After the Storm, Malawi’s Farmers Face a Precarious Future

Cyclone Freddy lasted a record 38 days. The storm barrelled 5,000 miles across the Indian Ocean, pummelling Madagascar and Reunion before striking the African mainland. It swirled over southern Mozambique and Zimbabwe, re-intensified over the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, then returned to strike northern Mozambique and Malawi.

In Malawi’s densely populated southern region, Cyclone Freddy dropped six months’ worth of rainfall in six days, triggering floods and mudslides that killed more than 1,200 people and displaced 659,000. The government’s Post-Disaster Needs Assessment claims total loss and damages exceeded $1 billion. More than 2 million farmers lost their crops as 440,000 acres of land were destroyed or washed away, and 1.4 million livestock were drowned, starved, or lost.

Malawi is among the five nations, worldwide, most affected by extreme weather events, according to the Global Climate Risk Index. The country experiences distinct wet and dry seasons, so climate phenomena like El Niño can disrupt normal rain patterns and lead to periods of drought. Its proximity to the Indian Ocean also makes it susceptible to cyclones and heavy rain. Poverty and deforestation exacerbate these weather impacts for the nation’s smallholder farmers, who produce 80 percent of the food consumed in Malawi.

Eight months after the cyclone dissipated, Malawi’s food system is still reeling.