Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)


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.

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Santosh Kumar Mishra

Population Education Resource Centre, Department of Lifelong Learning and Extension (Previously known as: Department of Continuing and Adult Education and Extension Work), S. N. D. T. Women's University, Mumbai (Retired: on June 30, 2020)

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

  1. Drivers of development: There are three priority areas. Firstly, there need to address the poverty and inequality facing large parts of the population. Secondly, the Malawi government needs to support economic growth and wealth creation to turn the economy around and sustainably help people out of poverty. Thirdly, what is needed is good governance that will actively promote an open society.
  2. Obstacles to development: The poor are vulnerable to a host of shocks and hazards. These include droughts that come in cycles of three to five years, yearly floods and storms, and man-made hazards such as economic shocks, and HIV and AIDS. Malawi's dependence on natural resources and rain-fed agriculture makes the country particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

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? 

  • Malawi: Main factors contributing to food insecurity include low crop production as a result of earlier dry spells, floods, and input shortages. Secondary factors include low food stocks and unstable maize supply.

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? (common to the 3 countries)

Feeding the world in an equitable and sustainable manner must involve food production and the food system assuming a much higher priority in political agendas across the world. Shaping the debate around issues like jobs, economic development and public health rather than about “joint sacrifice” would be most effective. Government departments around the world should consider moving responsibility for water, food and energy into one department to improve effectiveness.

What are the key first steps needed to get a change process in motion, and who needs to be involved?(common to the 3 countries)

There is a growing sense of urgency in establishing an effective and democratic agricultural system, which has in turn slowly given way to the emergence of various social movements and initiatives (such as the IPC) that highlight the importance of creating self-reliant local food systems. Food sovereignty is widely recognized as the right of all individuals to define their own agricultural policies, policies that are socially and economically appropriate in ensuring people’s physical and emotional well-being. This includes the right to food and the right to produce the food that’s necessary to sustain a society. For food security to be existent, it is paramount to ensure physical and economic access to a variety of food products that meet the dietary needs for a healthy living. There is need:

  1. to ensure adequate food supplies both at the national and local level,
  2. to create a reasonable degree of stability in the supply food network, and
  3. to ensure the ability of households to physically and economically access the food that is required.

Despite having good national development visions, goals and strategies on paper, Malawi will remain under developed if there is no behavior change at all level: decision makers, politicians, programme planners and implementers, and grass root. It is high time, the country needs to be result oriented, make decisions based on sound economic and/or technical analyses rather than political directives/desires. It amazes me to find very good development plans failing to materialize due to change of political parties ruling the country. It also amazes me to see some projects being implemented based on political desires (gaining political mileage) rather than economic analyses.


Yes, resources will never be adequate considering that new issues/needs are always emerging. However, efficient utilization of resources at all levels can bring a positive change. It is high time, we need to be patriotic. It’s only if we dearly love our country when we can translate the well crafted visions, goals and strategies into a reality, and consequently transform the country from the Kutsalira scenario to the Mkaka ndi Uchi scenario which is the desired state. 

It has been very interesting to read all the inputs and comments received so far, in addition to the outputs of the first scenario building workshop.

Common issues raised are importance of education and more effective and transparent intuitional and implementation mechanisms. Depletion of natural resources as well as the impact of climate change on agriculture, the main sector of the country’s economy, have also been raised by many contributors.

Many are also concerned about population growth as well as of the impact of HIV/AIDS and the consequent need to support the youth and the many female headed households left behind. Investing in education, including climate smart agriculture related education, would thus need to take these aspects into account and should certainly be included in the investment proposal.

One interesting question I have is more related to issues raised on the importance of market and effective value chain for agriculture. Many contributions have indeed raised that agriculture in Malawi needs to be more market oriented agricultural and to diversify into different crops. On that specific issue Prof. Moya explicitly suggested investing in preserving or promoting sorghum production and goat herds. It would be interesting to hear some more opinions with regard to what could be done, in practice, to have a more effective agricultural system and a diversified system more market oriented but also more resilient to climate change.

I would also be very interested to hear more about what are the first steps needed to get a change process in motion? What are the practical steps suggested to have more effective system and solutions? Investing in education, including of extension agents is a clear requirement, but what are the most effective ways of involving rural poor, women and young people as pointed out by most of the contributors?

General comments

Reading these inputs in addition to the outputs from the first scenario workshop is really quite illuminating and helpful in getting the big picture of the problems and challenges facing each of the three countries. 

One of our biggest concerns in the EPIC team is developing climate smart agricultural investment plans that can generate effective and needed change in each country.  To do that we are focussing on identifying key “delivery mechanisms” that need to be supported- and this dialogue is very relevant to identifying what those might look like.   For example, I’ve been struck by comments for all three countries about the importance of educating and engaging young people as a key means of strengthening current and future capacity to effect change.  Likewise, the importance of addressing and reversing natural resource degradation and depletion has come up in the dialogue for all three countries – although here it is less clear what actions are likely to be feasible and effective.  We also see that in all three countries there is considerable concern about increasing the effectiveness of institutions to support change – but there are considerable differences in what might be the best solution here.

Comments on Malawi

For Malawi, a very strong emphasis on youth education, addressing health issues and lack of capacity to implement good policies emerges from the comments.    There was also a call for advocacy and education around climate change issues at both national and local levels. The idea of setting up local level training centres built upon the Young Pioneers program I thought very interesting and I would like to explore that idea more. In thinking through  how best to support implementation capacity in Malawi it is not clear to me how much emphasis should be given to civil society (e.g. using NGOs as the main implementing agents) versus building up government capacity to operate at local levels (e.g. providing support for local level government extension/training/input supply).  This is a question I think we need to explore further.

A final issue arising from the responses to the dialogue for building the country CSA investment proposals is the importance of considering that there can be alternative futures in each country and that will have a big impact on the effectiveness of the CSA work.   The question is then to structure the CSA investments so it can be effective under very different futures in the country – but that of course is very tricky!  One thing I think likely to be effective under any plausible future is strong emphasis on youth education and training and so this should be given some emphasis in the proposals.  In Malawi it is also clear that health and nutrition issues are likely to be important under any future scenario.   Improving market governance and positive participation of the private sector seems a key issue in all countries as well, but of course this is more difficult to address through the channel of a CSA investment proposal.   However, while I think we have to be realistic about the role the CSA work and investment proposals can actually play in having a positive impact on larger issues of national development, we do need to think very carefully about the leverage the project and investments could have in promoting desirable future scenarios and be creative in building implementation structures that actually contribute to larger public goods such as effective market governance.  Having more specific feedback on how to do that in Malawi would be most useful as we move ahead in the CSA project.

Sophie Mahonya


In my opinion, there are a lot of obstacles to development in Malawi such as population growth, high poverty levels, reliance on rain fed agriculture/production which is currently facing challenges due to climate variability such as unpredictable onset of rains (erratic rainfall) floods, and prolonged dry spells. Furthermore, population growth will pose a challenge because economic growth, food security achievements will be compromised and as a country we will fail to meet the requirements due to pressure on limited resource base. To deal with poverty governance issues should be addressed because without good governance economic growth can not be achieved. Additionally, there are quite a number of challenges in the agriculture sector which is the pillar for Malawi's economy, the smallholder dominated agriculture is experiencing inadequate agricultural extension services, though some of the farmers benefit from the subsidy programme, there is more to be done to make it more efficient.

As a country we should move from handouts to economic empowerment of the vulnerable groups, women, youths so that they have established ways of getting out of poverty. Government policies should be tailor made to address these issues. With the current scenario we will not move forward as a country. However a paradigm shift would help to change things, those on the driving seat should move away form the business as usual scenario to change to Wotsalira to Wokankha and finally Mkakandiuchi.

The Government should seriously consider doing more to promote the management of the environment and natural resources which are forming part of the already fragile ecosystems so that the services offered by these systems are sustainable for maintenance of human well - being.

Esteemed Colleagues,

My personal view is that so far since independence, the largely agrarian economy of Malawi has oscillated in circles within the "Wotsalira" scenario, and to quote Emma Gausi's posting, will likely remain so over the next 50 years if past and present lessons do not inform the future.

It amazes me when I peep into the mixed bag of instruments the country has (legislation, policies, strategies, institutions, seemless human and natural resources) that should transorm the country towards the "Mkaka ndi Uchi" scenario. For strange reasons, we have nearly always gravitated towards the "Mbombo" as only the lives of the people who govern improve and not the governed. All the three past presidents have left office via democratic political processes or other causes filthy rich while the governed are left poorer. The present leadership does not even have the courage to declare its assets giving space to further dubious amassing of wealth spiced by cashgate, jetgate, mortuarygate, cowgate, maize distributiongate (continued distribution of relief maize at the time people are harvest maize from their own gardens) and other scandals.

And the governed - increasingly vulnerable, exacerbated by the ravages of the negative impacts of climate change. In 2012/2013, the country's flagship programme for the ultra-vulnerable, the corruption-riddled Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) targeted 1.6 million beneficiaries. A vulnerability assessment towards the end of 2013 assessed 2 million Malawians as starving (FISP beneficiaries included).

A new and revolutionary approach is require to replace the present business-as-usual approach. First and foremost, we must replace the present pseudo-political will, review and reform institutions policies, laws and development strategies, set priorities upright (not upside-down as it is today), promote nation-wide sustainable land and water management, replace biomass energy with efficient and renewable sources, and transform peasant and subsistent agriculture to commercial and value-chain based agriculture, develop efficient markets. This will only be the first step from "Wotsalira" to "Mkaka ndi Uchi" highway.


Manuel Moya

International Pediatric Association. TAG on Nutrition

Dear Sir or Dear Madam,

Here are my opinions and responses to the four questions. Really is to  the 3rd question where pediatric nutrition could be more related and has a scientific base. If any additional information may be of interest, please do not hesitate contacting me.

1st Q. 

R: The main drivers are heavily influenced by politicians' will. Education and decreasing corrupts chain's impunity can be achieved by applying the constitution directives at all administrative levels. The obstacles are the chronicity of the situation, the current level of welfare, subsidies, lack of health efficacy over the whole country and food insecurity. 

2nd Q.

R: The scenarios for Malawi represent quite accurately the present situation. The actions should be timed and priorized in order to gain efficacy. Perhaps the judicial branch should be the first to clean up (2nd and 4th scenarios).

3rd Q.

R: On behalf of the International Pediatric Association and as Chair of its Technical Advisory Group on Nutrition, I consider food security paramount and by extension the influence exerted over it by climate change. In order to improve the nutritional status of children in Malawi, the crops of sorghum grain should be preserved or even promoted. The reasonable content of protein (not in lysine) of these crops and their resilience to climate threats would justify this action. Another point that should be taken into account is to maintain or even increase the goat herds. By mixing the sorghum flour and the goat's milk (~3 L/day/animal)  the DRIs requirements for lysine will be met. If nutrition improves so do infectious diseases issues. More technical data can be provided if necessary.

Furthermore IPA has contacts with the Malawi Pediatric Association and also with the Mzuzu University (HIRS center) so a plan for health providers education, as it is currently in place in some other countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, could be considered

4th Q

R:  First step: if agriculture will continue to be the main basis for economy, transparency in its management and pertinent directions should be a priority, followed by transparency in politics and Education quality and development. Once these steps are ongoing the adaptation to climate change and health improvement should become easier

Manuel Moya
E Professor and Head
Chair of Technical Adviser Group on Nutrition.  International Pediatric Association(IPA)
Chief Editor of IPA Newsletter
International Pediatric Association Foundation, Board of Directors
Vice President European Pediatric Association
Academician of the Real Academia de Medicina

The four scenarios capture much of the issues relating to underdevelopment in the country. I would like to see Malawi attain the Mkaka ndi Uchi scenario but I feel like the mbombo scenario seems the one more probable to happen in the next 50 years if the country does not change and learn from past experiences. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. There already exist well developed policies and strategies in the country that clearly states most of the problems that have been explained in the scenarios. I think it is important to also look at why most of these policies are not resulting into the necessary transformations.  There is a mix of factors that are affecting the country. These include high corruption levels, little emphasis on developmental investments such as infrastructure, manufacturing and many more. In addition the country also faces a burden arising from effects from HIV/AIDs that cannot be ignored. All these factors need to be tackled if Malawi wants to move towards the Mkaka ndi Uchi scenario.

On drivers of development, Malawi needs to take advantage of the vast youth base that is being underutilized. Also there is need to change emphasis on subsistence agriculture to more commercial agriculture. And Malawi needs to diversify its export base. Tobacco used to be a lucrative crop some years back. There are many other crops let alone other sectors that Malawi can diversify to. There are too many efforts on development by different partners each following their own agendas and rules. Harmonization of development efforts would help the country move towards development.

On key first steps, everyone need to get involved but we need political buy in. We need to fight corruption. Building strong and effective institutions would help the country fight corruption. The country need to invest in education. A graduate a family would be a great idea.

Frank Musa

Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources

The two scenarios (Mbombo and Wokankha) can be the most possible routes for Malawi to move from Wotsalira to Mkaka ndi Uchi. The most likely path that can be anticipated is through Wokankha scenario as mbombo scenario cannot entirely work in Malawi courtesy of donor influence and memories of brutal one party regime in the past. However we can anticipate some elements of Mbombo scenario evidenced by cases of corruption and mismanagement of public funds by politicians, their business cohorts and high ranked government officials.

Evolution of Agricultural and Natural resources policies has proved that previous and current policies primarily focus on short term improvements rather that long term sustainability of agricultural production and food security. Recognition of the need for long term policies with strategic partnership as well as strong political will to transform the nation from Wotsalira scenario to Mkaka ndi Uchi is need most at the moment. These are the major determinants of how and when the nation can get to Mkaka ndi Uchi scenario.

Frank Musa Lilongwe University of Natural Resources and Agriculture (Bunda College) – Malawi

Mr. Chris Manyamba

Institute for Food, Nutrition and Well Being, University of Pretoria
South Africa

I am a concerned Malawian. Despite  the country being donor infested; where civil servants receive meagre salaries, and a majority of rural people food insecure for almost half of the year, I am not sure which scenario is most applicable, maybe 3 with reservations. First of all, realistically, Malawi is one of the poorest nations of the world, with 47% of children stunted (food insecure) (MDHS, 2010).  With 52% of the population, and high martenal mortality rate, and fertility rate (highest in SADC), scenario 1 is very unrealistic. Which brings me to the point of consulting the grassroots, smallholder farmers and the rural poor in such discussions. I am not sure who the respondents who came up with the 4 scenarios were; but there is a tendency of not consulting the rural poor, wo are the culprits of hunger and poverty; look at the 2011 Nutrition strategy-it does not address the needs of the rural poor, women (who constitute over 70% of food production) and the youth (who are shunning agriculture and migrate to South Africa or cities, where they become vulnerable to food insecurity. The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme and the ASWAP; they were constructed by architects who did not include the rural poor, smallholders; and how then do the policies transform the population economically through the 6% GDP growth (CAADP)? To sum my point; Malawi does not need an online consultation like this in order to draw strategies or make a case; it needs a complete overhaul; (politicians will continue to be greedy); donors will continue to prescribe programmes the way they want, smallholder farmers, women and youth will continue to be silent (not by choice) in policy framing and implementation, The result is "success stories of fertiliser subsidies in terms of yields, while the population continues to be food insecure at household level; and increasing GDP when the food basket is shrinking!