More on Malawi

What are the current issues in Malawi

Malawi is a small and landlocked country, bordering Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. It has a rapidly expanding population (3 percent per year) and is regarded as a United Nations Population Fund global population ‘hotspot’. The country is defined as low-income and ranks 174 out of 187 countries in the 2013 Human Development Index where it has stagnated for the last five years. Female-headed households experience higher poverty than those headed by men. Since 2012, economic shocks such as devaluation of the Kwacha by 49 percent and inflation of above 20 percent have contributed to high living costs, with Malawi ranking as the 13th worst performing economy in the 2014/15 Global Competitiveness report produced by  the World Economic Forum. With a majority of livelihoods dependent on agriculture, the population is highly vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters such as annual dry spells and flooding.

Malawi’s landholdings are generally small and densely cultivated, causing overuse and degradation of marginally productive agricultural land. Deforestation rates at 2.8 percent annually are the highest in southern Africa, exacerbating food and water insecurity. More than 80 percent of Malawians are smallholder farmers with access to an average 0.23 ha of arable land, compared with the sub-Saharan African average of 0.40 ha.

With a majority of livelihoods dependent on agriculture, the population is highly vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters such as annual dry spells and flooding – Malawi experienced both in 2015 with particularly severe floods in the south affecting as many as 1 million people. Large parts of Malawi continue to suffer from food insecurity on an annual basis, particularly during the lean season (usually between December and March), due to high food prices and insufficient household crop production caused by prolonged dry spells and/or flooding.

According to the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee, an estimated 2.83 million people will experience acute food insecurity during the 2015/16 lean season. Women are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity as their extensive home-based workload and care work does not usually translate into economic gain, limiting their ability to afford a balanced diet.

Malawi’s food security situation is further aggravated by a high HIV infection rate (11 percent), which is the ninth highest rate in the world. Nutrition insecurity is also high. The stunting rate for children under age five is 42 percent.  According to a recent Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA) Malawi report, 10.3 percent of GDP is lost annually to child undernutrition and 23 percent of all child mortality cases are associated with undernutrition.

Since 1990, Malawi has hosted a steady influx of refugees, mainly from the Great Lakes Region of Africa. These are located at Dzaleka refugee camp, not far from the capital, Lilongwe.

Malawi’s food related challenges include: chronic food insecurity among poor and vulnerable households, including refugees; recurrence of natural disasters such as drought and floods; high prevalence of chronic undernutrition and widespread micronutrient deficiencies; high rates of school drop-outs, repetition and absenteeism among primary schoolchildren from food-insecure households; and low incomes among smallholder farmers as a result of poor agricultural market structures and policies.

What the World Food Programme is doing in Malawi

The Country Programme (CP) started in March 2012 and will be operational until February 2016. The overarching objective of the programme is to strengthen national capacity to improve primary education outcomes, reduce malnutrition among vulnerable groups, and improve the food security of communities living in disaster-prone areas and build their resilience to shocks. The CP aims to achieve this through its three components: nutrition and education support for the vulnerable, capacity development for disaster risk management and preparedness, and agricultural market support. Through the CP, WFP intends to develop the capacity of government staff and local community members, in-line with WFP's shift from food aid to food assistance. A total of nearly 123,000 metric tons of food is scheduled to be distributed to some 1.9 million people over a five-year period. WFP will source most of its food assistance on the local market, with some stocks procured from smallholder farmers.

  • Responding to humanitarian needs and strengthening resilience to restore food security, nutrition and livelihoods

This protracted relief and recovery operation (PRRO) started in December 2014 and will continue until March 2017. The overall objective of the project is to contribute to restoring food security, rebuilding sustainable livelihoods and strengthening the resilience of the most vulnerable food insecure population. The PRRO enables WFP to provide relief assistance if and when disasters strike, while also enabling a gradual shift from unconditional relief assistance to more integrated relief and resilience-building programmes. Through this project, WFP will provide emergency food assistance to food-insecure people affected by shocks, introducing complementary actions in targeted areas (including behavioural change messaging on nutrition, gender, protection and agricultural production) while linking them to longer-term social support and resilience- building activities. The project also provides food assistance for assets as part of the resilience component, focusing on the creation of productive assets in Malawi’s most chronically food insecure districts. In total through this operation, WFP will provide food assistance to about 1.7 million people over three lean seasons.

  • Food assistance to refugees in Malawi

The current refugee project started in June 2013 and will be operational through May 2015. The project will provide assistance to an estimated 23,400 refugees through general food distributions in the Dzaleka refugee camp. Refugee movement and local integration is limited, making them heavily dependent on WFP food assistance to meet their basic food needs. The overall goal of the operation is to help achieve and maintain food security among refugees living in officially-designated camps while protecting the environment and livelihoods of the surrounding communities.

  • Purchase for Progress (P4P)

The Purchase for Progress initiative leverages WFP’s purchasing power and expertise in food quality and logistics to link smallholder farmers to agricultural markets. WFP and local partners work with farmer organisations to help smallholders develop business and harvesting skills to meet WFP’s high quality standards. By acquiring these skills, smallholders are able to sell their crop production to WFP and, most importantly, become competitive players in the formal markets to increase their incomes and improve their lives.

Since the project’s inception in 2009, WFP has registered 60 farmer organisations (more than 70,000 Malawian smallholders) in 14 districts in Malawi while also linking them to buyers in national and regional markets. In total, WFP Malawi has purchased 64,300 MT of food from Malawian farmers of which 9,900 MT were sourced directly from smallholders through farmer organisations or small/medium traders.

Featured Malawi publications

  • Malawi: WFP Country Brief (PDF, 485 KB)

    A Country Brief provides the latest snapshot of the country strategy, operations, operational highlights (achievements and issues/challenges), partnerships and country background.

Looking for more publications on Malawi? Visit the Malawi publications archive.