Better Support for the Poorest in Malawi

WFP is trying to ensure that food assistance reaches the poorest in Malawi by linking its emergency relief operations with the Government’s Social Cash Transfer Programme.

Climatic shocks have left Malawi suffering from its second meagre harvest in a row, triggering increased levels of acute food insecurity countrywide. To ensure assistance will reach the poorest in Malawi, WFP is linking its emergency assistance with the Government’s Social Cash Transfer Programme.

In southern Malawi, temperatures are already high in Chikwawa district where El Niño has left maize fields arid and overridden by dust. This is home for Enegentsi Mitha, a 70-year old woman caring for her five grandchildren, who were orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Since August 2015, Enegentsi has been receiving the equivalent of about USD 5.50 each month through the Social Cash Transfer Programme, which targets the ultra-poor who are unable to work so that they can afford basic needs like nutritious foods and schools fees.

In previous years, Malawians enrolled on the Social Cash Transfer Programme were excluded from receiving emergency assistance, despite them being the poorest of the poor. Local authorities designed assistance this way in an effort to spread available resources to as many community members as possible, against the backdrop of widespread poverty.

“We were able to eat just one meal each day,” explains Enegentisi in reference to previous years when she had to spend her full social cash transfer on food.

This year, WFP has worked with the government, partners and NGOs so that Enegentsi and other food insecure households receiving social cash transfers are not excluded from extra support during the lean season.

By insuring their inclusion, the emergency assistance addresses acute food insecurity with lifesaving food and cash-based assistance, allowing recipients to continue using the government’s social cash transfer to invest in the longer term development of their families, such as paying for school fees, maintaining their homes and investing in livestock.

Holesi Kalonga, a 72-year-old farmer who heads a household of 10 people, is also a recipient of social cash transfers and, like Enegentsi, is a first-time beneficiary of WFP’s emergency assistance this year, despite having faced acute food insecurity during previous lean seasons.

“We would have had a huge problem this year without the extra assistance,” says Holesi. “There would have been no food and it would have been difficult to continue sending our children to school.”

Now able to use WFP emergency cash assistance to purchase food, Holesi directs social cash transfer funds to pay for school fees, ensuring the continuation of his children’s education and other investments in his family’s livelihood.

Through the generous support of the Government of Malawi, USAID, UK aid, ECHO, the Netherlands, Japan, Australia, Norway and others, WFP was able to begin its emergency assistance programme July 2016. WFP now aims to scale-up to reach a total of 5.8 million Malawians with food and cash assistance from January to March 2017. An estimated 20 percent of households facing El Nino-induced food insecurity will receive both emergency assistance and social cash transfers this season. This is in line with WFP’s efforts in Malawi for better linkages between social protection systems and humanitarian relief during times of emergency.

In collaboration with the Government of Malawi, WFP recently hosted a high-level panel discussion on strengthening social protection systems within Malawi. International and local participants discussed ways that stronger and more responsive social protection systems can help reduce chronic need for Malawians like Enegentsi and Holesi and make them more resilient to future shocks. Looking forward, to break the cycle of food and nutrition insecurity, WFP hopes that by making social protection more shock responsive, Malawi will see a reduced need for future large-scale emergency humanitarian responses to food insecurity.