More than 1.6 million people in 15 districts in southern Malawi are coping with serious food shortages, an increase of 200,000 since 2011. Those struggling to feed themselves now make up nearly 12 per cent of the national population.
The price of maize has more than doubled, and many families are eating only once a day, says a report from the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee. People are selling household items to buy food and seeking jobs in urban areas.
Lengthy dry spells over the past three years, current high food prices, and recent devaluation of the currency are factors in the current crisis, according to the United Nations World Food Programme.
For Fatima Tchotcho, an 80-year-old blind woman from Nsanje district, events this year have taken a turn for the worst.
Fatima grows millet to support her five grandchildren, but this year her crop failed.
In the past, relatives would help her farm the garden and supplement her food supplies when her harvest was depleted. But the situation is different this year; her relatives are also hungry.
As a last resort, Fatima sends the children to the Shire River to fetch wild tubers.
“Turning to the tubers is a desperate measure,” she says. “They are hardly tasty or nutritious. Worse still, collection of the tubers from the crocodile-infested river is such a risky venture.”
The World Food Programme estimates that 82,000 tons of food assistance, valued at US$48 million, will be needed to meet the needs of hungry Malawi families.
Marko Ngwenya, World Vision’s national director for Malawi, says the government has set aside 27,000 tons of maize. The World Food Programme is set to contribute US$18 million, funded by the United States and Britain, leaving a shortfall of US$30 million.
“This gap is quite huge, hence all [the charitable organisations] working in Malawi are being called upon to help,” Marko says.
In collaboration with the World Food Programme and the Malawi government, World Vision is providing food aid and supporting alternative livelihoods for families.
World Vision’s regular programming in Malawi focuses on the well-being of more than 130,000 sponsored children, their families and communities in 26 of the nation’s 28 districts. Building food security through improved agriculture and irrigation is a top development priority.
With reporting by Limbani Davis Nsapato, a World Vision communications officer in Malawi.