New Report Highlights How Climate Shocks Impede Development in Southern Malawi

Oct 01, 2019

A new report from Mathematica, the Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development, and AidData highlights how a set of climate shocks played a major role in impeding the long-term impact of a food security program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in southern Malawi.

USAID’s Office of Food for Peace funded the Wellness and Agriculture for Life Advancement (WALA) program from 2009 to 2014 to improve nutrition and food security for more than 200,000 households with chronic food insecurity in southern Malawi. For the past decade, Malawi has experienced increasingly severe environmental shocks, including widespread droughts, floods, high winds, and crop pests. WALA sought to build Malawi residents’ resiliency against these shocks by fostering preparedness and mitigation of natural disasters, promoting sustainable environmental protection, strengthening access to productive capital, offering health and nutrition programs, and improving agriculture production and marketing.

By the program’s end in 2014, there were indications that villages that participated in WALA experienced reductions in child stunting and underweight status. The Office of Food for Peace wanted to know whether these positive outcomes were sustained four years after the program concluded and whether the program resulted in other long-term outcomes. The agency commissioned Mathematica, the Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development, and AidData to conduct a rigorous impact evaluation to understand WALA’s long-term impact. The research team found the following:

  • No evidence indicated that children in the WALA program had rates of stunting or underweight status that were statistically different from the rates in comparison villages.
  • There was limited evidence that WALA village residents continued to use WALA-promoted practices around agriculture, health, and other sectors, and there were no differences in longer-term adoption of these practices between WALA and comparison villages.
  • The lack of sustainability could be explained by program features, such as new irrigation systems rendered ineffective by droughts, and climate and market shocks faced by villages in southern Malawi after the program ended.

“Although our study indicates that the WALA program did not reach its long-term goals, the data and analysis summarized in our report can guide the Office of Food for Peace and others as they plan programs in the future. These programs can then better cope with the risk of major climate shocks and complement interventions with much broader insurance and social protection schemes,” said Kristen Velyvis, senior research and WALA research team member.

Mathematica, the Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development, and AidData are members of the Expanding the Reach of Impact Evaluation, which is a partnership between USAID, Mathematica, the Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development, AidData, the Center for Effective Global Action, and Geo-Spatial Impact Evaluation. It is designed to pilot long-term impact evaluations and demonstrate their value in strategic decision making.

Mathematica Media Contact:

Liah Caravalho


P: 202-484-3280

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