Malawi is the most hungry country among those surveyed in Africa, according to an Afrobarometer study report released this week.
The result comes after 15 years of government investment in the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp), which targets poor households with cheaper farm inputs to produce for household food security and to improve their incomes as well as livelihoods.
The survey, conducted between 2016 and 2018 in 34 African countries, shows that 76 percent of Malawians go hungry with more frequency than fellow citizens in other countries on the continent.
Mauritius is the least starved nation, with just six percent of the population there reporting staying without eating.
The deprivation in Malawi raises questions of why Fisp and other poverty reduction strategies are failing to work for the poor despite upbeat political rhetoric and populist programmes, including massive budget allocations to support food production.
Since the launch of Fisp in 2005 under the Bingu administration, government has spent an estimated K432.5 billion in allocations towards the programme, representing about 40 percent of total agriculture budget estimated at K1 107.5 trillion for the same period.
While figures in budgetary allocations indicate that the agriculture sector has been getting a huge chunk in most scenarios, or coming third, the national budget on the other hand since 2005 is estimated at K 9 798 7 trillion.
In total, Fisp allocation stands at 4.4 percent of the total national budget for the 15-year period.
Agriculture expert Tamani Nkhono-Mvula has since said although maize is an important crop for food security in the country, there is need for diversification as it is prone to climate change challenges.
In a written response on Wednesday, Nkhono-Mvula, said food shortage in the country remains an endemic issue partly due to overdependence on rain-fed agriculture.
He said: “One of the biggest challenges that we have in Malawi is that much of our food is produced under tainted agriculture and with challenges of climate change it becomes vulnerable. So even if we invest billions in inputs, but any disturbance to weather will make all that go down the drain.”
Nkhono-Mvula further called for a review of Fisp, saying government continues to finance it despite reports that the programme does not benefit targetted populations and it is not bearing the desired outcome.
Meanwhile a University of Malawi’s Chancellor College political and administrative studies lecturer Joseph Chunga said the results should prompt politicians to think that there is urgent need to address basic needs of Malawians.
He said: “I would say policy wise, as a country, we are failing and this is what politicians should be thinking about. We can’t start dreaming in colour when we haven’t sorted out the basics.
“The take home message from the surveys are that we are stuck. As a continent, generally we started making progress and as for Malawi, there is nothing changing.”
Reacting to the survey results, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM Party have attributed the developments to poor resource allocation and poor leadership.
MCP spokesperson Reverend Maurice Munthali in a telephone interview said Malawi is endowed with natural resources and expertise but there is need to revisit priorities.
On his part, UTM Party publicity secretary Joseph Chidanti Malunga said policies are not well-structured, citing Fisp as one intervention that was designed to help maximise production but has failed.
However, governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) spokesperson Nicholas Dausi argued that Fisp has helped cushion Malawians from hunger.
Minister of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology Mark Botomani told The Nation last December that government is initiating various projects to alleviate hunger in the country.
Since 2016, the hunger situation as indicated in the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Mvac) annual reports has been fluctuating.
For instance, while in 2016 it was reported that 6.6 million people faced hunger, the number drastically reduced to 836 766 in 2017, representing 87 percent drop. In 2018, however, the number went up to 3.3 million while in 2019, the Mvac report indicated that 1.1 million people risk going hungry. For the 2020 lean period, the report estimates that about 1.8 million people will face hunger.
Afrobarometer uses a Lived Poverty Index (LPI) measure–an experiential measure that is based on a series of survey questions about how frequently people go without basic necessities during the course of a year.
Reads the report: “The LPI measures a portion of the concept of poverty that is not captured well by other measures, and thus offers an important complement to official statistics on poverty and development. Because people are the best judges of their own interests, survey respondents are best placed to tell us about their quality of life.” Respondents were asked whether they themselves, or anyone in their families, have gone without food, medicine or without money, once, twice or several times.