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The future of food security and climate change in Malawi

Scenarios, outlooks and challenges in the next 30 years

There are two categories of driving forces namely “certainties” and “uncertainties” that shape plausible scenarios. Certainties are drivers that can be reasonably predicted and one can, with a certain level of ease, point out how they might play out in the future. They are the ‘given’ and they form the rules of the game and used to enrich the story lines or plots. Key uncertainties are the literally that – the driving forces that are uncertain. They can include the so-called ‘known unknowns’, risks, possible trend breaks and wild cards. It is their impact and lack of knowledge about them that are the vital for developing a better understanding of how the future might unfold.  

During the workshop, certain factors were identified in increased population growth, greater climate change impacts (i.e. natural scarcity, deforestation, land degradation, etc), lower contribution of agriculture to national GDP, urbanization and inadequate energy sector. On the other hand, issues related to governance and Issues related to the structure and nature of the economy were identified as key uncertainties, and featured as key drivers of four possible scenarios:    

1. The Mkaka Ndi Uchi scenario

Mkaka Ndi Uchi is a Chichewa word meaning “a land of milk and honey”. This is the possible future of a Malawi where politicians are altruistic and take decisions for the greater good, especially keeping in mind the poor, where the economy is growing and diversified and where public finance management has made the system more transparent and efficient. In this scenario safety nets have replaced consumption subsidies and women and youth are actively participating in the labour market. Economic and environmental concerns are taken into account in policy decisions, although natural resource exploitation is still a challenge. 

2. The Mbombo scenario 

Mbombo is a Chichewa word meaning “greedy”. This is the future of a Malawi where politicians are in it for themselves (and their handful of supporters), yet the economy is growing and diversified. The economy is mainly driven by foreign companies, which invest in the country and provide jobs for the young people but due to weak policies and their implementation, pose a serious threat on natural resources and the environment.  

3. The Wotsalira scenario

Wotsalira is a Chichewa word meaning “backward” or “not progressive”. Is the future of a Malawi where politicians are in it for themselves (and their handful of supporters) and the economy is stagnant and one-dimensional – not having different, diverse sectors. In this scenario corruption is diffused at all levels, the demand for energy is high and overexploitation of natural resources results in loss of biodiversity and threatens food security. 

4. The Wokankha scenario

Wokankha is a Chichewa word meaning “struggling”. This is the future of a Malawi where politicians are altruistic and take decisions for the greater good, especially keeping in mind the poor. Land reform policies are formulated to address land fragmentation and climate change policies are put in place and implemented in the context of the National Agricultural Strategy but without the necessary investments needed to support them. Consequently, despite the good will, the economy is stagnant and one-dimensional, food insecurity is high as well as unemployment rates. 


  1. What do you think are the main drivers of and obstacles to development for Malawi in the next 30 years?

  2. Keeping in mind that each scenario represents an extreme future, how plausible do you think the scenarios for Malawi are? What would you like to add/change in each scenario to make it more plausible from your perspective?

  3. What solutions would support the drivers of the best scenario and help overcome obstacles encountered on the way? How about overcoming the challenges of the worst scenarios? 

  4. What are the key first steps needed to get a change process in motion, and who needs to be involved?

To see the complete scenarios for Malawi click here.

This discussion is now closed. Please contact for any further information.

Ms. Solange Heise FAO, Niger

As far as I am concerned the scenario which suits to Malawi is number 4. I worked for 2 years (2011-2013) in this beautiful country and I was not in Lilongwe but in the country side where I could see the reality of the vulnerable population.  These last years, several decisions were taken and policies were elaborated to improve the condition of the population.  However the lack of capacity to take these policies into actions is a burden in the development of Malawi. In fact, we all know that Malawi is affected by HIV AIDS which reduced its capacity. The population is now  very young and needs to builds itself again to gain experience. Therefore, the main driver to develop Malawi will be the young generation. This part of the population needs to be educated and given a chance to play a key role in the development of the country. Capacity building will be very important! Obstacles will be of course corruption , instability due to political argument  and accountability.

To reach the Nkaka Ndi Uchi scenario  a lot of work  and advocacy need to be done at the highest level as well as at the district levels. Better education and health care for the rural population as well as good roads need to part of the plan. Lessons learnt and successes from projects in some area in the country should be disseminated widely to other district. Although the population is very poor,  I've seen that with a little bit of awareness on the issues and a good will  changes could  be done for few moments. It is still difficult for the population to be self reliant by they could be! Multisectoral approaches are very important to fight poverty and the different partners have understood that and working in that sense. Using local resources, building capacity and having a good M&E system can help too. Malawi has the capacity to eradicate hunger , food insecurity and malnutrition and the population has to believe in it , to work and fight for it instead of waiting for the politicians who are just trying to save their pockets. The donors will continue supporting the development of this country if it becomes more accountable. In that case the policies won't be drafts anymore!  and I think progress have been made for that these last years.

Key words : Accountability, Capacity building, Local resources, Youth, Gender, Self reliance, Policies becoming actions...

Thank you

Dr. Robin Bourgeois Executive Secretariat of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research, ...

Maybe it would be also useful to dig deeper into the the "raison d'être" of the future states chosen for these two major uncertainties (politics and economy). What makes politics be for the selfish few and be for the greater good? What are the drivers of a stagnant economy and the drivers of a growing diversified economy? Are these two uncertainties really independant? I don't know Malawi, but it seems very likely that there are some connections between these uncertainties. In particular a growing and diversified economy would not be very compatible with politics for selfish few as the selfish few would ensure  capturing most of the growth benefits by making growth not diversified and concentrating their power on it. The politics for the selfish few would go much more consistently with a different state of growth which would be a growing non diversified economy. But this scenario is not offered here,  while probably as plausible and challenging as the others. Similarly considering that investing for the "greater good" can be associated with a stagnant mono dimension economy raises consistency and ideology questions. In terms of consistency, to what extent could a stagnant and mono dimensional economy be logically associated with progressive policies? Then, on ideology, it goes against the global discourse on governance and growth and all the work done in the recent past to show that good governance is a key driver of growth.

Some food for thought, thus...

Ms. Susan Nyirenda Physical Planning Dept,Box 30385, Lilongwe, Malawi

What I meant by utilising the idle young adults to participate in development is that we can borrow the concept of the Young Pioneers Bases during the one party rule, the system had its positive contributions. There are some of these Bases which have been abundoned and some have been turned into Refugee Camps, if they could be revamped into Effective Agricultural and Technical Training Centres, we won't be running short of foods in Hospitals, Government Boarding Institutions as it were in those days though there is an increase in annual intakes. We used to have good diets really especially in high academic institutions. I feel these were contributing alot towards food security and surplus yields were stored in government shelters to be distributed to ADMARC depots for people to buy at a fair and affordable price, some surplus yields could be exported to other countries in need hence strengthening our currency. The young adults had double benefits i.e. acquisition of skills and self employment when they go back to there home villages hence contributing to the socio-economic development of the nation as whole.

All in all, for this to be well implemented and be effective, there is need for a strong political will and proper decision-making by the experties in the different economic circles. Sustainable natural resources conservation, where we are also involved much as physical planners, how we use and locate our land and the resources available is greatly desired. We can have good plans on the paper but usually implement something different out of the planned development strategy. It is really sad that things go this way. 


Ms. Susan Nyirenda Physical Planning Dept,Box 30385, Lilongwe, Malawi

(1) The summary of the four scenarios is really an eye opener, the drivers are to encourage using the readily available local resources to the production of our foods i.e. farm inputs like manure, local technology with little supervision in food production, sustainable natural resources conservation by involving the communities themselves and utilising the idle young adults who cannot get any  employment opportunities due to their low literacy level.

Dr. Vervoort Joost University of Oxford, United Kingdom

These scenarios highlight the need for strategic thinking on economic development in a broad sense. Each of the three more problematic scenarios emphasize this need, each in a different fashion, highlighting problems around growing inequality and outside investment that perhaps will only benefit a few, or problems around economic activities that keep the country back. The Wotsalira scenario offers the most challenging future because there is no leverage point for action unlike in the other two "negative" scenarios. Where do you begin? Perhaps civil society (if organizations can be found that are not crippled by corruption) offers a way toward improvement, together with international support?