16 Dec 2013
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For much of rural Malawi, 2012 and 2013 saw prolonged dry spells and meagre harvests. Yet some of the poorest families in some of the worst-affected areas have thrived.

For much of rural Malawi, 2012 and 2013 saw prolonged dry spells and meagre harvests. Yet some of the poorest communities in some of the worst-affected areas have thrived.

In late 2012, aid organizations in Malawi estimated that close to 2 million people – 13 per cent of the population – faced food insecurity. The central and southern regions, areas that are often plagued by unpredictable rains and poor harvests, were hit the hardest.

Edward Zambia is a 29-year-old farmer and fisherman from Msewa village in the badly affected southern district of Thyolo. He said that soaring maize prices meant the country’s staple food had become unaffordable. “I had food problems in my house. The little money I made selling fish was not enough to feed the family, let alone buy clothes for the children,” he said.

A timely CERF allocation

With a serious food crisis looming, the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) released US$3.2 million in January 2013 to support emergency relief efforts. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) received almost $1.4 million of that allocation to help 124,000 people like Edward with seeds, small-scale irrigation equipment, and training on sustainable agricultural practices.

Edward’s farm and family flourished. With his newly acquired farming techniques and a 1kg bag of bean seeds, Edward produced and sold 25kgs of beans. He invested the proceeds in a simple but effective irrigation scheme for his maize field and he now expects to harvest eight 50kg bags of maize worth about 52,000 Malawi Kwacha ($140).

Edward also bought three iron sheets for the roof of his house, and he now has enough income to feed and clothe his family. “I have been able to do all that now … because of the extra money I made from selling the beans,” he said.

Lasting benefits

The support from FAO and its partners has had a remarkable long-term impact on the lives of Edward and others in his community.

Farmers who received inputs were taught sustainable farming practices and encouraged to give back to the community. Every bag of seed or fertilizer was paid back twofold — in cash or in kind — so that others might benefit. Farmers were also encouraged to pass on their new skills to other farmers who did not directly benefit from the intervention.

According to FAO, the targeted communities saw significant increases in production, improved crop and nutrition diversity, and enhanced household income. Another result was that more children were enrolled in schools because their parents were able to provide meals for them.

A notable measure of success

But the most notable measure of success came in late 2013. By November, Malawians once again faced widespread food shortages, with 1.8 million people at risk of hunger. However, few of the communities who benefited from the CERF-funded project required food assistance.

CERF has since allocated another $8 million to help humanitarian partners provide life-saving relief. FAO has received more than $2 million to help another 165,000 vulnerable people.

“These funds are critical in supporting the humanitarian community’s response to food insecurity in Malawi, particularly in sectors that received minimal funding,” said Ms. Mia Seppo, the UN Resident Coordinator in Malawi.

“The resources so far received have been used to alleviate malnutrition in children, ensure the protection of the most vulnerable and help farmers mitigate the risks of further food insecurity.”

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