Malawi is a landlocked country in southern Africa with an increasing population. Malawi currently has a population of about 17.2 million people. One in four Malawians lives in extreme poverty such that about 2.8 million people in the country are fighting hunger. Here are the top 10 facts about hunger in Malawi.
Top 10 facts about hunger in Malawi
- A food crisis has lasted for decades – Malawi has been experiencing severe food crisis for decades. Around 1949 and 1950, Malawi had a severe famine, and in October of 2001, reports of a famine were once again spread in rural Malawi. The government did not believe the rumors and did not act on them until hunger struck in 2002. At that time, at least 500 people died of starvation and hunger-related diseases. By 2005, approximately 4.7 million Malawians, out of 12 million, still suffered from food shortages. More recently, from July 2016 until March 2017, Malawi had food security and nutrition issues due to El Niño, which led to the president declaring a state of national disaster.
- Unreliable weather patterns – Rural Malawians rely on smallholder farming for a living. By cultivating small pieces of land over and over, they expect to harvest enough to feed themselves and their families. Unfortunately, in the last decade, 25 percent of the country has experienced droughts more than seven times. The weather patterns have been unreliable and; as a result, farming has become increasingly difficult. The frequency in which drought and severe flooding occur has been steadily increasing and with such an unpredictable intensity that the farmers hardly have time to recover from the last disaster before they are faced with the next.
- Unstable economy – The economic conditions in Malawi are not very favorable. There are high inflation rates, which have resulted in high food prices. Unemployment is on the rise with little to no opportunity for work that pays any kind of living wage. Food prices in 2016 were on a rise countrywide due to a decrease in production. The price of maize was 73 percent higher than the average for the three years prior to that time. Farmers complained about the government not providing fertilizer around that time, but economist Desmond Phiri in Malawi remarked that fertilizer is of no use if there is no rainfall. His solution to the problem of a continuous dry season was irrigation.
- Stunting in children under five – Research shows that 37 percent of Malawian children, which is about 1.4 million, suffer from stunted growth because they are chronically under-nourished. World Food Programme (WFP) stated that only 1 out of every 3 children who are undernourished isn’t receiving adequate health care. The same study shows that there is a 30 percent increased risk of anemia in underweight children and that 23 percent of all child mortality cases are associated with under-nutrition. Stunting in children deters their brain development, school performance, immunity and health. Furthermore, there is an annual loss of $67 million due to the fact that 66 percent of the adults currently doing manual activities had been stunted as children,
- Malawi’s staple food wilting – Malawi’s staple food, maize, has been affected negatively by the unexpected weather trends and it is wilting. Unconfirmed estimates are that food production in the 2017/ 2018 growing season is going to be reduced by less than 50 percent. Since November 2017, the maize fields in 20 of the 28 rural districts were attacked by fall worms, which destroyed the crops of above 140 000 farming families. The worms have since moved to other African countries where they pose a threat to the maize grown there as well.
- Children’s education affected – Stunted growth in Malawi’s children results in them underperforming at school due to slower brain development. Studies by the WFP show that stunted children are more likely to drop out of school. They achieve about 1.5 fewer years of education and are more likely to repeat school. About 18 percent of all school year repetitions are due to the effects of stunted growth. The Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development have been carrying out a Cost of Hunger in Africa study. Findings have shown that adequate nutrition is essential for physical and intellectual development as well as work productivity. Productivity at school also requires a good diet, something most of the children in Malawi don’t have.
- Food reserves as a solution – The Malawi Project identified climate change as the main factor contributing to hunger in Malawi. Its solution was the introduction of food reserves under the name The Joseph Project. These reserves were noted to be important by world leaders at The Food and Agriculture Organization Summit. The Malawi Project completed the construction of community storage warehouses that are to be used during lean times. With the estimated food crisis that will probably hit Malawi in 2018/ 2019, The Joseph Project will be a sure way to provide food security to the community as the food will only be accessed when the need arises.
- Food from the outside – With 17.2 million people living in extreme poverty in Malawi and with the high levels of unemployment, there has been a great need for assistance with food security in the country. The WFP began working with the government of Malawi, together with other partners, to assist in alleviating the food security crisis. They work with the country’s most vulnerable people, which includes the refugees that have settled in Malawi from the areas around the horn of Africa. WFP, prompted by the sustainable development goals, seeks to achieve Zero Hunger by providing food and cash assistance after natural disasters such as the current drought. They have also made various long-term programs to help break the hunger cycle.
- Zero Hunger in schools – The WFP also supports Malawian education by providing meals every day to 900 primary and nursery schools, feeding approximately 1 million children. The meals are cooked fresh, and the food is bought off of the local smallholder farms in 10 percent of the schools to give the farmers business so they also have the cash to enable them to keep farming. The WFP also treats malnutrition of about 337,000 children, pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as HIV and TB patients.
- Weather insurance – Malawian farmers have begun buying insurance for their crops in the event of droughts. The United Nations’ WFP initiated a Rural Resilience Initiative where farmers can insure their crops against unforeseen natural occurrences through labor. The farmers provide 14 days of work within a two-month period where they create things like irrigation systems, which help when dry seasons happen upon them. An insurance payout of $400,000 will be distributed to more than 7000 families in May of this year to promote increased resilience to the impacts of climate change. Poor farmers without money to get insurance for their crops need not worry about where to borrow from as their labor is just as effective.
These top ten facts about hunger in Malawi tell a little about what Malawians are going through day after day. Although there is still a lot of progress that needs to be done in Malawi, there are people and organizations working to end hunger in the country and provide more stable farming practices throughout times of drought. These solutions could mean the eventual end of food insecurity in Malawi.
– Aquillina Ngowera