Findings of a recent Afrobarometer survey show that only 21 out of every 100 Malawians have enough food throughout the year, a development an agriculture policy analyst says is a true reflection of the situation.
In the survey, Afrobarometer found that while 21 percent of Malawians have enough food, 16 out of every 100 lacked food a number of times in the previous year and 63 in every 100 had no food “a majority of the times”.
The recent survey comes barely months after Afrobarometer released a similar survey in March this year which established that 76 percent of Malawians go hungry with increased frequency than other countries on the African continent.
Reacting to the findings, agriculture policy analyst Tamani Nkhono-Mvula said in an interview yesterday that government should focus on the structural causes of food insecurity and address them accordingly.
He said: “I am of the view that this present situation can be easily addressed if we deal with the structural causes of food insecurity in Malawi.
“Every year the crop estimates indicate that we have a surplus, but still most households go hungry not because there is no food in the country, but that the available food is not accessible to them.”
Nkhono-Mvula said while a majority of families do not know where they will get their next meal, the social capital is still strong and has made most households survive on the well-being of others.
In a separate telephone interview, Centre for Social Concern economic governance programme officer Bernard Mphepo said such findings should prompt government to have a clear direction on implementation of policies in the agriculture sector.
He said: “It is a worrisome situation, but then there is need for implementation of policies. However, it depends on the policies. I would give an example of one policy called data agriculture which was left out and now we have the fertiliser subsidy which is political and not supporting production on the part of beneficiaries.”
Mphepo said government should implement policies that are sustainable and should contribute to boosting food production in the country.
He also said farmers should be empowered to be self-reliant and not depend on the government for free subsidy all the time.
Mphepo also said State produce trader Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) should be reformed to empower smallholder farmers who are mostly exploited. He said the exploitation of smallholder farmers is a contributing factor to food security challenges in the country.
An analysis The Nation conducted in March this year indicated that an estimated K432.5 billion has so far been spent in allocations towards the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp), representing about 40 percent of the total agriculture budget estimated at K107.5 trillion since the introduction of the programme by the administration of then President Bingu wa Mutharika.
In total, Fisp allocation stands at 4.4 percent of the total national budget for a 15-year period. On the other hand, since 2005, the national budget is estimated at K9.7 trillion.
The persistent food shortages in the country have often raised questions on the sustainability and impact of Fisp, with some, including the Economics Association of Malawi (Ecama) proposing an exit strategy.
But in an interview yesterday, Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security public relations officer Priscilla Mateyu said as part of government’s policies, irrigation farming is being intensified at national level to boost food production.
At household level, she said, government is also encouraging diversification of agriculture, among farmers.
Said Mateyu: “Farmers are also being encouraged to take farming as an enterprise and also use new improved varieties of farm inputs.
“Aside from that, government through Fisp is ensuring that even the low-income earners must be food-secure by providing them with farm inputs.”
To come up with the results, respondents in the Afrobarometer survey were asked on how often have they or their families been without food with options such as once, several times or always.
Since 2016, the hunger situation as indicated in the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Mvac) annual reports has been fluctuating. In 2016, Mvac reported that 6.6 million people faced hunger but the number drastically reduced to 836 766 in 2017, representing an 87 percent drop.
But in 2018, the number rose to 3.3 million while in 2019, the Mvac report indicated that 1.1 million people were at risk of hunger. During the 2020 lean period, the report estimates that about 1.8 million people will face hunger.