Skip to main content
Doctoral thesis, 2016

A lake without water

Nagoli, Joseph


This thesis explores the human-environment interaction within the climate-sensitive socio-ecological system of Lake Chilwa in Malawi. It uses the livelihoods framework to analyse various coping strategies to resource scarcity due to lake recessions. The main aim is to understand the processes by which decision-making takes place and the influence of various agents of change on coping with environmental shocks, i.e. water recessions. Lake Chilwa undergoes periodic water recessions with up to twelve incidents recorded between 1900 and 2012. While the lake and its wetland is an economic aquatic agriculture system in between recessions, it is unclear how households around the system survive during the periods of water recessions. Qualitative and quantitative studies were conducted between March 2012 and December 2013 on Chisi Island of Lake Chilwa to evaluate the coping strategies and their major drivers in responding to the periodic lake recessions. Using interpretive analysis, the findings show that people from the Lake Chilwa socio-ecological system have lived in anticipation of periodic environmental shocks due to their deep historical knowledge of the lake level and its fluctuations. This knowledge has been passed from generation to generation. Results further show that the main coping strategies that have stood the test of time for every recession are based on reciprocity and redistribution. These include sharing through kinship ties, hunting wild birds and farming. In many cases coping strategies for each specific recession are driven by political, social and economic factors prevailing at that particular period. Given these conditions, different agents (individuals or communities) make choices designed to maximise their own interests as they scramble to access scarce resources. Although natural resources in these systems are fundamental assets in rural livelihoods, accessing them in times of scarcity requires better governance systems that consider social, political and economic contexts.


coping; Lake Chilwa; recessions; livelihoods; natural resources; scarcity

Published in

Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae
2016, number: 2016:36
ISBN: 978-91-576-8574-2, eISBN: 978-91-576-8575-9
Publisher: Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Authors' information

Nagoli, Joseph
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Urban and Rural Development

UKÄ Subject classification

Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified
Human Geography
Gender Studies

URI (permanent link to this page)