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Hunger in Malawi

George Mhango / cmOctober 1, 2013

A report released on Tuesday (01.10.2013) by the UN food agency says 12 percent of the world's population face chronic hunger. Some 1.5 million Malawians are in need of food aid as the country faces a continued drought.

Image: CC /Anne Wangalachi/ CIMMYT

The report titled 'State of Food Insecurity in the World' said 842 million people did not have enough food for an active and healthy life. Most of them live in underdeveloped countries. Although chronic hunger has declined from 868 million in 2010-2012, the report saw "no progress" in West Africa and only "slow progress" in southern and northern Africa. In Africa "more than one in five people is estimated to be undernourished," the report found.

Malawi's government has said the country does not have enough maize in its silos. Maize is the staple food and the announcement signals a threat to food security in the southeastern African nation of 14 million people. The scarcity of maize has forced the government to start rationing. The plan is that everyone wanting to buy maize should be able to purchase at least a bucketful.

Malawian President Joyce Banda addresses a media conference in the capital Lilongwe. REUTERS/Mabvuto Banda (MALAWI - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY)
President Joyce Banda's government is facing a food crisis caused by drought and floodsImage: Reuters

While addressing this year's UN General Assembly in New York, Malawi's President Joyce Banda said her country may not be able to attain the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on hunger and poverty reduction. She cited continuing drought as an impediment to achieving the goal of halving the number of those going hungry.

Skyrocketing prices

In May 2013 the price of a bag of maize was 4,000 Malawian kwacha ($10, 9 euros). The price has since doubled. Panic has gripped residents leading to long queues at most maize markets.

Some vendors are cashing in on the shortage, making life even more difficult for people like Mercy Mzumara, a mother of four. "When we come here to buy maize, I can only afford to buy a pail which can only last for a week," Mercy told George Mhango, DW correspondent in Blantyre.

"Considering the family that I have, whenever I get visitors, things get worse," she added.

Christopher Pensulo, a Blantyre-based maize vendor, said they were not to blame for the current food situation in the country. "We have a business to run, what else can we do? Those who want to buy should do so, and those that cannot, it's up to them," he said. He added that traders too "have families to support and pay bills to pay.”

Industrializing agriculture

Malawian social commentator Mandinda Zungu said the country should respond to food insecurity by industrializing the agricultural sector. Mandinda believes such a move would reduce hunger and poverty in line with the MDG's. "Malawians have limited land, so if they are to obtain a lot from that land they have to engage in irrigation farming," Mandinda told DW.

A logo of FAO, The Rome-based Food and Agricultural Organisation.
One of the Millenium Development Goals is halve the number of hungry by 2015 (compared to 1990 levels)Image: AP Graphics

Malawi's economy depends solely on agriculture, with most of the population currently involved in subsistence farming.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says close to 1.5 million Malawians are in need of food aid. The FAO representative in Malawi, Amos Nkhoma has warned that the figures "could soon rise." It is possible that this figure might go up to 1.9 million, but the preliminary estimate is that 1.5 million people will need food assistance in 2013, he said.