Kathleen Mogelgaard on How Malawi Shows the Importance of Considering Population, Food, and Climate TogetherOctober 24, 2012 By Carolyn Lamere
Quantifying the role population plays in food security is “an incredibly powerful piece of information,” said Kathleen Mogelgaard in an interview with ECSP. Malawi is a case in point.
Mogelgaard saw the connections between food, population, and climate change firsthand on a recent trip to the southeast African country, whose population of 15 million is largely dependent on subsistence, rain-fed agriculture. “One in five children in Malawi is currently undernourished,” Mogelgaard said, and climate change paints a bleak picture for the future.
“With the change in climate – with increasing temperatures, with shifting rainfall patterns – this is having a significant effect on agricultural productivity in Malawi that farmers are already experiencing,” she said. The outlook for maize, for example, is that productivity will decline by 20 percent by 2030.
Reliance on subsistence agriculture makes accommodating more and more people a challenge via land scarcity, and the UN projects the country could grow from 15 million people today to between 45 and 55 million by mid-century.
“So when you think about the kinds of climate changes that are affecting agricultural production in Malawi, as well the population growth in Malawi, it raises a lot concerns for the future of food security,” she said.
Taking population into account, through programs that meet unmet need for contraceptives and empower women, could help policymakers and development agencies improve food security.
Modeling done by the Futures Group, which integrated a climate model, a population model, and a food security model to create scenarios for future development, shows the potential of an integrated look. “When this model was put into place in Ethiopia,” she said, “researchers found that a slower population growth path was something that would make up for the caloric shortfall that will be a result of climate change impacts on agriculture.” Slower population growth would also “cut the number of undernourished children in half.”
Such research can provide the basis for an argument to incorporate population and reproductive health considerations into strategies to address future food security and climate adaptation “in ways that will build the resilience of women and build the resilience of communities around the globe.”
“Where Malawi ends up in that range of projections for the future will have significant implications for the extent to which Malawi is going to be a food secure country,” she said. “Certainly agricultural developments, trade, climate change adaptation assistance – all of these things will also play into food security concerns for Malawi in the future. But also the rising demand that comes from population growth will be a significant factor.”
Sources: Futures Group, UN Population Division.