Weather forecasts shift climate change impact for women farmers in Malawi

As grey clouds start moving over the fields in Mkanda village in central Malawi, 43-year-old Jennifer Lipungaa inspects her two-acre groundnut farm. Unlike in the past, Lipunga is no longer worried about negative weather impacts affecting her crop, thanks to Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) interventions.

“Two years ago, we planted seeds months before the rains fell, the rains delayed further and the temperature continued to rise, ruining the planted seed. Most of our crop was damaged and we only harvested 21 kg of groundnuts” says Lipunga.

The mother of six could only sell a small amount of groundnuts and struggled to feed and care for her family. “With the change of weather patterns, we needed to know the best time to plant, ” she says.

Agriculture is an important sector for Malawi’s economy, and women contribute between 60 and 80 per cent of the agricultural labour force. Small-scale agriculture in Malawi is mostly rain-fed, making farmers vulnerable to the impacts of weather variability and climate change.

Women farmers are increasing agricultural productivity using techniques learned from UN Women. Photo: UN Women/Bennie Khanyizira

Despite significant contribution to the agriculture sector in Malawi, rural women farmers’ agricultural yields and production remains lower than that of men. Several barriers keep farmers, particularly women and other vulnerable groups, from adopting climate change adaptation strategies like climate smart agriculture reducing their exposure to climate-related risks. Systematic gender differences in agricultural productivity continue to persist, due to women’s limited access to and use of agricultural necessities such as seed, fertilisers, pesticides, and access to markets and credit.

Access to weather forecasts for smallholder farming communities is a big challenge in many parts of the county.

UN Women, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services, provide and disseminate location specific weather forecast in the local language and in a simple format to help farmers determine the onset of planting rains so that they can plant on time.

“With support from Standard Bank, UN Women is working with partners to enhance livelihoods of 10,000 women and their households through increasing women’s agricultural productivity using climate smart agriculture techniques and approaches in the production and marketing of the groundnuts value chain thereby building their resilience to climate change through provision of resources, skills and improved technology,” says Clara Anyangwe, UN Women Representative in Malawi.

Grear Hara, a farmer from northern Malawi follows advice to plant groundnuts early. Photo: UN Women/Bennie Khanyizira.

Through this intervention, women farmers in cooperatives, like Jennifer Lipunga, received accurate and timely information to adopt other climate smart technologies like double-row planting to increase productivity and secure resilient livelihoods. Weather information complemented other Climate Smart Agriculture technologies which helped farmers to plan the acquisition and deployment of inputs and farm level operations better.

“The women producers who are the primary beneficiaries were given weather forecast information from the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services in good time which informed decision on land preparations, mobilising critical inputs like certified seed for planting with the first planting rains as projected by the technical people. Planting with first rains, use of certified seed of improved varieties and planting patterns like double-row planting of groundnuts are some of the important CSA interventions. All these hinge on the farmers ability to access and use weather forecast information,” says Chawezi Banda, an officer at the African Institute of Corporate Citizenship.

Receiving weather information has made a big difference in mitigating negative weather impacts for Lipunga.

“This opportunity of receiving information about the weather has changed my farming practice, I now easily get the information that has helped me harvest bigger crop yields.”

During the last harvest, she earned more that USD 440 after selling her groundnuts enabling her to put a roof on her house and pay her children’s school fees.

“Through this initiative I realised that I too can help other farmers to cope with weather changes. When I receive the forecast, I spread the information to farmers in my community via mobile phone messages or home visits. We are facing this climate change together” Lipunga says.

Originally published on UN Women