While the world is focusing attention on the severe food shortages in Niger, a UN agency is warning that Malawi is facing its worst food crisis in more than ten years.
The Food and Agriculture Organization says Malawi’s maize production has suffered from drought, floods, poor harvests, poverty and the effects of HIV/AIDS.
Tesfai Ghermazien, the FAO’s senior emergency coordinator for Malawi, says very little rain fell in late January and February.
“It started very well in December and early January. It was very hopeful. But unfortunately, especially in February, it failed and most crops went to permanent wilting,” he says.
He says poverty makes the situation worse. Farmers are unable to invest in their land to produce more maize so they can keep some in reserve.
“Malawi is not that poor in natural resources. It has a lot of water and it has enough land. But investment in agriculture has not been that big, so far. So, agriculture being the economic base of the country, it should receive the attention it’s supposed to receive if the economic growth of the country is to improve in the coming years,” he says.
Malawi’s maize crop this year is about one-point-three million metric tons. The FAO says that’s the lowest in a decade. As a result, it says four-point-two million people, or 34 percent of the population, are unable to meet their food needs. And if the price for available grain at the market goes much higher, that number could increase to four-point-six million.
The FAO official says there is also a link between the food crisis and HIV/AIDS.
“A lot of people who are infected by HIV may not be in good health to be productive, given the fact that 85 percent of the population of Malawi depends on agriculture either through labor or production. So they don’t have enough energy to meet their demands. And on the other hand also, the people who take care of them they may not be able to dedicate 100 percent of their time on production because they have to take care of the sick,” he says.
Mr. Ghermazien says a number of things can be done to deal with the current crisis and prevent new ones.
“Well, I think the solution is probably a persistent vision, policy, program and assistance also – not that comes this year and disappears the next year. If there is a persistent assistance to the people and very good policy from the government side also I think it can be tackled,” he says.
For example, while many families need immediate food aid, they also need seeds and fertilizers for the next planting season in October. The FAO is promoting the planting of other crops to reduce the dependence on maize. These include drought resistant crops such as Cassava and sweet potatoes, as well fruit trees.
The UN agency is also involved in, soil conservation, small livestock production, small-scale irrigation projects and new income generating activities to help reduce poverty.