Peer-reviewed article

How do forests contribute to food security following a weather shock? Evidence from Malawi

Published on 09 June 2023

Article publication How do forests contribute to food security following a weather shock? Evidence from Malawi by Jessica Meyer in World Development review.

Volume 169, Septembre 2023.

Rural residents in developing countries are particularly vulnerable to shocks related to weather events. In this context, forests are frequently presented as safety nets, especially for households with limited risk-management options. This analysis aims to provide further evidence on the effectiveness of such safety nets. Specifically, the objective of this work is to analyze the extent to which forests serve as an effective safety net for food security when other potential risk-management options are available, or not, in rural areas. Focusing on agricultural households in Malawi, we combine several rounds of observations from the World Bank’s Living Standards Measurement Study-Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA) with geospatial data on forest cover and a drought index based on both precipitation and temperature. Our results show that forests play an important role in protecting households’ diets in the aftermath of a weather shock, especially amongst those that appear to have limited insurance options, and/or that may need to further diversify their portfolio of potential insurance mechanisms to cope with a shock. By looking at food security, we highlight both the market and non-market benefits of forest resources in the aftermath of a shock. Moreover, we provide additional empirical evidence on the characteristics of households that depend on forest resources during challenging times. Overall, in light of the fundamental role forests play for human and planetary health, these findings shed light on the need to preserve forest access to forest-dependent communities and strengthen the sustainable management of forest resources.

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