TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan — Deep in the heart of Southeast Africa, bordered by Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique, lies the country of Malawi. Though not a large country – its total area is smaller than Florida – it is home to over 20 million people. Over 51% of the total population struggles with food insecurity, as reported by the World Bank in 2020, despite having a crop production index of around 133% by 2021. With this issue prevalent across the country, USAID has dedicated itself to battling food insecurity in Malawi and helping the nation improve the lives of its citizens.
A Brief Discussion of Malawi’s Food Insecurity
Malawi has had trouble with food insecurity for decades. The country is highly reliant on rainfed agriculture and is, as a result, heavily vulnerable to climate change and weather disasters. The turn of the millennium brought several droughts to Malawi that severely hindered maize production and contributed to famines across the country. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Carl Wahl, a senior agriculture advisor at USAID’s Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance, discusses ways the organization challenges food insecurity in Malawi. Wahl, who has worked for USAID for more than two years, also gained expertise in this area while living in Malawi and working as an agricultural advisor for another international NGO before coming to USAID.
“What we find with climate change is they get the same amount of rain, but instead of the rain falling in these uniform patterns…it might rain really heavily for a brief period of time, and then there’ll be no rain for like two or three weeks, which isn’t great for agriculture,” Reported Carl Wahl, Senior Agriculture Advisor with USAID’s Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance.
Furthermore, Malawi’s economy is highly reliant on the production and exportation of raw tobacco. Though often touted as a cash crop by officials, the benefit is relatively short-lived. Much of the time that could be spent producing viable food is instead focused on growing tobacco. Even more problematic, tobacco plants contribute to environmental damage and deforestation, reducing the nutritional value of farmland. The result is a lack of proper food production and a struggling economy. Food insecurity in Malawi has become a significant contributor to poverty in the country as a result. Around 70% of the population was living on less than $2.15 a day, according to the World Bank in 2019, and over 17% of the total population suffers from undernourishment. Despite this, some institutions seek to help alleviate this issue.
What Is USAID?
“I work for USAID, which means the United States Agency for International Development. I work in the department called the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance.” Told Wahl. “So what USAID is, is it’s the US government’s arm for overseas development and humanitarian work… We’re a donor. We allocate funds to partners who may be agencies based in the United States, they might be agencies based in Ireland, England, or they could be agencies based in Malawi, for example.”
USAID was first formed in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy in the wake of the passage of the Foreign Assistance Act. Over time, the goals of USAID grew to support the basic human needs of developing countries, such as health, education and, of course, food and nutrition. USAID works worldwide by allocating funds to viable partners and assisting in making countries more self-reliant. Specific methods have included the Feed the Future Initiative, led by USAID. “Feed the Future is an initiative that work on agriculture value chains,” stated Carl Wahl. “So instead of simply handing out food and…They try to develop the businesses that support agriculture so that farmers can engage with it more as a productive livelihood.”
USAID And Malawi: What’s Being Done
Recent years have brought about several efforts by USAID to fight food insecurity in Malawi. In March 2022, USAID announced $12.8 million in assistance to the country, with $9.7 million being put toward reducing food insecurity. USAID will work to support farmers, distributing cash for food and contributing to supply chains in the country. Through assistance like this, USAID works directly with the Malawian Government to help fund country-led initiatives and give advice for food security. “If there’s something that we really strongly are like, ‘this is something we think is valuable for you guys to be doing.’ We don’t just do it. we work with the government and say, how could we pilot this, maybe a small pilot?” Stated Wahl.
USAID is also working with international partners to expand the impact of its programming in Malawi. Working alongside Irish Aid, for example, it is building sustainable food programs throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. One such beneficiary of this work is Malawi Mangoes Ltd, which receives direct funding from USAID.
“So we fund Malawi Mangoes, and what Malawi Mangoes is trying to do as a business is to be able to purchase support farmers to grow mangoes and grow varieties that might be produced during other times of the year,” reported Wahl, “but also make additional value like maybe drying the fruit, turn it into juice, do other things that would make it more valuable so that they can pay a higher price for the mangoes.”
USAID has also worked with others to reduce food insecurity. As Carl Wahl states, “We’re partnering with Care, Save the Children, a local NGO called Emanuel International and the International Food Policy Research Institute.”
A Brighter Future for Malawi
Food insecurity in Malawi is still a persistent problem. Corrective processes are slow and require support from various resources. However, institutions like USAID are focused on helping Malawi in their times of crisis. Together, people can help USAID in providing Malawi with what it needs to build food security, both through USAID’s work and the work of its partners. All it takes are those willing to make it better.
– Kenneth Berends