Steven Banda sits in a chair outside his mud hut on the edge of the town of Yohane, between Blantyre and the southern tip of Lake Malawi.
The 53-year-old farmer is trying to get to grips with what has changed. He used to be able to grow enough to feed his family, but not any more.
“The poor harvest is a result of some years of flooding. The flooding has washed away all our plants. And some years it is because of the dry spells. The rain that comes is insufficient for the survival of the crops. And that is what is making life difficult.” he says.
“I don’t know why the climate has changed. Everything that happens is in the power of God. God is in control and knows everything. I am not sure the weather condition will come back to normal. I don’t believe it will change.”
Three years ago his daughter Caroline Banda decided she’d had enough of grinding poverty. The 16 year old convinced herself that everything would be better if she got married.
“I used to go to school with my friends. My friends used to go around with boys, so I also started going around with boys,” she says.
“But what also made me start going around with boys are problems here at home. I was going to school on an empty stomach and when I came back there was still no food.”
The maize they planted was stunted and ravaged by rodents. The soil had been washed away by floods. Instead of the ten 50kg bags they once harvested, they were managing just 20kg in total.
“I had no knowledge about marriage, but I insisted in getting married because I just wanted to move away from my parents and the problems I was facing at home.”
“I liked my husband the very first day I saw him. I loved him the first time I saw him. I didn’t ask for his age, and he never told me. There wasn’t any ceremony for the marriage.
“The first day of the marriage, everything went on well. We made love on the first day of our marriage. At first things were going well. My husband was able to support the family. But then things just changed.”
Now 19, she is sitting nursing her one-year-old son Yankho outside her parents’ hut. Her mother in law called a meeting, she says, and her husband had made it clear that he was no longer interested in her. So she decided to go home.
“My parents didn’t talk to me in a very good way when I came back. They reminded me that they didn’t want me to get married. They reminded me what they told me before I insisted in getting married. That day was a bad day for me.
“They accepted me back because I am their daughter. But every time we have a small misunderstanding they keep reminding me of how much I insisted on getting married.”
She is back where she started, but now with a child in tow.
“I regret that I got married in the first place. Now my future is in shambles. Had I known what marriage would be like, I would not have gone along with it.
“Had it been that I had gone to school, I think I wouldn’t be in this kind of problems. Some days we go without food.
“I am sure that without these extreme weather conditions, my problems would have been avoided. I did what I did because we were lacking food at home. And even now the food is still lacking. My parents, my siblings, me and now my child… the food is not enough for us all. If the weather was fine without any problems the situation would have been different.”
The official report on the drought that followed the 2015 flooding – produced in association with the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) – noted that “the impact, frequency and spread of drought in Malawi have intensified in the past four decades and are likely to worsen with climate change, compounded by other factors, such as population growth and environmental degradation”.
It notes that in the last 36 years the country has experienced eight major dry spells. The drought was blamed on a combination of the El Nino weather cycle and climate change.
The report found that the 2016 drought cost the economy an estimated £223 million and that the most severe droughts push millions into poverty.
Malawi has a sub-tropical climate and in the past the rainy season has arrived in October and lasted through until March. But in recent years the rains have become more erratic, delaying the start of the agricultural season by many weeks.
“We have noted that areas where rains used to come in October, now appear only by the end of November or early December. The number of rainy days are therefore decreasing, as erratic rainfalls increase”, said Charles Vanya, chief meteorologist in charge of weather prediction for Malawi’s Department of Climate Change and Meteorological services.
The GFDRR estimated that from January to March 2016, the most critical months for agricultural production, the districts most affected by drought received 36.5% less than average rainfall.
“Just a shift in the season can have serious consequences for someone who doesn’t know that the climate is changing. When it starts to rain, they immediately start planting. But then, three weeks later, they realise that everything they planted is dry”, said Vanya’s colleague Amos Mtonya, the meteorologist in charge of early warning systems, resilience and adaptation.
According to Vanya, nights are becoming warmer as days are becoming hotter. The GFDRR’s 2011 Vulnerability, Risk Reduction and Adaptation to Climate Change report recorded that mean annual temperature in the country increased by an average rate of 0.21°C per decade over the previous thirty years and was projected to increase by 1.1 to 3.0°C by the 2060s.
“Because of this increase in temperature, the amount of rains is not sufficient anymore for the crop to survive. Even if it rains, people will start planting but that crop will not survive and farmers will need to replant grains several times”, said Vanya.