MADISON, Wisconsin — According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, as of 2022, approximately 5.4 million Malawians are experiencing “moderate or severe chronic food insecurity.” With close to one-third of its population lacking enough to eat and 70% of its population living under the global poverty line, food insecurity in Malawi is an immense issue.
What’s Driving Food Insecurity in Malawi?
Aside from high poverty levels and the inability to afford food, other factors such as sporadic rainfalls and poor implementation of agricultural policies exacerbate issues of food insecurity in Malawi. For the past several decades Malawi has been dealing with a catastrophic combination of flooding and droughts that damage crops, livestock and agricultural infrastructure, dwindling the country’s food supply. Malawi’s Southern and Central regions are particularly affected by these “climate shocks,” with flooding and droughts occurring close to every year. While the Malawian government is active in the country’s fight against food insecurity, there are many shortcomings in official policy designs. The Malawian government allocates 10% of its national budget to agriculture, yet has not seen rapid growth in the agricultural sector due to strict regulations in receiving loan credit for agrarian investment amongst rural farmers. Additionally, in an attempt to increase agricultural production and sustainability in all areas of the country, the Malawian government put a ban on the transportation and commerce of produce between the country’s districts. This instead has led to unevenly distributed food and resources throughout the country, which worsens the effects for districts that are prone to climate shock. The ban has also limited farmers’ ability to expand their market base and gain wealth.
Helping Hands: The U.N. World Food Program
Fortunately, there are several international actors that are committed to working with Malawi’s everyday citizens and its government in order to eradicate food insecurity throughout the country. The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) has been active in Malawi since 1965 and not only helps Malawians through direct food or cash-based assistance but also confronts the broader issues of unstable rainfalls in the country’s Central and Southern regions. In cases of crop shortages, the WFP provides Malawians with direct food assistance, often as raw grains, legumes and cooking oils that are meant to be nutritious, calorie-dense and easily preservable.
Other times, when affording food is the principal issue in a period of sufficient crop growth, the WFP allocates cash-based assistance to Malawians and their families. Cash-based assistance allows families to go to local markets and pick out fresh, local foods themselves, which in turn restores peoples’ personal and dietary independence while also strengthening local economies and supporting regional farmers. The WFP is also the largest provider of school lunches in Malawi, which in turn increases school attendance rates as going to school results in a nutritious meal.
In simultaneously tackling hunger, flooding and droughts, the WFP launched a unique initiative known as “Food for Assets” — an innovative solution that keeps people fed while also strengthening Malawi’s preventative storm infrastructure. Food for Assets provides Malawians with food products in exchange for work on “community assets like roads, dams and irrigation systems” that are able to reduce flooding or conversely save and ration rainwater in the face of drought. This program serves to strengthen communities throughout Malawi and is responsible for technological advancement within Malawi’s agricultural sector.
Helping Hands: USAID’s Feed the Future
USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative works with the Malawian government to improve the lives, productivity, crop yields and market potential for smallholder farmers, who constitute 80% of Malawi’s population. Through Feed the Future, USAID has made sizable investments across seven districts in Central and Southern Malawi centered around new agricultural technologies and crops with high market potentials and nutritional value, such as dairy, legumes and sweet potatoes. Feed the Future has also been able to promote investment opportunities for rural Malawians through organizing “village savings-and-loan groups,” which has allowed over 23,000 individuals to invest in the agricultural sector who would not have been approved for loans under the Malawian government. Feed the Future has also worked directly with around 60,000 Malawian farmers to properly train them on advanced growing techniques such as double-row planting or the use of soybean inoculants. As of 2023, the organization has reached more than 260,000 Malawian households, allowing them to benefit from these agricultural advancements and investment opportunities.
In the face of significant challenges, the efforts to combat food insecurity in Malawi are supported by dedicated organizations and initiatives that are making a tangible impact on the lives of Malawians. Through the WFP and Feed the Future’s collaborative projects, we are witnessing positive changes take root.
– Reagan McDaniel