Food Insecurity Worsens in Malawi, Needs Increase in Face of El Niño

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LILONGWE – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has extended its relief operation in Malawi by an additional month, through April, after the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) reported that annual harvests will be delayed by El Niño-related drought across southern Africa.

With planting delayed due to a particularly dry October-December period, many farmers who would normally harvest their maize in March will only be able to do so in April. El Niño is also affecting those who would normally rely on early harvesting of some maize and is reducing employment prospects for farm labourers.

Meanwhile, WFP is using an innovative mobile phone-based food security monitoring system known as mVAM to collect real-time information on food prices and on measures that people are taking to cope with the situation. Maize prices in Malawi are more than 60 percent above the three-year average for this time of the year – and up to 175 percent higher in some markets in the south - making it increasingly difficult for many people to access food.

Faced with increased needs, WFP – which is funded entirely by voluntary contributions – urgently requires US$38 million to help the most vulnerable during this extended lean season. Without additional contributions, cash distributions will have to be suspended in March, while food distributions will be drastically reduced or even discontinued by mid-April.

“New contributions are urgently needed to ensure people get the assistance they need to make it through this period,” says WFP Country Representative Coco Ushiyama. “Given the usually high food prices in the country, WFP will also further explore regional and international food procurement options.”

WFP and its partners have provided food and cash assistance since last October to help alleviate the country’s worst food insecurity in a decade, reaching some 2.4 million people with life-saving food and cash assistance in 24 of the country’s 28 districts. The operation is being scaled up this month to include an additional 32,000 people identified by MVAC as in need of food assistance. Further assessments are planned as needs are set to increase further with forecasts anticipating a reduced harvest because of El Niño.

WFP and its partners are also providing complementary recovery and resilience-building support to help vulnerable families. This includes linking people to productive asset creation and helping to enhance childcare and nutrition practices. Community messaging is provided to promote better dietary practices as well as providing information on gender, safety and other protection issues.

WFP assistance has been shown to stabilize and improve short-term food security. However, rising food prices and the negative effects of El Niño threaten to reverse those gains and further jeopardize food security and the livelihoods of the most vulnerable. WFP is preparing for the effects of El Niño by scaling up social protection and resilience-building initiatives ahead of what is forecast to be another poor harvest. More can be done with additional funds.

The Government of Malawi has recently announced a contribution of 18,000 metric tons of maize from its Strategic Grain Reserves to help meet needs. This contribution comes in addition to nearly 52,000 metric tons of maize earlier given by the Government of Malawi in support of the relief operations.

WFP is grateful for recent contributions from the United States, the Government of Malawi, the United Kingdom, the Kingdom of Norway, Canada, the European Union (ECHO), Brazil, Iceland and Italy, as well as from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund.

For more information please contact:
Sarah Rawson, WFP/Lilongwe, Mob. +265999972402,
David Orr, WFP/Johannesburg, Mob. +27829081417,