Global Policy Forum

Studies Reveal Hunger Crisis in Malawi Despite Large Harvests


By Lameck Masina

February 10, 2009

Studies in Malawi show increasing cases of hunger, despite government claims that it has enough to feed its people. For the past three years Malawi has registered huge surpluses of its main food crop, maize. The success is attributed to subsidies it introduced three years ago for fertilizers and seeds. The bumper harvest has also benefited hunger-stricken neighboring countries like Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland. Recently president Bingu wa Mutharika, who is also Malawi's minister of agriculture, has received international recognition for achieving food security. But a number of studies show that most Malawians are still affected by food shortages.

A recent nutritional survey says approximately 30 percent of Malawi's rural population consume less than the 2,200 kilocalories per day, needed to stay healthy. The report says women of child-bearing age and children under five lack iron, vitamin A, and other nutrients. As a result of malnutrition, half of the country's children suffer from stunted growth, with over a third of these children considered dangerously underweight. Related to this, a study by the NGO Action Aid International indicates almost half of the country's population experience food shortages up to six months a year. It says most households lack the minimum food requirement of 200kg of maize per person per year.

Chandiwira Chisi is the man in charge of the anti-hunger effort for Action Aid, "When the government says that there is progress, it's in the macro context, that's to say if we look at national level, yes, there is food availability in the past three years [but] that is not enough. I am sure that the government would like to see the situation where everyone has got food in this country in the right amounts, right quantities and the right nutritional value." He says his organization has intensified efforts to solve the hunger problem facing most Malawians.

"Currently we are trying to negotiate with government so that the voluntary FAO food rights should be legislated to become enforceable and the country level. So far, we have submitted the "right to food" bill, in which we have raised issues that would make a difference in terms of ensuring accountability around issues of food rights, he says." Primary among those rights are the rights to own land and have access to food. The parliament has yet to pass a bill drafted by NGOs that would ensure those rights. If passed into law, Chisi says, the legislation would help hold the government, corporations and individual accountable under certain circumstances, such as lack of political will or mismanagement leading to a loss of access to food, water, land and seeds.

For its part, the Malawian government has made a commitment to honor the Millennium Goals, which are designed to cut hunger in half by 2015. The country's blueprint for the next five years, its Growth Development Strategy, has also put food security as the number one pillar in the fight against poverty.


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