Lake Malawi, the third largest lake in Africa, has seen its water levels drop by nearly three metres in the past 30 years. Driven by population growth, climate change and deforestation, this has resulted in a 90 per cent drop in fish stocks, a devastating situation as fish from the lake account for 60 per cent of all protein consumed by the citizens of Malawi(1). The situation is perilous for those families whose livelihoods depend on fishing. Steven Banda’s family is one such family. Steven currently works in agriculture, but his family background is in fishing. It was watching this situation unfold, and the impact it was having on his family and community, that spurred Steven to join the National Adaptation Plans Building Climate Resilience in Agriculture massive open online course (the NAP MOOC) in November 2017. As Steven explains, the fish breed in shallow water, so if water levels drop, this severely limits the breeding areas for the fish. He had to think, if this situation continues, what will life look like in five- or ten-years’ time? It was clear to him that these resources must be conserved, so they can be of use in the future. Through reading and involvement in a number of related projects, he found out about the NAP MOOC. He saw this as an opportunity to gain some knowledge, so he could do his part to conserve, that “other people can enjoy the food that is being supplied by Lake Malawi.”
Since taking the course, Steven has put into practice what he has learned, while tailoring it to the specific situation in Malawi. There have been two practical impacts in Steven’s behaviour, as well as attitude changes since he participated in the training.
Steven currently works in the agriculture production sector, working with many different producers in both Malawi and Mozambique. Since the training he has focused on the supply of organic crops. As he says, this is important to “sustain the soil and produce crops with friendly practices.” This is something that those on the ground working on the farms innately understand. He has been sharing the knowledge and skills he learned in the training with farmers he works with, who then spread the word to others. He says this cooperative approach, of sharing knowledge with his peers, has been very effective.
Steven’s organization has instituted two strategy changes since he took the training, something that is a core part of the NAP process, and a longer-term impact. The first strategy change is with regard to afforestation. The two crops Steven’s organization primarily produced in 2017 and 2018 are garlic and ginger. To make room for these crops, many trees were removed. As a result, nutrients have been lost from the soil meaning fertiliser and other chemicals have been required in the production process. Since taking the training, Steven has been part of an initiative to ensure that each individual in his organization plants at least ten Msangu trees, native to the region. These trees preserve and restore the nutrients to the soil and remove the need for fertiliser. This type of agroforestry, for which there is much scientific evidence in support(2), has been a practice on smallholder farms in Malawi for a long time, and the training inspired Steven to bring it back and institute it as a strategy change in his organisation. A linked cultural practice that has been reintroduced by Steven, which is the second strategy change, is regarding the use of pesticides. Using the Neem leaf, a local leaf which is powdered, soaked for a day and then sprayed on crops, it is possible to forgo the use of pesticides entirely. The use of pesticides and other chemicals in food production in his organization has thus dropped considerably. These are traditional techniques, which had fallen out of use, and are examples of the best the NAP has to offer; empowering local people to use knowledge specific and localised to their community and country, to tackle the global problem of climate change.
Steven is passionate about the role that youth can and must play in any climate adaptation plan. He says that unfortunately, many youths working in the agricultural sector are using harmful practices, as their financial situation forces them to. This is why he says it is so important to engage the youth in sustainability and ensure that doing so makes financial sense. This will allow youth to benefit from climate change adaptation, and to be integrally involved, bringing new ideas and approaches that older generations have not considered. As Steven says, “the leaders of tomorrow are the youth” of today.
When asked about the role the course has played in these changes, Steven said the course came along at exactly the right time. Just as he was wanting to be more involved and active in tackling climate change, he found out about the course. The course gave him the confidence and understanding to integrate the knowledge and skills, some new and some old, into his work and that of his organization. He says the fact that the strategic changes mentioned above have been embraced in his organization is primarily down to the attitudes towards innovation, in the organization and in the country. People recognise how bad the situation has become and understand how bad it will be in the future. As Steven says, “if the environment is being destroyed because I am keeping quiet, then I am the one destroying it.” This recognition spurs the openness to innovation informed by the course, and when he has conversations with colleagues and others working in agriculture and in the timber industry, they too recognise this importance. It is hard to measure the impact these conversations have, but they are undoubtedly fulfilling the objective of the course to spread knowledge and understanding about climate change issues in agriculture, resulting in a multiplier effect that is vital for meaningful impact.
“if the environment is being destroyed because I am keeping quiet, then I am the one destroying it.”
 Tree planting by smallholder farmers in Malawi: Using the theory of planned behaviour to examine the relationship between attitudes and behaviour, Seline S.Meijer, Delia Catacutan, Gudeta W.Sileshid, Maarten Nieuwenhuis. Journal of Environmental Psychology Volume 43, September 2015, Pages 1-12