Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Geology and Geography

Committee Chair

Brent McCusker

Committee Member

Bradley Wilson

Committee Member

Jamison Conley

Committee Member

Eungul Lee

Committee Member

Edward Carr


Since 1990s rural households in Malawi, constituting 85% of the population, have experienced deepening livelihood vulnerability, often manifested as persistent food insecurity. Livelihood crises have since been blamed on or attributed directly to weather perturbations/climatic shocks i.e. El-Nino induced climate variability/drought conditions. This study revealed that persistent livelihood crisis in rural Malawi cannot be attributed to or squarely blamed on weather shocks alone, rather it is at the intersection of various livelihoods shocks that rural livelihood vulnerability in Malawi is exacerbated i.e. worsening and deepening.

Thus, rural livelihood vulnerability to climate shocks in Malawi is manifest not in isolation but in relation to a wide range of other shocks and stressors. At the intersection of interests to promote private sector driven system, to achieve food security in the short term, and to push hybrid seed as an appropriate technology for smallholders, smallholder farming has become specialized into maize monoculture, eroding crop and variety diversity. Maize however is not drought resistant, and to maintain yields requires fertilizer and fresh hybrid seeds each year. Maize monoculture has increased vulnerability to fluctuations in weather and market. Rural livelihoods vulnerability in Malawi is further compounded by land inadequacy for smallholder production. Most smallholders do not have sufficient land on which they can produce enough food to feed the average family and earn income throughout the year (Harrigan 2008). Still, the collapse of ADMARC (the agriculture marketing board) under structural adjustment programs has left smallholders at the mercy of unscrupulous traders and unruly free market forces.

This brings the question of rural livelihoods vulnerability analysis in Malawi squarely into the purview of multidimensional analysis. Following the IPCC conceptualization of vulnerability as a function of exposure to climate hazards, on the one hand, and the sensitivity and adaptive capacity of the society on the other, this dissertation research applies a multidimensional lens to rural livelihood vulnerability analysis in Malawi to develop a better understanding of climatic shocks/perturbations mediating rural livelihoods and holistic approaches (i.e. that include both climatic hazard and differential social vulnerability) to vulnerability mapping - to leverage effective adaptation to climate change

With a series of primary and secondary data analyses the dissertation asserts/argues that effective adaptation to climate change is contingent on local farmers perception (e.g. Le Dang et al 2014; Teye et al 2014; Boissiere et al 2013). Farmers perceptions reflect local concerns and tend to form the basis/context in which their adaptation strategies emerge and or the conceptual framework in which farmers are willing to accept or not adaptation strategies (e.g. Carr and McCusker 2009).

Through farmers perceptions the study reveals that local farmers are sensitive and knowledgeable of the changing climatic conditions in their areas. If adequately harnessed such practical knowledge of local weather condition can facilitate effective and successful adaptation. Though vulnerability mapping as a field is maturing, a number of issues remain that need to be addressed for the field to advance, including increasing the degree of collaboration with end users, greater attention to map communication, moving beyond the map as the final product, work on validation

Embargo Reason

Publication Pending