New study highlights opportunities for substantial returns on investment in environmental sustainability in Malawi
Malawi is a land-locked country in Africa with a large rural population that is mainly dependent on agriculture. Thus, the well-being of Malawians and Malawi’s economy depend on the well-being of the country’s natural resources including good nutrient soils for agriculture and healthy fisheries and forestry ecosystems for sustainable livelihoods.
Unfortunately, population pressure, poverty and climatic variations are increasing the pressure on cultivable land and accentuating the degradation of these natural resources.
This phenomenon is commonly referred to as the poverty-environment nexus. In Malawi adequate integrated data on the poverty-environment nexus to inform policy making and investments is lacking.
To address this gap the Poverty-Environment Initiative, a joint programme of the UN Environment Programme and UN Development Programme, has commissioned a detailed study to quantify poverty-environment linkages in Malawi.
The study finds that among rural and peri-urban households, 18% of incomes come from natural resource products, such as charcoal, fuel wood, honey and mushroom, and another 17% of incomes are derived from agricultural produce. This means that healthy environments and natural resources are essential for household incomes as well as people’s well-being and thus for poverty reduction.
The poverty-environment nexus also has bearings at the national or macroeconomic level. For example, the study finds that a one percent increase (US$ 300,000) in public investments for sustainable environmental and natural resource management would increase the annual gross domestic product (GDP) by US$ 17 million. That is a significant return on investment that makes both environmental and economic sense and which would contribute to poverty reduction efforts.
On the other hand, a one percent reduction in forest cover alone translates to a loss in income of nearly US$ 24 million per year. This is crucial as Malawi currently has the highest deforestation rate in southern Africa.
Moreover, solid fuels (fuel wood and charcoal) meet 98.7% of the total energy needs for local populations. Concerted efforts to reduce deforestation rates and promote alternative green sources of energy are needed.
The study confirms that agriculture is central for Malawi’s economy and poverty reduction efforts. It emphasizes that sustainable environmental and natural resource use holds the key for agricultural productivity and food security.
At the household level, access to land, level of education, gender and age of the head of the household are key determining factors for household food security and agriculture productivity.
The study calls for a more integrated approach to environmental, poverty and economic development in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In light of the findings it recommends increased investments in environmental and natural resource sustainability to achieve poverty, food security, economic as well as sustainability goals. It emphasizes the need for a harmonized and integrated approach to environment and poverty-related policy making and budgeting across sectors and facilitated cooperation with the private sector.
The study will be used to inform the development of the new Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS III) and the drafting of the forthcoming national development plan and national Sustainable Development Goal plans.
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