This paper explores climate change – agriculture debates in Malawi in view of the increasing interest and funding pledges for the agricultural sector in a changing climate. While there is increasing evidence of how climate change may affect Malawian agricultural systems, and a growing body of literature on possible response strategies, less is known about how priorities are made, by whom and with what outcomes. This matters because climate-related funding can be a major factor for how the agricultural sector develops, in Malawi as in other countries across Africa.
This paper is the first of its kind to analyse policy discussions on climate change and agriculture in the country. The primary focus is the national level, but some of the implications of national debates at sub-national levels, and the questions they raise, are also discussed. The paper shows how the climate change-agriculture debate at national levels is largely framed as an issue of managing the additional risks on agricultural production systems. The two dominant narratives in Malawi centre on, first, the need to make agriculture robust in the face of climate change, and second, to consider agriculture as part of a broader development focus. Implications of these narratives are discussed in the case of four strategies, namely conservation agriculture, droughtresistant varieties, agroforestry, and index-based weather insurance.
The paper argues that key factors to understand policy processes and their outcomes in Malawi include the struggle for leadership and coordination among key government actors, the government’s attachment to the subsidy programme, and donors’ strong influence on the policy agenda as well as actual strategies. The paper shows that current debates create a situation with incoherent policy responses, reducing the likelihood of achieving policy goals for either agricultural development or climate change. Important challenges thus remain in integration of policy goals across the two areas that work in synergy rather than undermine each other.