Threats to Food Security

  • Land degradation
  • Deforestation
  • Floods
  • Drought
  • Water pollution from agricultural runoff
  • HIV / AIDS


Malawi is a small landlocked country in sub-Saharan Africa, bordering Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. It covers an area of 118,500 km2 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 population live on less than US$1 per day (2010 Government of Malawi MDG Report). 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 this year. Agricultural production estimates for the 2012 harvest season show a decrease in maize production by as much as 40 percent in some areas, following poor onset and erratic distribution of rains in the country. Combined with the impact of high food prices, the Famine and Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET) suggests that a food emergency could start as early as July 2012 and last for 9 months. These problems, in combination with other structural causes of food insecurity in Malawi, have exacerbated vulnerability in rural and urban areas. Roughly one million people could require emergency assistance to meet basic food needs.

In April 2012, Joyce Banda became Malawi’s first female president and only the second woman to lead a country in Africa. In May 2012, the Malawi kwacha was devalued by 49 percent. The devaluation, coupled with soaring inflation of 12.4 percent (as of May 2012), has produced precipitous increases in the price of basic goods and services. A report from the Centre for Social Concern indicates that the cost of living in urban areas has increased by nearly 50 percent from January 2011 to January 2012. Retail prices for the staple, maize, were higher in March than  last year and the 5-year average by 40 percent.

 The stunting rate for children under 5 is 47 percent, while the wasting rate is 4 percent (Malawi Demographic Health Survey, 2010). An estimated 27,000 people in the country are infected with TB.

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.


WFP Activities

Country Programme (2012 -2016) CP 200287

The Country Programme (CP) started on March 1, 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 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: Support to Education, Nutritional Support, and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) for Food Security. Through the CP, WFP intends to develop the capacity of more than 2,000 government staff and some 3,600 local community members, in-line with WFP's shift from food aid to food assistance. A total of 122,948 metric tons of food is scheduled to be distributed to some 1,926,400 beneficiaries over a five-year period at an estimated total cost of US$109,893,112. WFP will procure most of its food assistance in the local markets, thus supporting the local economy, including smallholder farmers.

Assistance to Food Insecure People Suffering from the Effects of Natural Disasters (PRRO 105860)

Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) estimates show that as many as one million beneficiaries may require food assistance during the 2012/2013 food consumption year.  An assessment of the rural food security situation by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) took place between 27 May and 1 June, and the results will be officially presented at the end of June. This assessment will determine the exact need for any WFP and Government emergency food assistance in rural areas. The PRRO was due to end in February 2012, but was extended until December of this year. WFP is extending the emergency window of this operation so as to be able to jump-start an emergency response.

Assistance to Refugees (PRRO 200087)

The current refugee project started on 1 January 2010 and will be operational through December 2012. The project provides assistance to 14,000 refugees through general food distributions in the Dzaleka refugee camp and at the Karonga refugee transit shelter. The refugees’ 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)

WFP is working to connect farmers in Malawi to markets through its Purchase for Progress initiative. Purchase for Progress, a five-year pilot which started in 2008, aims at linking small- scale farmers to markets. P4P Malawi aims to improve smallholders' agricultural productivity and the marketing of staple crops while boosting domestic production. In 2011, WFP distributed 23,500 metric tons of assorted commodities (cereals, pulses and corn-soya blend) in country. Approximately half of those (11,202 MT) were procured locally.

Read more on WFP Malawi Operations Brief (2009).

WFP Offices

Head Office