President Peter Mutharika is upbeat Malawi will “gain more ground” in its fight against malnutrition which is still high in the country, especially among children, once the nation fully embraces irrigation farming.
Mutharika was speaking on Monday at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe as the King Letsei III of Lesotho paid him a courtesy call ahead of a four-day official visit. The king is in the country in his capacity as United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) special ambassador on nutrition.
Said Mutharika, “Rain-fed agriculture is no longer reliable and we have to look for alternative ways other than just relying on rain-fed agriculture. My government has since embarked on a mass irrigation project that will be the largest in Southern Africa, and we believe this will be key to eradicate hunger in the country and address malnutrition.”
The President was referring to the World Bank-supported Shire Valley Transformation Program (SVTP-I) which will cover Chikwawa and Nsanje. It will among others lay foundations for commercialization, and improve management of natural resources in the lower Shire districts. The financing, amounting to USD166 million [about K122 billion], is meant see out the whole programme scheduled to have three phases over a 14 year period; stretching from 2017 to 2031.
The President’s sentiments come at a time Malawi is still relishing the feat of being ranked the second -closely following South Africa in first – out of 45 Africa countries in reducing hunger and under-nutrition; as indicated in the 2017 Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index – Africa (HANCI-Africa) report.
The ranking in the HANCI-Africa report by the Institute of Development Studies (UK) with the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), compares the performance of 45 countries on 22 indicators of political commitment to reducing hunger and under-nutrition.
And commenting on the achievement, which Mutharika had earlier boasted of at the meeting, King Letsie III hailed the country for the positive strides made so far, including scaling down stunting which is prevalent in children by 10 percent in the past decade, from 47 to 37 percent as reported in the 2016 Malawi Health Demographic Survey report.
“Obviously, that’s something worth commending. This is no mean achievement. I would therefore like to congratulate and also encourage Malawi on the path taken. I just hope other countries are going to emulate this very great example but I will fail in my duties if I don’t encourage you to make appropriate investments in growing nutrition as a country.” Said King Letsie III.
In a separate interview held on the sidelines of the meeting, Minister of Health Atupele Muluzi said the statistics alone tells of a “very strong political will” to curb malnutrition in the country; a move that has also seen a reduction in vitamin A deficiency and Anaemia in the country.
He, like the King, was however quick to warn that as a nation we still need a lot of effort to seal the remaining gaps.
“We admit there’s still a lot of work to do, and the interventions being carried out still need excellent coordinated and concerted efforts though they continue to bring the desired effects. But I feel we need to do more on behavioural change interventions as this is the area that will address the adult populations that continue to be hit by various food-related non-communicable diseases.
The King of Lesotho is earmarked to visit various interventions related to nutrition in Kasungu on Wednesday before he winds up his tour on Thursday; according a statement released earlier on Monday by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.