Sep 18 2006

Adapt or Burn

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 12:50 AM

ZOMBA – I met Malawi’s leading expert on climate change the other day, a young geologist at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College in the provincial city of Zomba. The geologist bears the magnificent name, Cosmo Socrates Ngongondo. Earlier this year he published a striking paper in the peer-reviewed journal, Quartenary International, on declines in rainfall in the southern part of Malawi, historically the poorest and most densely populated part of the country. The paper bears a intimidating title, “An analysis of long-term rainfall variability, trends and groundwater availability in the Mulunguzi river catchment area,” but Ngongondo’s message is easy to grasp. Farmers in southern Malawi are right when they conclude their lands receive less rainfall than 50 years ago. Ngongondo’s analysis of rainfall data, from 1954 to 1998, charts the decline. His paper stops short of providing an explanation for the decrease in rainfall, though when I met with him in his university office he explained that farmers would be wise to adapt their methods to cope with shorter growing seasons and lighter rains. The options: more diverse crops that require less water and mature more quickly. “Climate change need not be a disaster for Malawi’s farmers,” he says. “They can adapt, and should, because the old weather patterns of the past are not likely to return.”

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