With Malawi facing its worst food crisis in more than a decade due to drought,
floods, consecutive poor harvests, endemic poverty and the HIV/AIDS pandemic,
the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today appealed for
urgent donor assistance to prevent the crisis from deteriorating further later
"The impacts of the failed harvest won't be felt fully until the lean season sets in between October and April," the FAO emergency coordinator in the southern African country, Tesfai Ghermazien, said, noting that more than 4.2 million people, or over 34 per cent of the population, are already unable to meet their food needs.
"We need urgent assistance from the donor community to prevent a further escalation of the crisis and to avert widespread hunger and malnutrition, especially among children under the age of five," he added.
"The challenge is to provide immediate relief supplies to the affected populations and to design long-term recovery strategies to avert similar situations in the future. The promotion of drought-tolerant crops and crop diversification, for example, will help mitigate the impacts of droughts."
Production of maize, Malawi's most important staple crop, is estimated at nearly 1.3 million tons this year, the lowest in a decade and around 26 per cent less than last year's relatively poor harvest. Early and above average rains had raised hopes for a good crop, but the rains failed during the critical period from late January to end of February.
In addition, exceptionally heavy rains in December and early January caused flooding and crop losses, especially in the southern and central part of the country.
Agriculture, which is mainly rain fed, is the most important sector of the economy, accounting for about 39 per cent of gross domestic product and employing around 85 per cent of the workforce. It contributes to more than 90 per cent of the country's foreign exchange earnings.
In recent years, the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters, such as droughts and floods, have seriously affected crop production. This year's drought is expected to result in a national cereal gap of between 300,000 to 500,000 tons.
The HIV/AIDS pandemic continues to be a major social and economic problem, with around 15 per cent of the population estimated to be HIV-infected, and the loss of labour due to death, illness or the diversion of labour to care for the sick has sharply affected production and left a large part of the population without adequate food supplies.