The number of people projected to face hunger between January and March has increased by 200 000 from 1.4 million for the period November to December to 1.6 million, a new survey has shown.
The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report, under the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Mvac), has attributed the development to a rise in the number of food insecure people in Balaka, Lilongwe and Kasungu districts from a collective 180 749 during the last analysis in August to 337 630 during the latest analysis.
In Balaka District, the figure has jumped from 47 738 to 71 607 while in Kasungu District it has jumped from 45 346 to 90 693 and in Lilongwe from 87 665 to 175 330 people.
Reads the report in part: “The increasing numbers of food insecure households are attributed to prolonged dry spells experienced in Balaka, which will result in more households running out of food stocks during the lean season.
“In Lilongwe and Kasungu, on the other hand, the increasing numbers are on account of loss of incomes resulting from low agricultural prices, especially cash crops such as tobacco, which fetched lower prices at the auction floors.”
The IPC report further indicates that out of the total 1.65 million people facing acute food insecurity, about 1.47 million are in the rural areas and district centres while 186 254 are in the country’s four cities of Blantyre, Zomba, Lilongwe and Mzuzu.
The latest analysis further warns that the increase in new Covid-19 cases will likely worsen an already dire situation as this may lead to disruption of income for so many households, especially the urban poor.
The report sees a possibility of a surge in Covid-19 cases, especially with the recent discovery of the Omicron variant in South Africa and also based on what was experienced between January and February 2021.
“This [Covid-19] will likely lead to a slowdown in petty trading and self-employment activities and reduced income levels, which will increase food insecurity among households that rely on food purchases,” the report further reads.
It adds that the pandemic will continue to have a negative impact on remittances from abroad, which will increase food insecurity, as projected during the August 2021 analysis.
In August, Mvac said the number of people requiring relief food had dropped by 43 percent from 2.6 million last year to 1.5 million.
Mvac comprises government ministries, departments and agencies as well as international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) and United Nations (UN) agencies and assesses levels of access to food by the population to determine the severity of food and nutrition insecurity. It also determines food and non-food needs of the affected population, among others.
To save lives, the new report has recommended commencement of humanitarian response in January and also monitoring of prices for staples and other commodities to avoid aggravating the situation.
Another recommendation asks government to ensure that State-produce trader Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation makes deliberate efforts to have maize in all depots to benefit the hungry population at a fair price to avoid exposing poor households to exploitative prices offered by private traders.
In an interview on Tuesday, agriculture think-tank MwAPATA Institute executive director William Chadza said food insecurity is becoming a persistent cancer because of poor allocation of resources within the agriculture sector.
He said the K142 billion Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) should be designed in a manner that promotes crop diversification which will also lead to dietary diversification.
Chadza said: “Our problem is that food insecurity refers to lack of maize. We need dietary diversification and for this to be achieved we need to raise awareness for people to understand that the absence of maize should not mean they have no food.
“AIP ought to look at more than a crop. More crops should come in targeting different areas. In that way, we will achieve food security.”
He also said the biggest challenge facing Malawi is failure to implement radical decisions that will lead to progressive change such as investment in irrigation.
In June this year, a joint analysis of the proposed 2021/22 National Budget by Economics Association of Malawi, Oxfam and Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources questioned the rationale behind continued allocation of huge resources to input subsidies to achieve food security and then buy relief maize for the same beneficiaries during the lean period.