In Malawi, the government, non-profit organizations and other stakeholders have introduced a new initiative to combat hunger. The move – called Hunger Free – is part of a worldwide campaign to eliminate hunger in poor countries. The campaign in Malawi aims to introduce laws that guarantee the right to food for all so hunger can be cut in half by the year 2015. Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Lameck Masina in Blantyre says for the past two years, Malawi has been making progress in efforts to grow enough food to feed the country.
Statistics from agriculture experts show that this year, farmers harvested more than three million metric tons of the main staple, maize. That’s a surplus of over one million metric tons.
But despite that achievement, there are still pockets of people threatened by hunger.
The hardest hit areas include the towns of Kasungu, Nsanje Chikwawa and Karonga in the north. In Kasungu, the food shortage is largely attributed to a dry spell that lasted for months, while in the other three towns, it’s due to flooding.
The government, Action Aid and other NGO’s are working to ensure that all hungry Malawians have access to food. The government has approved the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy, part of its commitment to the goal set by the UN and AU to cut hunger and poverty in half by 2015.
Heading the effort in Malawi is Chandiwira Chisi. He’s the Governance and Campaigns Coordinator for ActionAid Malawi, with a background in demographic studies.
He says the campaign will make sure there are enough laws to guarantee that all Malawians have access to food. The laws, he says, also will aim to ensure that women have the right to own land. They’ll also help Malawians hold the government, individuals and corporations accountable under certain circumstances – such as lack of political will or mismanagement leading to a loss of access to food, water, land and seeds.
He says, “Basically, in the first place, we are saying there has to be a way (for) government (to) ensure that the gains that have been made should be sustained in the area of food and nutrition security. For instance, if we now have enough maize or enough food on the ground, is it not possible for us to come up with a law that could guarantee the realization to food for every Malawian?”
In the past, observers attributed most of the hunger problem to what they saw as the government’s failure to properly handle food items.
In 2004, the Malawian government sold the entire maize surplus to Kenya and Mozambique--a development that led to Malawi’s worst bout of hunger and to the deaths of children.
He says if adequate laws had been in place then, there would have been a mechanism for the people of Malawi to bring the issue to the government’s attention.
Another development that critics have described as a flaw in the official food policy is the government’s decision to donate some of the surplus maize to neighboring countries. This year, the government has donated five thousand metric tons each of grain in Malawi’s storage silos to Swaziland and Lesotho. It also sold 400,000 metric tons to Zimbabwe. The action – which was initially considered a goodwill gesture -- has boomeranged, and Malawi is now left with a surplus of about 80,000 tons. Agriculture experts say that’s too little to feed the 13 million Malawians in the event of another hunger crisis. But the government maintains there is enough maize to feed the population until the next harvest period.
Besides the proposed law, there are already political measures underway to improve food security.
The AU project and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) is calling on countries to increase the amount of funding allotted to their ministries of agriculture.
Chisi says the government has already taken action to meet the request.
“We are aware that over the years, budgetary allocation for Ministry of Agriculture has shifted from three percent to about 13 percent. These are political commitments on the part of government and we believe with concerted effort we can be able to look at hunger as history by 2015,” he says.
Malawi’s ActionAid coordinator also says his organization, in coordination with local non-governmental organizations, is currently trying to come up with a Right to Food Bill, which is currently being drafted.
This means that Malawians will still have to wait a bit longer before their right to food is supported by legislation.
Chisi says there is no public opposition to the campaign for the law, even the government supports it. He says it should only be a matter of months before Malawians have another tool in the arsenal to ensure food is distributed fairly and responsibly.
ActionAid has launched similar campaigns in Brazil, Nigeria, Malawi, Senegal, Mozambique, Ghana and Vietnam.