ANGLICAN bishops in Malawi have called on the government to intensify efforts to tackle the mounting food shortage in the country through irrigation farming — the artificial application of water to crops.
Floods, followed by long periods of drought, have devastated harvests in the land-locked country, leading to strict rations and a dramatic inflation in food prices. The situation has affected many churches, and church giving has dropped.
The Bishop of Lake Malawi, the Rt Revd Francis Kaulanda, said that the government’s 26,600-tonne procurement of maize from Zambia was not enough to reduce the shortage, which, it is estimated, will affect 2.8 million.
“The government could intensify irrigation farming, since Malawi has adequate water to do so,” he said. “We are trying to encourage people to engage themselves in irrigation farming, taking opportunity of abundant waters we have from our rivers and lakes.”
He said that the Church was also helping people to practise “diversity farming” — growing different crops, such as cassava and potatoes, which resist drought — and was lobbying the government to “prioritise spending in hard times”.
The President of Malawi, Peter Mutharika, has been criticised in the past for a luxurious lifestyle, when half the country is said to live on less than a dollar a day. In May, he requested a presidential jet “for convenient travelling”. Britain gave Malawi overseas aid of nearly £300 million between 2010 and 2013.
The Bishop of Northern Malawi, the Rt Revd Fanuel Emmanuel Magangani, said: “While we blame the food shortage on climatic conditions, we also have to point to ourselves, as Malawians, and to our government. We are not proactive, but reactive.”
He said that the government-owned Agriculture Development and Marketing Corporation had rationed maize, the staple food in Malawi, to 20kg per household. “The price of maize has more than doubled, and many families are eating only once a day.”
Bishop Magangani said that some families were in “dire need”, and that it was likely to worsen during January and February next year.
The shortage was likely to unfold into “the worst food crisis in Malawi in a decade”, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said. It has launched an appeal for donations after an international call for aid from President Mutharika on Monday of last week.
“People in some affected districts have already started selling their livestock to make ends meet,” the WFP said in a statement. “Women are also engaging in more firewood- and charcoal-selling, which degrades the environment and further aggravates the fragile climate.”
The WFP, which is funded by governments, private companies, and individuals, has estimated that a further £50 million is needed to help the most vulnerable during the next six months. This includes children who are suffering from malnutrition, which results in stunted growth. A recent UN report, Cost of Hunger in Africa, estimated that the condition incurs an annual cost of almost £400 million.
Christian Aid has been working with the WFP and the Malawi government to plan a national response to provide food and cash transfers to affected households.
The charity is also helping families to improve farming methods in the country, to ensure that they can grow and market crops effectively.
Christian Aid’s programme manager in Malawi, Howard Nkhoma, who is based in Lilongwe, said that more funding was “desperately needed”.
“Malawi already has high rates of chronic and acute malnutrition, which will get even worse as people living in poverty see their food-stocks dwindling,” he said. “Our greatest priorities are breastfeeding mothers in poverty, children under five, people living with HIV on anti-retroviral treatment, and women-headed households.”
The Christian charity Tearfund is working with churches to verify the worst-affected in the districts of Chitipa, Karonga, and Mzimba, among others. A spokeswoman for Tearfund said that the situation was “critical”, and urged action.
The charity is appealing to partner organisations to make cash transfers to help the families that are worst affected.