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Environmental Mainstreaming
Integrating environment into development institutions and decisions

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Country Learning Groups: Malawi

Malawi is more dependent on environmental assets than most other countries, with over 80 per cent of Malawians involved in farming. The country is also vulnerable to environmental risks, such as floods and droughts and long-term climate change. If the stocks and flows of environmental assets are properly recognised, valued, and treated positively, however, Malawi could develop a truly green economy – wealth generation and social justice, all within ecological limits. Malawi’s Ministry of Development Planning and Cooperation (MDPC) recognises these challenges and opportunities, and that to address them and achieve transition to a green economy requires ‘environmental mainstreaming’: integrating environment into development policies, plans and budgets, as well as into day-to-day management.

In 2010, MDPC initiated a review of environmental mainstreaming in Malawi, and organised a two-day retreat of twenty Malawian experts in environment and development, in association with the UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI) Malawi programme and facilitated by IIED. The preliminary findings of this Learning and Leadership Group were presented by MDPC to the 2010 international Poverty Environment Partnership meeting:

  1. Malawians depend intimately on the quality of the environment. With 85% of Malawi’s working population practicing rain-fed agriculture, people experience a direct dependence on the quality of soils, water, forest cover, and biodiversity. They are also highly vulnerable to environmental hazards such as floods and droughts. With the urban population rising at 6%, slum-dwellers and street children in particular find it difficult to access sanitation and clean water.

  1. Few poor people have adequate incentives to invest in sustaining environmental assets, even though they are dependent on the environment. This leads to several environmental problems that are suffered most by poor people – and often (but not always) created by them: deforestation, soil erosion, declining fisheries stocks, etc.

  1. Organisations that directly serve poor people are beginning to change the kind of work they do. This is because these ‘poverty-environment’ problems are becoming increasingly visible, affecting poor people’s livelihoods, health, income, growth. Some development NGOs such as Oxfam, ActionAid and smaller Malawian NGOs are working more on environmental deprivations. And environmental NGOs are working more on social and developmental needs.

  1. Thus a wide range of institutions and initiatives already cover some ‘mainstreaming’ functions. Over 40 of these were identified in several sectors: energy, agriculture, forestry, water and carbon. And they are led by a wide range of bodies – central and local government, business, and NGOs. Their mainstreaming work is done through several means: advocacy, capacity-building, on-ground delivery, research, information-sharing, livelihood support and enterprise development.

  1. There are some common success factors in these existing ‘mainstreaming’ initiatives:
    • an understanding that poverty is multi-faceted;
    • an understanding that environments are complex and locally-specific;
    • obtaining good evidence of the extent of particular p/e issues – especially economic evidence;
    • time to build confidence in those institutions that need to change;
    • leadership – especially by mainstream authorities and at local level
  2. Some of the group’s recommendations may be applicable beyond Malawi:
    • Focus on getting good evidence of the importance of p/e issues, especially the relevant costs, benefits and risks.
    • Encourage better ways to understand the specific p/e needs of distinct poor groups and to engage with them.
    • Bridge-build between disciplines and institutions, notably between economists and environmentalists.
    • Support ministries and departments in their own mainstreaming work, without doing it for them.
    • Recognise and network all initiatives working on p/e issues and offer a joint forum.
    • Engage more with the private sector (and professional/trade associations whose everyday decisions could shape a ‘green economy’ that benefits poor groups).
  1. The Learning and Leadership Group is deepening its analysis during 2010, with each member focusing on a specific theme. The final analysis will be published at the end of the year in the IIED Environmental Governance series, and will serve as a baseline for PEI and subsequent initiatives. It is hoped that the Group will serve as a continuing ‘bouncing board’ for PEI in its analysis, debate and institutional reform work.

The full report on the workshop is now available HERE

The report, produced by leading Malawian thinkers, explores several case studies of experience in environmental mainstreaming. It looks not only at top-down planning and coherence but also much bottom-up action; notably, local authority and business partnerships that unleash community management potentials. Where economics is the main language of policy and business, it shows how economic analysis of poverty-environment links has been influential in planning, budgeting and executive decision-making. Ten recommendations are offered that will enable the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy, as well as other initiatives, to ensure secure environmental foundations for Malawi’s prosperity.

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