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Summary of FCFA’s research on climate change in Malawi

FCFA’s research in Malawi was carried out by FRACTAL in the city of Blantyre and UMFULA in Lake Malawi and the Shire River Basin. FRACTAL aims to explore the decision-making process in southern African cities, and to support how cities respond to the impact of climate change and the pressures of rapid social, economic, and environmental change. UMFULA aims to improve climate information for medium-term (5-40 year) decision-making in the water-energy-food nexus in central and southern Africa, with a particular focus on Tanzania and Malawi.

  • FRACTAL’s research in Blantyre (led by the Polytechnic University of Malawi) had fewer engagements and activities than other FRACTAL cities, instead it focused on the transferability of relevant climate knowledge and lessons.


  • Climate Risk Narratives were developed through initial socio-economic narratives which were co-produced with stakeholders living and working in Blantyre to describe three possible futures for the city. Climate science was woven into these narratives to surface possible impacts of climate change in Malawi and the city of Blantyre.
  • A think tank workshop, supported through the FCFA Innovation Fund, provided useful initial insight into the values guiding decision-making in the city, which are largely driven by the mandates of different government sectors. Over a period of two days, the think tank held loosely guided conversations with the various relevant stakeholders, which surfaced several drivers of decisions taken in the city.


  • The Blantyre City Council’s decision to research turning waste to energy in order to increase energy supply for the city was used as an exemplar to explore the different values that guide decision-making.
  • UMFULA applied a Decision-Making under Uncertainty approach in Lake Malawi and the Shire River Basin to look at the energy-water-food nexus. The Shire River Basin is a major outflow of Lake Malawi and is a vital source of hydropower, irrigation, and biodiversity.


  • UMFULA, with government stakeholders, co-produced a Water Evaluation and Planning (WEAP) Model to project the range of future lake levels between 2021-2050 for Lake Malawi. Variability in projections underlines the need for robust decision-making in light of uncertainty to make choices that will perform well regardless of future conditions and climate change in Malawi.


  • UMFULA aimed to improving the understanding of the impacts of climate change on tea and sugarcane sectors in Malawi through:
    • Examining the impacts of future climate change in Malawi on crops and livelihoods.
    • Investigating relevant climate metrics and identifying viable adaptation options for tea production in Malawi as part of the joint UMFULA and HyCRISTAL CI4Tea project.
    • Considering equity issues of large scale climate adaptation decisions for smallholder farmers.



While advances in climate research can further the understanding of the drivers of variability and inform assessment of confidence in models, waiting for better model projections is not viable when decisions are being made now on major infrastructure investments with long lifespans.

Instead, to make adaptive decisions that reduce climate risk in Malawi, we can investigate the implications of a range of potential outcomes. This allows decision-makers to determine priorities (which could be minimising losses, or maximising potential gains, for example) while factoring in the uncertainties about future climate projections. 

Development plans being made in Malawi (but also elsewhere in the SADC region) comprise critical trade-offs between major investment decisions in irrigation, hydropower and agricultural intensification and the impacts on ecosystem services in the affected areas, among other considerations.


  • A different approach to develop climate risk narratives is being trialled in Blantyre, Gaborone and Harare: researchers and stakeholders from these cities initially developed a set of narratives of the cities’ socio-economic future, into which researchers integrated climate information.


  • Representatives from Blantyre and Harare also teamed up to explore decision-making around water and climate change in Malawi and the city.
  • Close collaborations with partners in the Shire River Basin allowed co- exploration of adaptation options for robust decision-making.


  • Contributing to national policy processes in Malawi:
    • Made presentations to the National Technical and Steering Committees on Climate Change in Malawi.
    • Provided input to the draft National Resilience Strategy and its implementation plan in Malawi.
    • Provided key findings to members of the National Planning Commission of Malawi.
    • Provided inputs to Malawi’s Third National Communication of Malawi.


  • Partnership with Malawi’s Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services (DCCMS) throughout the project, including during project planning processes, which led to the co-production of country climate projections.