Malawi: Economic growth and deforestation major challenges to food security, says WFP

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LILONGWE, 29 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - Improved economic growth and the extension of social safety nets would help Malawi avoid recurring food shortages, according to the World Food Programme's (WFP) outgoing country representative, Gerard van Dijk.

He told IRIN the country had good resources, which "should make Malawi self-sufficient in terms of food", if properly managed.

"It is clear to everyone that this country needs economic growth of around 6 percent per annum. However, I am pleased with the government's development policies, which I feel will help this nation if properly implemented. The development of social safety nets is important in averting a food crisis," Van Dijk suggested.

The country currently needed about 500,000 mt of maize to feed 3 million people, which could balloon to over 4 million should inflation surge.

"We are planning to distribute 150,000 mt of maize in Malawi in the coming year - this is a very serious situation that the country is now in," said Van Dijk, adding that a lack of capacity and poor road networks were hampering the delivery of food aid.

Van Dijk noted that when he came to Malawi in 2002, it was facing one of the worst food shortages in the region. "When I arrived here I found the situation was bad, with millions of families without food ... there was a high level of malnutrition," he said.

WFP's timely interventions had prevented a humanitarian catastrophe.

Van Dijk pointed out that Malawi's deforestation rate, currently at 2.8 percent per annum, was the highest in Southern Africa and was contributing to food insecurity.

"I think deforestation is the major problem in Malawi: deforestation causes soil erosion and this has negative impact on agriculture ... the availability of farm inputs is important as well - the issuing of a fertiliser subsidy is welcome, but let us wait and see how this will be implemented," he commented.

WFP was also supporting projects targeted at those affected by HIV/AIDS. "We know that treatment is not possible without better nutrition," he said. "WFP is now trying to measure the nutrition support [needed by] those who are receiving the antiretroviral drugs ... [which] will also help us to come up with better support for them," Van Dijk said.


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