Human-made disaster, Malawi 2002-2005

April 22, 2015

Drought, floods and hunger struck Malawi (again) from 2002 to 2005. What is important to understand about this dramatic period is that it was largely a human-made disaster, the result of extremely bad donor policies and a corrupt government that sold off the country’s grain reserves and dithered in responding to the crisis. Since independence, successive governments had overseen decades of land concentration, migration out of the countryside, and unfair taxing of smallholder farmers, resulting in an extremely vulnerable and impoverished rural population. These conditions, high rates of HIV/AIDS, and the general rise in food prices created a “perfect storm” of extreme food shortages for almost half the population, giving birth to Malawi’s image as a country on the verge of starvation and collapse. 
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Malawi experienced 40 weather-related disasters between 1970 and 2006, but it is the affordability of maize that presents the biggest risk to poor Malawians, as sudden severe price hikes during the hungry season put food out of reach of the poor. 

 

Between 1967 and 1994 more than one million hectares of customary lands held by local communities were transferred to the state and to commercial estate owners.


"It was in this context that President Bingu wa Mutharika came to power in 2004 and launched a new fertiliser coupon system in 2005–6. His programme provided a voucher for two 50-kg bags of fertiliser and 2 kg of hybrid or 4.5 kg of open pollinated seed to about 2.8 million beneficiaries at a quarter of the actual price. Seed for some legumes was also provided. This was the much-hailed new Green Revolution initiative, but in essence there was little separating it from previous seed and fertiliser subsidy programmes. Perhaps of greater importance was that, beginning with the 2005–6 season, Malawi had several years of above-average rainfall. As maize is a crop which, when grown with fertilisers, needs a great deal of water to perform, this boosted yields. So the gamble paid off, the fertiliser subsidy programme responded to the good weather, and Malawi achieved surplus national maize production four years in a row."

 

"Unravelling the “Miracle” of Malawi’s Green Revolution," GRAIN. Jan. 14, 2010. http://www.grain.org/article/entries/4075-unravelling-the-miracle-of-mal...
[verified 4/15/14]

 

 

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