“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.
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)|
|Management of the economy||8%||3%||5%||11%|
|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.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :