NGOs: Improving the Lives of Farm Families in Malawi

Ranked as 160 out of the 182 countries on the Human Development Index, Malawi is rated to be one of the world’s poorest countries. According to the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report, about 90 percent of the population still lives off of less than $2 per day and 74 percent of the population lives below the poverty line of $1.25 per day.

This means that their progress in Malawi for reaching the Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty has been narrow. The most poor in the entire country are those that are living in the most southern and most northern parts of the countries, which are generally very rural areas.

The access to many economic opportunities, general social services and other basic assets are extremely limited throughout the population, and there is a large inequality between the small population of rich and the large population of poor. Larger households, more specifically those with many children, are more likely to be poor in Malawi. Primary school is free in Malawi, but because the access to education is highly unbalanced between social classes, almost 30 percent of children do not even start school.

Due to the required enrollment fees of higher education (past primary school), secondary schools mostly just have children from wealthier families attending them. The economic opportunities of the rural poor are often limited because they live in remote areas without many means of transportation, so the markets and services are harder to access. Only 12 percent of households in Malawi even have access to credit because the access to financial services is highly restricted to the upper class.

Employing about 80 percent of the workforce, agriculture is the most important sectors of the economy. There are both smallholders and estates in the agricultural system, but more than 90 percent of the rural population is smallholder farmers with customary land occupation. Over 80 percent of this land is used to grow corn, whereas the estate land is mainly under leasehold or freehold occupation with the main crops being sugar, tea, coffee and tobacco. Tobacco has become Malawi’s main export cash crop, accounting for more than 50 percent of the export earnings. With all this in mind, during the poor seasons there are food shortages all over the country with numerous households suffering from chronic food insecurity and malnutrition.

Malawians still struggle with food insecurity, even though their recent corn growth has been very high. Because of declining soil fertility, the productivity of most other crops has not improved since the 1970s, though better technologies are becoming more and more available. The chronic food crisis has greatly increased the risk of diseases and is the main cause of malnutrition in Malawi. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), nearly half of the children under the age of five suffer from chronic undernourishment.

Thanks to the support of organizations like World Vision and the WFP, better irrigation systems are being constructed, which enables farmers to grow crops during the entire year by reducing their dependence on seasonal rainfall. These organizations have also helped to provide smallholder farm families with things like potato tubers and livestock in order to increase their access to nutritious food.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: World Vision, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: Africa Renewal