Since the devastating and unprecedented floods that destroyed infrastructure, washed away houses and crop fields, and killed scores of people in the 2015/16 rainy season, Malawi has been caught in a vicious cycle of natural disasters almost every year.
Malawi’s economy is agro-based and highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which is expected to increase rainfall variability, droughts, and flooding in the future.
To move from relief to resilience and achieve sustainable food security for Malawi, a lot of work is needed.
On October 31 2017, the International Food Policy Research Institute (Ifpri) hosted the Compact2025 Forum in Lilongwe, with a call to stakeholders from across government ministries, development and research organisations, the private sector and the civil society to discuss how Malawi can accelerate progress in moving from food relief to building food system resilience.
What actions are urgently needed in this regard?
First, we need to identify successful programmes to be scaled up, and search for synergies across programmes that can accelerate the gains Malawi has already made, for example in reducing child stunting.
As the Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe pointed out during the forum, it is our duty to ensure that scarce government funds are spent in the most efficient way possible.
We cannot afford to scale up successful programmes if we spend millions each year on handouts to the same chronically poor households.
Too much money is spent supporting inefficient producers, and not enough on removing the bottlenecks to agricultural growth.
It might be more efficient to give cash to those in need than it is to subsidise fertiliser, for example.
As I said in my keynote address, our current agricultural architecture does not support resilience yet. It calls for new thinking to achieve the much-desired resilience.
Second, sharing knowledge and experiences widely will help government, development partners, the private sector and civil society to make evidence-based decisions about investment.
Greater sharing of data, especially if it is geographically coded, can help us identify which projects work and which do not, thereby ensuring we get the best “bang for our buck”—or kick for our kwacha.
Neither egos nor institutional identities should get in the way of this—failures and successes alike are opportunities for collective learning and growth.
As the Compact2025 Initiative suggests, we should share success stories across countries and regions, and learn from effective programmes like Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Programme.
Third, scaling up siloed programmes will not be sufficient to break the cycle of hunger and relief response in Malawi. Achieving resilience requires a multi-sectoral approach.
The four pillars of the government’s forthcoming National Resilience Strategy (NRS) emphasise resilient agricultural growth; risk reduction, flood control and early warning and response systems; human capacity, livelihoods and social protection; and catchment protection and management. It is not possible to implement the NRS without buy-in from all sectors.
In this respect, all sectors, ministries and organisations need a paradigm shift to mainstream resilience into their programming.
Resilience should not be thought of as a programmer project, but as an operational mindset that has to be incorporated into every aspect of development.
Finally, we must ensure that resilience does not become a buzzword.
The considerable resources spent on humanitarian responses should serve not only as a safety net for the poorest and most vulnerable, but also as a springboard that will help them and the wider economy to grow.
As I said in my keynote address to the Compact2025 Forum, resilience is no longer a “talk show” but a priority for action. n
*The Vice-President is also Minister responsible for Disaster Management Affairs