Friday, May 10, 2013

Civil Society Agriculture Network Position Paper on Hunger in Malawi


In December 2012, the Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET) released a press statement on the hunger situation in Malawi. Among many issues that were raised in the communiqué, CISANET pointed out some shortfalls being experienced in the response to the hunger situation in Malawi.

The communiqué also did advice against politicizing food in order to gain political mileage for the ruling elites. Three months down the line, the hunger situation has been exacerbated by floods and other natural disasters also coupled with lack of capacity for ADMARC to cope with the increasing demand for maize.

A lot of people are now spending hours on end on queues lining up and having travelled a long distance and sometimes spending more money for transport than the food they are buying only to buy 10kgs of maize being rationed by ADMARC.

CISANET feels this to be a mockery to the hunger situation and urgent action needs to be taken.

The price of maize has soured from the government recommended price of K3, 500/50kgs to K10, 000/50kgs making it unaffordable by the average poor family in rural and urban areas of Malawi. CISANET is aware of the current efforts being implemented by the government to distribute free flour (25kgs); and maize both to the people in the South and other areas that were mapped out by the Malawi vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) report in its September 2012 assessment.

On December 26, 2012, the State President imposed a ban on maize export to avoid continued loss of maize outside the country.

However despite the ban, reports are still showing that massive amounts of maize are being smuggled outside Malawi using the uncharted routes and illegal means. The Nation Online of Friday 8th March 2013, quoting FEWSNET report, confirmed this.

CISANET is also aware that an amount of 10000MT was approved for ADMARC to draw down from National Strategic Grain Reserves (SGR) in December. It is therefore worrisome that we should have such shortages in most ADMARC markets. Government needs to assure the nation that there is enough food available in the country to run through for the rest of the lean season.

A recent visit to the National Food Reserves at Kanengo by the donors indicated that the country has sufficient food to feed itself, and the nation was assured of having enough in the strategic reserves. Ironically, barely a few days afterwards, the nation is informed differently and the leadership is now asking for outside support.

Such inconsistencies are a major cause of concern. 2.0 Policies In the constitution of Malawi, every person has a right to life and food is believed to be equated to life so that by denying people food, it is inadvertently denying that individual the right to life.

The country's leadership swore an oath to protect the constitution of Malawi and thus has an obligation to ensure that its citizens have adequate and healthy food for productive life.

The Food Security Policy of 2006 has several sections that commits government to ensuring that it is obligated to its citizens to provide them with food and to see that no practice either by government, political or otherwise interferes to deny anybody the freedom to enjoy food security.

In this regard, reference is made to the following sections of the policy: Section Human rights: it states that: Cognisant of the provisions for the protection of human rights and freedoms as enshrined in the Constitution of Malawi, the right to adequate food is fully accepted as a human right. The right for everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food shall be observed in accordance with the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights says, “the right to adequate food is fully realised when every individual, alone or in a community with others, has physical and economic access to adequate food or the means of its procurement"

Section 1.2.7 - protecting the right to food: it states that:

Government will be committed to ensuring that no government actions or those of private traders would reduce any Malawians access to safe nutritious food and that there is no discrimination in the buying and selling of food.

Section 1.2.8 - Social Protection it states that: Every person has the right to food security and a standard of living adequate for health.

Recognizing that there will always be a part of the society that will require social protection in order to meet their food requirements, government will provide distinctly targeted safety nets cautious of the need to avoid creating dependency and negative impacts.

In line with the Government’s National Safety Nets Strategy, social protection programmes shall be designed, in such a way that they complement the broader pro-poor growth strategy and also help people prevent, manage and cope with risk to reduce vulnerability.

They shall be designed to enable the vulnerable to gradually build up their assets so as to escape the threat of poverty in a sustainable way and to increase their resilience to shocks.

Against such policy provisions, government is mandated to ensure that its citizens are well protected and adequately provided for and that their dignity as human beings is respected. It is thus in light of this policy provision that government is called upon to rise up to the situation and provide appropriate response to the hunger situation.

Our stand

CISANET supports the current efforts taken by government to mitigate the hunger situation in the country.

Among other things we have seen political will by calling Malawians to mobilize resources. A number of organizations and individuals have come forth to contribute food and financial resources. This is a commendable starting point. We wish to unreservedly condemn forthwith all unscrupulous and inhuman acts of smuggling maize outside the country that should otherwise be used by our brothers and sisters in the country. We commend the efforts by the Malawi Police Services for tracking down and making arrests on some of these heartless and unpatriotic individuals.

We wish to condemn all private traders that are hoarding the food for one reason or the other to have a human heart and release the stocks to the market forthwith. In that vein, we wish to remind all those that are doing so, that under the provisions of the Food Security Policy of 2006, Government is empowered to take any action to stop this malpractice.

We condemn all possible acts that are leading to unwarranted profiteering and politicizing of the ongoing food distribution in the country and call upon all Malawians to sympathize with the hunger situation in the country. We call upon all Malawians of good will to rise beyond petty divisions and come together with a unity of purpose to assist the situation.

CISANET feels that more should be done by all concerned stakeholders to take a role in mitigation and responding to the hunger situation. As such, CISANET has put across the following as recommendations for moving on.

Our Recommendations

Government should avoid sending wrong or unconfirmed and some contradictory messages to the public as this causes undue panic and can spur speculations and distort market prices. Most recent reports indicate that both the President and the Minister of Agriculture issued statements to effect that there is inadequate maize stocks in the country against earlier statements issued when the donors visited the Strategic grain reserves, which indicated that there are sufficient amounts at the SGR.

We would like therefore to request that a Ministerial statement be issued that will state the situation of the Grain Reserves and also outline the gravity of the hunger situation and what the Government is doing about it. Government to issue instructions to ADMARC to immediately stop rationing maize to only 10kgs.

Increasing the ration to at least 25kgs. It is a pity to see that people with meager resources are travelling long distances and even paying more on transport than the food they are buying. This practice is deplorable and should be discouraged. We request Government to embark on restocking ADMARC markets that have no maize especially those that are in the rural areas.

Ironically, it still remains a wonder why maize being produced and bought from the village should be taken all the way to cities and towns and be taken back to the village during a time of stress like this one.

We are of the view that government would save a lot of costs if it made much use of the decentralized granaries that have been constructed in Luchenza, Mangochi and also stock up the ADMARC warehouses in all the Regions in time before the rains management of the SGRs.

Government has the capacity through the MVAC assessments to know way upfront which areas are going to be the hotspots and yet there is little preparedness done to stock up those areas in good time. Government to have a critical analysis on the causes of spiking food prices on the open market and address the issue.

Simple economic models will appeal to the reasoning that if maize is being bought in bulk from ADMARC and being sold a few meters away from the ADMARC selling points, it is suggestive of a deficit that has been created by the demand and that what ADMARC is supplying is not adequate otherwise if a market equilibrium is reached, then the private trader would not find a market.

It calls for simple reasoning that ADMARC through government should increase stocks in all its markets. If government cannot operate these silos and warehouses, then in the spirit of a private public partnership (PPP) outsource these services to the private sector to manage the silos and the warehouses.

Government to strengthen surveillance system so that the so called unscrupulous traders are tracked down and are appropriately panelized. It is a shame for government to go in the open to admit that the country continues to lose its maize stocks to unscrupulous traders while the same government has the law at hand and the right machinery to contain the situation.

We, therefore, appeal for a more vigilant surveillance system and increase border patrols to stop the pilferage of the maize.

Government should step up the efforts to pioneer a change in mentality for the people. Malawi has for the foreseeable past promoted in its policy the mentality of regarding maize as the only existing food in Malawi. It is high time that government through the appropriate political and technical muscle that it has promoted dietary diversification.

Government should continue to protect its people from being exploited by private traders through price regulation practices like enforceable minimum farm gate prices and also through ADMARC, influence the selling price for maize.

It should be known that food is life and every citizen has the right to food. As such government has the mandate to ensure that its people have access to food by employing all necessary means to protect the consumer regardless of the liberalized economy. Certain items in every economy are enviously guarded to safeguard the interest of the economy.

In Malawi, maize is one such commodity that must be properly regulated. Government will be doing that under its mandate to protect the right to food for its people. Forward looking, the country should promote policies that will promote adequate food production in the country.

While maize production has been supported through smallholder subsistence farming systems, except for the FISP program which unfortunately it is also politicized, maize production under the smallholder farming systems is an expensive option and does not bring profitable returns. The ministry of agriculture should consider other more productive options such as contract farming especially targeting those groups that can afford to buy.

Let the smallholders still produce for subsistence but experience has shown that producing maize through the conventional smallholder way is unproductive and not viable option to excite the market. Government should consider investing into proper technologies and supportive infrastructure that can support the agriculture industry.

The country has a high potential for irrigation but it lacks the supportive energy infrastructure to power the irrigation machines. There is already a lot that can be done which is not being tone to support agriculture production. The country must address these if the issue of food security has to be taken seriously in Malawi.

Response to the hunger situation should be well coordinated and left to the experts to do it.

Recently there has been a lot of talk about the countrys leadership being heavily involved in the food distribution and while this demonstrates good will from our leaders, it has been seen to be politically motivated with a number of stakeholders calling for the President not to be directly involved in the exercise. CISANET, believe that there are appropriate institutions that should be entrusted to handle the food distribution.

The Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA), under the Office of the Vice President and its partners such as the WFP and the JEFAP consortium has the capacity to coordinate the response to the hunger situation in Malawi. Wanton distribution of food as is being seen currently does not respect the response strategy and can lead to being wasteful and partisan.

The Food Security Policy of 2006 under section Food aid states that all programmes shall be designed for desperately vulnerable people whose needs cannot be addressed through any meaningfully viable programmes other than being supported by special programmes like food aid. Efforts shall be made to ensure that food aid is not used for political purposes or as a means of forcing other concessions and bribes.

Large scale distributions shall remain a last resort. In this vein, the country leadership should be seen to be obedient to its own statutes which the Head of State swore to protect by oath of her Office

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