Food insecurity is turning Malawi into a hand-to-mouth state

True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.” ~ Franklin Roosevelt

FAO, a United Nations’ arm concerned with “achieving food security for all”, last September reported that Malawi will have “improved maize supplies” following a bumper harvest in 2014. The Nation newspaper recently reported that Vulnerability Assessment Committee figures indicate that 640,000 people across Malawi will still “require food assistance due to localised production shortfalls” caused by dry spell in early 2014. In 2013, an estimated 1.5 million Malawians needed food assistance, the 640,000 is the improvement FAO is alluding to.

Malawi girl eats porridge

Malawi girl eats porridge

For those who follow current affairs, this is a familiar issue. It is more or less a story of the country’s 50 years of political independence from Britain. Malawi is “trapped” in what Maxon Grant Tsoka of Centre for Social Concern, in his research paper (2013) for Afrobarometer called “the permanence of poverty and food insecurity.” Analysing Tsoka’s study, it becomes immediately clear that the implications of the “permanent” food insecurity is beyond what is traditionally perceive of consequences food insecurity.

Successive Afrobarometer studies have consistently established that at any given moment in the last decade or so, majority of Malawians have been more concerned with food shortage and famine than any other thing affected the country. Asking the question: “in your opinion, what are the most important problems facing this country that the government should address?”polls conducted in 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2012 show that food shortage/ famine, poverty reduction, faming/ agriculture, respectively, top the list. Other key areas of health, unemployment, water supply and education, respectively, trail on numbers 5, 6, 7 and 8. See the table bellow – source Afrobarometer

Proportional Share of Topmost Problems, 2003-2012

2003 (Round 2) 2005 (Round3) 2008 (Round 4) 2012 (Round 5)
Problem
Food shortage/famine 19% 26% 21% 16%
Poverty/destitution 12% 6% 9% 7%
Farming/agriculture 11% 13% 10% 9%
Management of the economy 8% 3% 5% 11%
Health 8% 6% 8% 10%
Unemployment 7% 3% 3% 3%
Water supply 6% 12% 12% 11%
Education 6% 6% 4% 4%
Loans/credit 3% 6% 2% 1%
Infrastructure/ roads 2% 4% 7% 5%
Wages, incomes and salaries 2% 2% 4% 5%

In your opinion, what are the most important problems facing this country that government should address?

These findings show that food insecurity has far wider consequences for the country, way beyond the empty stomachs and malnourished toddlers that is associated of hunger and starvation. This suggests that, for Malawi, food security is the foundation of national development. Everything centres on it.

Sadly, the fact that food security is at the centre of national concern, makes it a politically important issue. It attracts politicians who are mainly concerned with power and self-enrichment, not national development as we know it. Since the dawn of multiparty democracy in Malawi, is difficult to think of any government initiated development programme that does not have a politician or their cronies benefiting from it. Only the increasingly frustrated donors do this. Do not confuse food security with the politically correct but ineffective, ever more expensive, and corruptible farm input subsidies programme.

The dominating concerns about food security, crucial as they are, have become detrimental to other key issues of national development, which, ironically, are also critical to achieving the food security. Areas of good governance, public service delivery and public accountability are seen as less important despite these being key areas of effective and productive democratic governance.

For good governance to prevail, there is a need for strong public institutions deliberately put in place to enforce and uphold the rule of law; with the understanding that laws are made to protect the interests of the public and the citizenry. pitifully, these institutions are not directly in the business of providing food and other every day basic needs to the populations.

As such, their work and duties are easily demonised and belittled by political forces as petty and unnecessary, in a country where circumstances suggest food security must be the ultimate priority. You have probably come across the seeminglycorrect but nonsensical political statements like “you don’t eat democracy” – the former president, Bakili Muluzi was fond of this statement. Realpolitik.

Of course it is the duty of government to feed its people but this must not be done as a security to one’s political and financial gains, as it is currently the case in Malawi. In search for electoral victory, Joyce Banda made food distribution a personal crusade in her two years in power. She lost elections and left without any strategy to secure food security for Malawi. She abused the “permanence” of food insecurity.

It is not only Joyce Banda, she followed the lead her predecessors, without much success of course. Winning elections has always been a sole occupation of Malawi leaders since 1994. In the process a lot of duties are ignored, so long as the politicians can be seen to be doing something about their starving people.

Sadly, it is difficult to see why Malawi political leaders should have any incentive to truly make any efforts to have a food secure nation when food insecurity provides them with the perfect cover for their greed and myriad of failures. To escape the current man-made poverty trap, it is important that the issue of food (in)security is sorted out once and for all.Food insecurity is turning Malawi into a hand-to-mouth state.

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11 thoughts on “Food insecurity is turning Malawi into a hand-to-mouth state”

  1. Mmihavani says:

    Mr Kaipa, let us resist from blaming politicians for all problems we have as a country. Politicians are not a solution. We are individuals equally responsible. Ask yourself as a man what have you done to have permanent food security for your family. What have you done to help your village mates? Your people are marrying and having many babies like nobody’s business thinking that government will bail them out. A small land like Malawi but the population is growing at alarming rate. We are not investing the little we have in manufacturing but we are leaving it in the hands of foreigners. There is a limit that a government can do. Citizens are responsible for their country’s prosperity. The country is as good or as bad as its citizens. Development starts at individual level then spreads to family, society, country etc.

  2. yes says:

    This is a nice picture. The little girl is so cute and innocent.

  3. Kalwe. says:

    It does not help that we have a clueless president. The president and his “wife” are busy siphoning money meant for the most vulnerable people who really feel the blunt of food insecurity.

  4. mdabwii says:

    I just love the little girl. Lol

  5. vavlov says:

    50 years of independence; Malawi still poor, backward, and typed in primitive tendencies (nepotism, tribalism, witchcraft, etc). It is a shame that 5 decades after independence agric. is performing below subsistence thresholds, corruption and poverty are rife. Cry the beloved country

  6. Angel of Doom says:

    This Mr Kainja is a very good topic for serious discussion, because it transcends political alignments and politicking should be left out of it.

    Whether we like it or not Malawi is still a subsistence economy,in the sense that the majority of the population produce just enough to feed themselves.

    If we as a nation want to eliminate the persistent food insecurity, then we have to be looking at encouraging commercial farming. Let the majority produce for their food, and have a minority that will produce for the urban, and subsidise them. At the same time discourage the majority who subsist to sell their food.

    besides this, it appears we have lost as a people the ability to preserve food traditionally, in favour of modern preservation methods ie “the Fridge” I can remember a time when we could eat anything at any time of the year, our parents learned from their parents how to preserve food, hence words like “Nkute”, but our generation, because of the ” YO” attitude never learned any of it.

    Instead of wasting resources on subsidising fertilizer, which like our medicines, ends up Mozambique, it might be a good idea to use the resources to encourage people living along the shores of Lake Malawi and Shire to grow food crops twice or even three times a year.

    Those of you who have a memory like mine will remember a chap that had a garden at the Zalewa Road Block at that garden look good all year round, but like everything else in Malawi, the Chap somehow got arrested and locked up, and that was the end of that garden, had he been left alone, others would have copied.

    We also need to educate Malawians that while green maize fetches more money per cob, dry maize feeds more people per cob, so try to minimize eating green maize, because after eating the green maize you go and eat more dry maize “Nsima” and what the article is on about is a shortage of dry maize.

    There is a lot one can suggest, but whether Malawians will listen, that is another issue.
    1. When we harvest pumpkins, just eat pumpkins with ndiwo, ” carbohydrate with protein”
    2. Chnangwa with Ndiwo
    3. Sweet potatoes with Ndiwo
    4. We used to eat “Nsima ya mapila

    After all these foods that can not be preserved have run their course, then start on “maize nsima” I guarantee you the maize from one year will last and meet up with the following years maize.

    We can not blame Government on this everyone has a responsibility to his family, if you are not able then just have enough children that you can feed. “Not 10 children and you are only able to feed 2”

    1. me says:

      only nsima hand pumkings and sweet potatoes.
      what about milk for children,meat,fish all those things that all people need?
      because of that alimentation thats why people have too much sickness.
      imune sistem stay low and people catch everything its not there fault not having money to have a proper alimentation.
      but after 50 yers of independance should already live much better no?
      instead stiil are using all things that kamuzu did,and nobody want to put is legacy up and continue to grow.that country today could be huge and with qualified people in every sectors.

      1. B says:

        What is Ndiwo?

  7. mkanda says:

    How do you expect something different when nation’s success in measured in terms of bags of Maize harvested. Unless we move out of this, we will be beggars for another generation and a few to come

  8. me says:

    put those people out of the government but too fast.
    they dont care about the people they dont give a shit.
    out before they fuck everything.only thieves.
    they are going to robb everything and after go to other country.
    incomppetents.people are going to stay without medication,without food,water,stay sick this ask for serious measures people.
    do something before its too late.
    peter was under investigation facing jail and as a prize win election?
    you people are the only guilty of this situation because you already know the mutharika family and you go and vote for them?
    what you have in head now u r going to soffer but its not fair.
    even now the first lady already learn how too still in high scale,someone teacher how to do,the professor is with her.
    please do something.time is running out

  9. Me too says:

    Hunger must become history. We need another Moses, another Joshua. When God wants to save a people, he raises up one of their own. I grew up under conditions of extreme deprivation. Education emancipated me from poverty and hunger. The long term solution is to educate every child, and equip them with employable skills. We need good, even exportable, carpenters, good plumbers, good masons, good painters, good electricians, good mechanics, skilled metal fabricators that can make good agricultural equipment, etc. Secondly, we need to revolutionalise agriculture. We have been stuck here for too long. Change starts from within; and the only limitation to success is our imagination. One piglet here, one rabbit there, one daily cow there, and three beds of tomatoes is not agriculture for the 21st century.

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