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Campaign for the Right to Food in Malawi

Thursday, April 14, 2011 - 12:06

Up until 2005, Malawi had for over a decade been running into lapses of hunger due to food deficits that were a regular feature in the country’s food security. The major crises were in 2002 and 2005. In 2002, hundreds if not over a thousand of people died due to hunger related problems. In 2005, 5million people were food insecure.

In the 90s, government introduced targeted starter packs of farm inputs for very poor farmers. The starter packs were given to farmers for free. Mixed results were realized with many still left without enough food to eat throughout the year. Elements of discrimination and politicization were a common feature in the programme. In 2005, government introduced the Farm Input Subsidy Programme to boost up food security. Farmers pay one tenth of the market price for fertilizer. Indeed, the programme has managed to dramatically turn around the food security status for Malawi to become a much coveted country among its peers.

Analysis of the 2002 hunger crisis indicated that it was caused by system failure. The policies guiding food security were not good enough. Wrong policy decisions were made that aggravated the crisis. Weak policy instruments also contributed to the delay in addressing the problem. The poor legal frameworks guiding food security made it impossible for Malawians to hold accountable the individuals that made the bad decisions that led to the food crisis.

Since 2005 a number of initiatives have been taken by government to improve food security. The designing of the Food Security Policy and the Nutrition Policy are some of the major highlights. The introduction of the Farm Input Subsidy Programme is one of the success stories just like the increased allocation of finances to Agriculture Sector to over 10% of the National Budget.


Although there is a positive trend in food security, there still remain grey areas that remain a threat to continued food security. While maize availability has corrected the national food statistics, distribution remains a challenge. The success of the food security programme remains a product of political will on the part of the government of the day. Should the government decide to change policy direction; all the gains could be lost. The same reasons that led to the 2002 crisis can still occur as long as there aren’t proper laws that can empower citizens to hold government accountable for violation of the right to food. Maize is just one part of the nutrition equation and not everything.

As climate change continues glaring its ugly face, cases of isolated hunger will still remain. In 2010, almost the whole southern region of Malawi had food deficit due to crop failure because of the dry spell. This is despite having an impressive surplus at national level. The same will happen in 2011. What happens to the vulnerable that cannot afford to buy food from the market with all its imperfections? Do we have a proper distribution system?

If a citizen was denied food or means of production on the basis of politics or religion, how would such a citizen claim his or her right to food?

Who are we?

The National Right To Food Network was formed in 2003 with the aim of campaigning for the appropriate policies and laws to end hunger and recognize the supremacy of the right to food. One of its major projects was to draft the Food Security Bill. This was prompted by the man-made hunger that hit Malawi in 2002 and caused loss of innocent lives. Apart from Actionaid, its membership is drawn from a wide range of organizations that are working in food security. These include faith-based organizations, human rights organizations, food security networks and farmers organizations. The network is comprised of over 25 organisations and its secretariat is currently at Actionaid International Malawi.

What are we calling for?

It is globally recognized that freedom from hunger is a fundamental human right and as such must be protected. Malawi is a signatory to the MDGs of which MDG1 calls for reducing poverty and extreme hunger by half by 2015. Malawi is also signatory to International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, FAO Voluntary Guidelines and other instruments that clearly recognize food as a fundamental human right that has to be protected.

The National Right To Food Network and Actionaid International Malawi are therefore calling on Malawi Government to adopt the draft Food Security Bill which is an attempt to legislate the right to food. Government should review laws that impact on the right to food to ensure that they are promoting the right to food.

What will be the benefits of the Food Security Bill?

  1. It will empower the citizens to hold government and institutions accountable on the right to food
  2. It will define the minimum basis on which the right to food can be claimed
  3. It will spell government, organizations and individual obligations on the right to food
  4. It will guarantee that the trend set on food security should continue beyond individual politicians’ good will
  5. It will prevent possible infringements of the right to food by public and private sector officials.
  6. It will establish or provide the basis for establishment of the institution that will take the lead in the coordination of its enforcement in practice.
  7. It will provide legal basis for adopting special measures needed to correct the existing inequalities within society with respect to access to food or to means for its procurement.
  8. It can stipulate the financial arrangements needed for its realization in practice.

It will make Malawi look like a trend setter in practical means of getting rid of hunger. In a globalised world it is important for each country to define its niche. This could build on the image which Malawi has already built globally.