Why do smallholder farmers insist on living in flood prone areas? Understanding self-perceived vulnerability and dynamics of local adaptation in Malawi
Chawawa, Nancy Elsie
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The Government of Malawi, through delegates from the Department of Disaster Management Affairs, has on several occasions advised smallholder farmers who live in flood prone areas to relocate to upland areas that are safe from floods. Smallholder farmers have refused to do so and continue to live in the flood prone areas despite experiencing on-going flooding. Smallholder farmers living in flood prone areas in Malawi insist that flash floods bring fertile soils from upland areas that enhance crop production in the flood prone areas. These fertile soils allow smallholder farmers to grow a variety of crops, fruits and vegetables throughout the year, some of which they sell. Within this context, my research critically explores how smallholder farmers perceive their vulnerability to floods and seeks to understand the factors and processes that motivate them to live in the flood prone areas. It also examines the realities and dynamics of local adaptation in the flood prone areas in Malawi through opportunities, challenges, barriers and limitations. The research uses 57 in-depth interviews, a household survey involving 227 households, participant observations and 12 focus group discussions with smallholder farmers. Findings show that firstly, smallholder farmers are not ready to abandon their land and relocate upland because floods are part of their lives and livelihood strategies. Secondly, that power dynamics at household and community levels based on gender roles and culture need to be understood and accounted for in local adaptation strategies in order to effectively enhance local adaptive capacity. Thirdly, that social networks and interdependence between the smallholder farmers living in flood prone areas and those living in upland areas play a significant role in the adoption of local adaptation strategies and adaptation to floods and droughts through temporary migration. This thesis reveals that the perception and extent of vulnerability to floods is dynamic and differentiated based on several factors. The thesis also reveals that local adaption is a complex process such that in some cases, the realities of power dynamics at both the household and community level affects local adaptive capacity to floods. Transformational adaptation that incorporates specific and contextual adaptation strategies is therefore recommended as one of the best approaches towards achieving successful adaptation to climate variability and resilience.