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Status of Malawi’s Water and Land Resources: to aid policy and donor decisions (SMaWaL)

Project Description

This research aims to improve National Government and donor decision making about water and land management in Malawi. Malawi’s economy is dependent on its water and land resources, with agriculture directly accounting about 30% to GDP (MEM 2019, 7). Malawi is a low-income country with over 50% of the population in poverty. Malawi’s policymakers and NGO donors require robust evidence of the status of current and future water and land resources.

Though Malawi has access to substantial water resources in the form of Lake Malawi (shared with Mozambique and Tanzania), and smaller lakes, and extensive low yielding weathered basement aquifer of the plateau area and smaller areas underlain by high yielding alluvial aquifer along the lakeshore plains and Lower Shire Valley, it is one of most water-scarce countries in the world. There is mounting evidence that groundwater levels, in many parts of Malawi, are decreasing (Kalin et al. 2019). Malawi’s extensive aquifers have led to the proliferation of groundwater wells for domestic and agricultural uses. The Scottish Government Climate Justice Fund Water Future Programme (CJF WFP) led by Professor Robert Kalin (University of Strathclyde, Glasgow), is completing a national asset registry of rural water supplies (over 100,000 water points by end of 2019) across Malawi and has found that over 25% are not functioning- due to various issues including lowering groundwater tables (Kalin et al. 2019).

Project aim and objectives
The aim of this research is to improve understanding of the provision of information on Malawi’s water and land resources to aid National Government and donor decision making about water and land management interventions. Using CJF WFP water monitoring point data and groundwater expertise, and other data sets including satellite imagery, this research will improve the availability of information on Malawi’s current and future water and land resources to support the implementation of national water management and agricultural policies.

This is a unique opportunity for a student to benefit from the extensive stakeholder connections that Prof. Kalin and wider CJF WFP team have in Malawi. The student will carry out web and literature searches, and semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders to understand (and collate) spatial data available and what are policymaker and donor information needs. They will produce a spatially explicit model of Malawi’s water and land resources, using freely available software e.g. Python packages, and freely available Sentinel and Landsat imagery. The spatial model may have a web-based dashboard interface, as stakeholders often prefer these over models they cannot open or explore (Hewitt and Macleod 2017).

Supervision and training
You will work with Professor Robert Kalin (University of Strathclyde), Dr Kit Macleod (James Hutton Institute) and Dr Mads Troldborg (James Hutton Institute) to become a leading interdisciplinary researcher. We will equip you with a range of domain expertise, data science and participatory technologies, in addition to expertise in working with national policymakers and NGO donors- in a part of the world where there is increasing recognition that greater expert capacity needs to be transferred from high to low-income countries.

In terms of domain knowledge, you will become an expert in water and land resources in Malawi linked to the challenges of water resources management and investment strategies around irrigation. It likely you will develop your knowledge and experience of a range of open-source data science technologies including Python packages. You will develop expertise in all stages of scientific data science including quality controlling data and presenting it visually. In addition, you will learn how to use satellite remotely sensed data to aid decision making.

Funding Notes

The studentship is funded under the James Hutton Institute/University Joint PhD programme, in this case with the University of Strathclyde. Applicants should have a first-class honours degree in a relevant subject or a 2.1 honours degree plus Masters (or equivalent). Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed in Jan/Feb 2020. A more detailed plan of the studentship is available to candidates upon application. Funding is available for European applications, but Worldwide applicants who possess suitable self-funding are also invited to apply.


Hewitt, R. and C. Macleod. 2017. What do users really need? Participatory development of decision support tools for environmental management based on outcomes. Environments. 4 (4), 88.
Kalin R.M., J. Mwanamveka, A.B. Coulson, D. Robertson, H. Clark, J. Rathjen, and M.O. Rivett. 2019. Stranded Assets as a key concept to guide investment strategies for Sustainable Development Goal 6. Water. 11 (4), 702.
MEM (Malawi Economic Monitor) June 2019. Charting a New Course. World Bank Office, Malawi.
NIP (National Irrigation Policy) 2016. Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development. Lilongwe, Malawi.

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