Climate-smart agriculture and rural livelihoods: the case of the dairy sector in Malawi
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Over the last decade climate-smart agriculture (CSA) has been promoted as a new approach to deal with the impacts of climate change on agriculture while simultaneously trying to mitigate emissions and improve food security. This approach suggests that these multiple goals – adaptation, mitigation and food security - could be achieved simultaneously by adopting specific technologies. At its core, CSA describes agricultural interventions that can 1) sustainably increase agricultural productivity, and hence food security and farm incomes; 2) help adapt and build resilience of agricultural systems to climate change; and 3) reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture (including crops, livestock and fisheries). The main focus of CSA is on smallholder producers, many of whom are already marginalized by existing food production systems, their livelihoods increasingly affected by changes in climate. Unsustainable agricultural practices are common amongst these groups. However, there is an increasing awareness of the need to sustain the natural resource base in order to maintain or increase productivity. Malawi is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, with chronic food insecurity affecting large parts of the population, and climate variability increasingly noticeable across the country. Agriculture is practiced predominantly on small holdings, with more than 80% of the population depending on land-based income. In this context, the introduction of climate-smart projects and technologies with the potential to deliver triple wins could improve farmers’ incomes and food security, increase their resilience to climate change impacts, as well as deliver global benefits via climate change mitigation. This dissertation looks at the adoption levels of various, potentially climate-smart agricultural practices by smallholder dairy farmers in Malawi, with the view of establishing the current level of engagement in these practices, and identifying the factors that influence adoption. Results show the importance of the socio-economic and institutional factors in explaining the probability of adopting different agricultural practices. In particular, the findings indicate the importance of well-informed and targeted extension support as one of the major enabling factors for the adoption of improved practices. The findings further show that farmers’ climate change perceptions play a key role in the adoption of climate-smart practices. Overall, the thesis concludes that a number of currently unsustainable dairy farm management practices could be improved upon to achieve double or triple-win benefits within a reasonably short timescale, many of them at low cost. In addition, limited adoption rates of several sustainable practices that are already in place could be improved with the provision of more training, knowledge sharing and extension advice and support on the benefits of these practices. However, the thesis argues that before implementing projects and policies that promise triple wins, a careful evaluation of benefits, including mitigation, adaptation, and food security, and risks must be carried out, as triple wins will not be achievable in many cases due to the local and external constraints including lack of skills and knowledge, and lack of funding. In this respect, whether climate-smart agriculture could become a globally sustainable approach to the climate change problem in agriculture, remains to be seen.