The emerging risks and impacts of climate change and extreme weather events on forest ecosystems present significant threats to forest-based livelihoods. Understanding climate change and its consequences on forests and the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities could support forest based strategies for responding to climate change. Using perception-based assessment principles, we assessed the effects of climate change and extreme weather events on forests and forest-based livelihood among the forest-dependent communities around the Mchinji and Phirilongwe Forest Reserves in the Mchinji and Mangochi districts in Malawi. Content analysis was used to analyze qualitative data. The impact of erratic rainfall, high temperatures, strong winds, flooding, and droughts was investigated using logistic regression models. The respondents perceived increasing erratic rainfall, high temperatures, strong winds, flooding, and droughts as key extreme climate events in their locality. These results varied significantly between the study sites (p < 0.05). Erratic rainfall was perceived to pose extended effects on access to the forest in both Phirilongwe in Mangochi (43%) and Mchinji (61%). Climate change was found to be associated with reduced availability of firewood, thatch grasses, fruits and food, vegetables, mushrooms, and medicinal plants (p < 0.05). Erratic rainfall and high temperatures were more likely perceived to cause reduced availability of essential forest products, and increased flooding and strong winds were less likely attributed to any effect on forest product availability. The study concludes that climate change and extreme weather events can affect the access and availability of forest products for livelihoods. Locally based approaches such as forest products domestication are recommended to address threats to climate-sensitive forest-based livelihoods.
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