The United Nations is launching an $88-million appeal for more than four million people in Malawi, 34 percent of the population, facing acute food shortages. The United Nations says Malawi's harvest this year was the worst since 1994.

The UN says the money would be spent not only to feed the hungry but also to help farmers grow more food next year.

A spokesman for the UN's World Food Program, Simon Pluess, says the appeal goes beyond Malawi's immediate needs.

"It also gives inputs to ensure that the harvest itself helps the poor by helping farmers to be food secure and not to fall into the trap of another bad harvest," he added. "For example, by giving seeds assistance, by giving fertilizer to the farmers because the lack of fertilizer during the last season was one of the big reasons why the national production has not been important enough."

Mr. Pluess says the World Food Program will provide assistance to two million vulnerable people in seven districts in the country's hardest-hit southern region. He says the government of Malawi will help the remaining two-point-two million people at risk through food distribution and voucher and cash schemes.

The WFP spokesman says Malawi is facing a food crisis in large part because of the rapidly rising prices of staple foods. He says hundreds of thousands of the country's rural poor cannot afford to buy the food at current prices.

"We see that the Malawian rural population has, to a large extent, consumed their own stock and they are beginning to use survival strategies," he said. "They skip meals. They share meals between family members or they leave for cities to find a daily job. In some markets, we saw that the price of maize has risen by 50 percent almost. So, because of this very high price of maize, many more people cannot afford to buy food."

More than half of the $88 million appeal will go toward food and the rest will be given to other UN agencies for health, education and agricultural development projects.