Even in the 2012 Hollywood movie recognised that hunger was no game, and that is certainly the case in Malawi as the poor harvest in April 2015 means the annual “lean season” is coming early and the UN’s World Food Programme predicts almost 3 million Malawians will experience “acute food insecurity”.
The vast majority (80%) of Malawians are subsistence farmers with an average of 0.23 ha of arable land compared with the sub-Saharan African average of 0.40 ha. And beyond that almost everyone relies on maize to produce the nsima which forms the staple food for the nation.
Even in a good year, the ‘lean season’ means many go hungry as they eek out their remaining food before the next harvest. However 2015/16, with estimates of the last harvest at approx 70% of normal (The Weekend Nation, 14 Nov 2015) maize prices are reported to have increased from about 4,500 MWK for a 50 kg bag (the price we were paying Jan/Feb 2015) to as much as 9,000 MWK.
Debates will continue concerning the best way for Malawi to ‘bootstrap’ itself out of a level of material poverty where as much as 40% of central spend is from external aid, and it languishes at the bottom of global tables of per capita wealth. However, the longer we live in Malawi the clearer it is that the answers are not simple, and indeed many academics would argue that Western ideas for aid are often counter productive!
In the meantime many in Malawi – for good or ill – are caught completely dependent on two programmes controlled by central government:
The Fisp (Farm Input Subsidy Programme) aims to provide farmers with the lowest incomes with fertiliser to help them produce maize more effectively. Its programme has been hailed as a success over several years although some locals, aid agencies, and academics have reservations about its efficacy. We hear that most of this fertilizer needs to be used at the time of planting which is almost upon us, but this year it appears that sourcing/distributing the fertilizer is running very late and may not be available in time for this year’s planting.
Admarc (Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation) is charged with promoting food security and maintaining a strategic food reserve and in times of need like today distributes maize to those in need. The government is reported to have set aside 4 Billion MWK earlier in the year to buy maize on the international market to avert hunger, and – after a recent appeal from the President – countries as varied as Brazil and the the US have pledged even more than that in emergency food aid. Now a Nov 2015 press report (admittedly from sources normally unfriendly to the government) flags that the Admarc safety net is struggling, with the government drastically reducing the supply of maize to depots.
In the press Nov 2015 (Weekend Nation, 14-11-15) one village headman talked about 4,000 people in his area hit by acute hunger, Fisp not rolled out in the area, the local Admarc depot empty, and many with food only because it is still mango season.
We continue to believe it is the spiritual needs of Malawi that is its biggest and most fundamental challenge, and that remains our ministry focus. However, whatever the cause and whatever the long-term solution, Malawi looks to be set for a ‘hunger season’ that will certainly be no game!
Friends, please continue to pray for the people of Malawi, their political leaders, and their spiritual leaders, as they look to find a way through.