This study taking the 2002 food crisis in Malawi as its context and using evidence up to 2001: reassesses the economic consequences in Malawi and Southern Africa more generally of climatic variability in the light of experience such as the El Niño event in 1997/98; and takes stock of the current capacity of climatic forecasting and progress in research to review the range of potentially useful outcomes; and the institutional capacity and financing issues which arise if effective use is to be made of strengthened forecasting ability.
Malawi is a small, land-locked country in Southern Africa, with an estimated population in 2000 of 10.8 million. It is one of the poorest countries in Africa with around 65% of the population below the national poverty line and 28% in extreme poverty. Health and social indicators are also among the lowest in Africa.
Infant mortality in 2000 was 134 per 1000, compared with an average of 92 for sub-Saharan Africa, and average life expectancy (now 37 at birth) is declining as a result of HIV/AIDS, which in 1999 affected 16% of the adult population and 31% of women in ante-natal care. Adult literacy is under 60% and only 78% of children attend school. Agriculture accounted for some 40% of GDP in 2000 and its share of GDP has been increasing since the early 1990s with industrial stagnation and contraction of the public service sector.
Some 89% of the economically active population is classified as rural. Malawi is heavily dependent on maize, which is the main food staple and in a normal year probably accounts for about three quarters of calorie consumption for Malawi’s population. Export earnings are dominated by tobacco (61%), tea (9%) and sugar (8%). This dependence on rain fed crops makes Malawi very vulnerable to variations in rainfall as well as commodity price shocks.