Lilongwe/London (30 November 2022) Elements in Malawi’s plans to adapt to global warming put the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in the country at risk. By involving affected farmers and other vulnerable communities in shaping the country’s climate plans, Malawi’s government can, however, propel a fair climate transition that leaves no one behind, new research finds.

One of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world, Malawi has seen extensive flooding and irregular rains that already affect the country’s agricultural sector. The sector contributes a share of 30% to the national income. 

Malawi’s government plans to scale up agricultural mechanisation to reduce climate vulnerability. However, new research suggests this adaptation programme could leave smallholder farmers behind, if it is not implemented with a focus on justice and inclusion. The report on just transitions in Malawi, prepared by Malawi’s Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy and Climate Strategies, found that Malawi’s national climate plans emphasise industrialisation, especially in agriculture. 

Plans such as increased access to insurance, small-scale irrigation, and community-led seed banks, may increase resilience to climate change among smallholder farmers. On the other hand, increased mechanisation risks depriving workers of their livelihoods, and new commercial farms may outcompete smallholders, many of whom are women. The report finds that taking a just transition approach to adaptation policies can lower risks to marginalised groups, support affected communities in the transition to a low-carbon and resilient economy. 

Commercial efforts to rapidly scale up agricultural production could also result in further land degradation. Malawi 2063, the country’s long-term development plan, seeks to increase the area with commercial agriculture to 40% of the territory in 2030 and 80% in 2063. While this drive could reduce food insecurity, it will need to be carefully managed to ensure that the benefits are not captured by large scale producers and enable a just transition for all. 

By engaging in dialogue with smallholder farmers, decision-makers in Malawi can ensure that the transition to an efficient and resilient agricultural system maximises benefits for marginalised people. The report identifies a similar dynamic in the forestry sector, where efforts to reduce illegal deforestation require careful and cooperative planning, given that 75% of the urban population relies on charcoal for energy. 

Existing policies recognise the need to create new livelihoods and energy sources for those who currently rely on forests, but on-the-ground programmes have so far failed to materialise. International funding is key to ensuring that vulnerable countries like Malawi can cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts in a just and inclusive manner. 

Herbert Mwalukomo, CEPA’s Research Lead, noted that “Some of Malawi’s climate policies already include concepts that resonate with a just transition approach. However, we could be more intentional about including communities in transition planning, to ensure that Malawi’s development and environmental strategies reduce inequality, while also reducing vulnerability and emissions.” 

The report, launched today, is one in a series of research reports due to be published under Climate Strategies’ South to South Just Transitions initiative, which explores the unique challenges and opportunities of transitions in countries in the Global South. Climate Strategies previously published a similar report on Just Transitions in Kenya, which highlights the challenges and opportunities of a just transition in Kenya’s agricultural, tourism, transport, energy, forestry and waste sectors. 

Notes to the editor:

About South to South Just Transitions

Led by Climate Strategies, this multi-year project brings together research institutions across nine countries in the Global South, in a novel approach to developing alternative, and context-specific just transition strategies. Partners include: Dala Institute  (Indonesia), Fedesarollo (Colombia), the University of Ghana, the University of Liberal Arts (Bangladesh), EfD Kenya, CEPA (Malawi), Hanoi University of Science and Technology (Vietnam), National University of Laos and Sociedad y Naturaleza (Argentina). Find out more.

About Climate Strategies

Climate Strategies works at the science-policy interface, advancing climate policy through meaningful interactions between decision-makers and researchers across Europe and internationally. We are an international, not-for-profit research network with an expansive network of world-leading researchers as members. Find out more at