An evaluation of the determinants of resilience to drought in Malawi

  • Canford Chiroro

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Building resilient communities has emerged as a dominant agenda in the policy arena and in academia in the wake of recent disasters. However, there is a lack of clarity on the specific interventions required to build resilience. Current challenges associated with resilience include ambiguity, unclear measures, and problematized applicability. This thesis evaluates the determinants of resilience to drought in community food systems as a basis for contributing towards a more advanced understanding of resilience.

    A schematic model linking the key concepts associated with resilience was developed on the basis of literature review. This model was subsequently applied to a sample of 195 farm households, 16 community meetings and about 45 interviews with key informants across eight villages in Nsanje and Mzimba districts in Malawi interviewed between October 2010 and February 2011. Analysis at household level focused on exploring the causes of vulnerability, the role of livelihood assets and institutions in shaping coping and adaptation, and the implication of these to the meaning of resilience.

    The thesis concluded that vulnerability to food insecurity was produced by an interaction of slow and fast moving factors and processes, some of which were highly persistent. Access to livelihood assets and institutions increased short term coping and adaptive capacity but did not effectively predict resilience given unknowns regarding asset availability and liquidity over the long term. Different socio-economic groups associated different meanings with the concept of resilience, and in some cases, one group achieved ‘resilience’ at the expense of the larger community. In integrating vulnerability into resilience thinking, the analysis suggested that resilience could be analysed as existing in desirable and undesirable forms. Undesirable resiliencies reinforced the vulnerable state. By addressing the factors that sustain vulnerability, response capacity could be enhanced. This being the case, advanced by this thesis is a shift from focusing on resilience as a utopian goal, in favour of practices that enhance response capacity and letting communities learn for themselves and transform their value sets to ones that are more likely to ensure coping with adverse conditions. The study concludes that the concept of resilience in its current form is of more value as an organising framework within the re-engineering of food, agricultural, development and disaster management policy can be undertaken.
    Date of Award2013
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorAllan Findlay (Supervisor), John Rowan (Supervisor) & Peter J. Gregory (Supervisor)


    • Adaptation
    • Drought
    • Food security
    • Vulnerability
    • Resilience
    • Malawi

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