Malawi is a small and landlocked country, bordering Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. It is a UNFPA global population hotspot with a rapidly expanding population (3 percent per year). 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, which is compounded by only half of girls aged 15-24 in Malawi being literate. 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.
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. 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 (MVAC), an estimated 695,600 people will experience acute food insecurity during the 2014/15 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 nutritious food.
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, with little improvements seen over the past decades.
Since 1990, Malawi has hosted a steady influx of refugees, mainly from the Great Lakes Region relocating to Dzaleka refugee camp.
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.