Malawi is a small landlocked country in sub-Saharan Africa, bordering Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. It covers an area of 118,500 sq. km and has an estimated population of 14 million. The country is defined as low-income and ranks 171 out of 187 countries in the 2011 UNDP Human Development Index. Over 40 percent of the populations live on less than US$1 per day (2010 Government of Malawi MDG Report). Malawi’s landholdings are generally small, particularly in the densely populated south, leading to the over-use of marginally productive agricultural land, causing soil erosion and nutrient depletion. More than 40 percent of rural households cultivate less than half a hectare, mainly devoted to maize production.
Large parts of Malawi are expected to suffer from food insecurity in 2012 and 2013. The lean season is expected to begin as early as August 2012 in some areas of the southern region. More than 1.6 million people in rural areas in Malawi are at risk of hunger, according to the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) report that was released at the end of June 2012. This is a result of poor harvests combined with rising inflation, and the 49 percent devaluation of the Malawi kwacha that have pushed up the cost of living. These problems, along with other structural causes of food insecurity, have exacerbated vulnerability in rural and urban areas.
The stunting rate for children under five is 47 percent, while the wasting rate is 4 percent (Malawi Demographic Health Survey, 2010).
Since 1990, Malawi has hosted an average of 14,000 refugees, mainly from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Rwanda at Dzaleka refugee camp.
Malawi faces a host of food-related challenges. These include chronic food insecurity among poor and vulnerable households, some of them refugees; recurrence of natural disasters such as drought and floods; high cost of living; high prevalence of chronic malnutrition and widespread micronutrient deficiencies; high rates of dropping out, repetition and absenteeism among primary school children from food-insecure households; and low income for smallholder farmers due to poor agricultural market structures and policies.