 2002 alone.
Yet, this is no time for finger pointing, enthuses Elina Mkululanga-
Head of Public Weather Services in the Department of Climate Change
and Meteorological Services at the Meteorological Services Department.
“We are really seeing the effects of climate change, but this is no
time for finger-pointing It’s time to bear responsibility and act,”
says Mkululanga.

1 comment:

Border Jumpers said...

Just thought you might be interested in a piece I wrote from Lilongwe, Malawi, for the Wausau Daily Herald called "Husband and his wife are helping an African nation farm it’s was out of poverty." I am blogging everyday from Africa and writing for the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet blog at Please feel free to cross-post on your site. All the best, Danielle Nierenberg

Here is the piece:

Stacia and Kristof Nordin have an unusual backyard, and it looks a lot different from the Edgar yard in which Kristof grew up.
Rather than the typical bare dirt patch of land that most Malawians sweep “clean” every day, the Nordins have more than 200 varieties of mostly indigenous vegetables growing organically around their house. They came to Malawi in 1997 as Peace Corps volunteers, but now call Malawi home. Stacia is a technical adviser to the Malawi Ministry of Education, working to sensitize both policymakers and citizens about the importance of using indigenous foods and permaculture to improve livelihoods and nutrition. Kristof is a community educator who works to train people at all levels of Malawian society in low-input and sustainable agricultural practices.

The Nordins use their home as a demonstration plot for permaculture methods that incorporate composting, water harvesting, intercropping and other methods that help build organic matter in soils, conserve water, and protect agricultural diversity. Most Malawians think of traditional foods, such as amaranth and African eggplant, as poor-people foods grown by “bad” farmers. But these crops might hold the key for solving hunger, malnutrition and poverty in Malawi — as well as in other African countries.
Nowhere needs the help more than Malawi, a nation of 14 million in southeast Africa that is among the least developed and most densely populated on Earth.

The country might be best known for the so-called “Malawi Miracle.” Five years ago, the government decided to do something controversial and provide fertilizer subsidies to farmers to grow maize. Since then, maize production has tripled and Malawi has been touted as an agricultural success story.

But the way they are refining that corn, says Kristof, makes it “kind of like Wonder Bread,” leaving it with just two or three nutrients. Traditional varieties of corn, which aren’t usually so highly processed, are more nutritious and don’t require as much artificial fertilizer as do hybrid varieties.

“Forty-eight percent of the country’s children are still nutritionally stunted, even with the so-called miracle,” Kristof says.
Rather than focusing on just planting maize — a crop that is not native to Africa — the Nordins advise farmers with whom they work that there is “no miracle plant — just plant them all.” Research has shown that Malawi has more than 600 indigenous and naturalized food plants to choose from. Maize, ironically, is one of the least suited to this region because it’s highly susceptible to pests, disease and erratic rainfall patterns.

Unfortunately, the “fixation on just one crop,” says Kristof, means that traditional varieties of foods are going extinct — crops that already are adapted to drought and heat, traits that become especially important as agriculture copes with climate change...

Go to to read the rest of the piece!