It will prove to be (and has already been) a tough year for one of the poorest countries in the world, as more than 1.5 million people in Malawi will experience the adverse effects of food insecurity. Rural and refugee households are most at risk of the hunger and malnutrition caused by the alternating periods of drought flooding that periodically sweep through this landlocked African nation. Of Malawians, 90 percent live on less than the equivalent of U.S. $2 per day; this extreme poverty compounded by other social troubles such as rampant disease and a high illiteracy rate make hunger hard a difficult problem to fight.
It’s a problem that needs to be fought, though, and many aid organizations have turned their focus to Malawi since 2002, the year the country’s maize production decreased by nearly half. Malawi’s economy is highly dependent on agriculture and its primary crop is the grain plant, whose stalks grow in fields across Malawi. In 2002, though, budgetary cuts recommended by the International Monetary Fund forced the government to eliminate their seed and fertilizer distribution programs. The maize harvest has not yet recovered.
Though the feeding programs established in Malawi have the short-term goal of reducing hunger wherever it occurs in a nation of more than 16 million people, humanitarian organizations also aim to collaborate with the Malawian government to rebuild the country’s agricultural sector in a sustainable fashion. Efforts to achieve this goal include reinstalling fertilizer and seed programs, replenishing soil that has been drained of all nutrients after seasons and seasons of overuse, and encouraging farmers to diversify their harvest to include beans and nuts.
Other efforts to reduce hunger in Malawi include global health programs targeting the prevalence of AIDS and malaria in Malawi, as well as successful microfinance initiatives to get local entrepreneurs up and running. The combination of these programs has so far been successful, reducing rates of both hunger and illness. There is much to be done yet, but that fewer people are hungry in Malawi today than they were 10 years ago is promising.
Even more promising? The drive of Malawian farmers, who are determined to bounce back from natural disasters and diversify their fields. In fact, many people in Malawi – not just farmers – are bent on eliminating hunger in their country, so much so that they’ve sparked a movement called “the right to food.” Begun in response to the 2002 fertilizer crisis and subsequent famine, proponents of the movement urge their government to commit to feeding its people. Malawi’s government has now codified its obligation to ending hunger.
If progress continues at this pace, Malawians can expect to enjoy much more food in their stomachs in the coming years.