Friday, September 27, 2013

Rationing of maize, a staple food, is a violation to the Right to Adequate Food, says the Center for Social Concern

By Kondwani Hara,Project Officer, Rural Basic Needs Basket Project

Food security in Malawi is generally equated with maize production, the country’s main staple crop, which accounts for more than 60% of total food production. Achieving food security is high on the agenda of the Malawi government. Notably, Malawi’s Growth and Development Strategy recognizes that food security is a prerequisite for sustained economic growth and poverty reduction (IFPRI 2010).

Malawi’s food security is generally defined in terms of adequate production of and access to maize, the country’s staple crop. Maize is grown by over 90% of the farm households and accounts for 60% of calorie/energy consumption, yet due to Malawi Government’s move to start rationing maize in ADMARC markets, many farmers will not meet their daily energy requirements. In fact 80% of smallholder farmers are net buyers of maize (IFPRI 2010).One in three households fail to meet its daily per capita caloric requirement.

In order to allow rural people to have an access to readily available maize, the government established Agricultural Development Marketing Corporation (ADMARC). In the past ADMARC depots were all over the place in rural areas. That is not the case now days. Where there is an ADMARC depot, it’s either not functional, with no or inadequate maize for sale.

Gone were the days when ADMARC had the largest network of markets within the southern African region. Government policy was to have an ADMARC market within every 8km of all rural households. Government made sure that food crops, especially maize were really available for deficit households at a subsided price that was the same for the whole country and stayed fixed for the whole year (Khwima Nthala, ECAMA 2009). Unfortunately today, the story is different.

By rationing maize to 10kg per person, is a mockery to an ordinary Malawian and it will be tough to households which are large, more especially in rural areas. This will give chance to vendors to raise maize prices to those who would like to buy a bag or more than one bag.

It is generally recognized that high food price volatility has a negative impact on food security. This volatility affects particularly the most vulnerable groups; smallholder farmers and low income urban and rural populations. Volatility in terms of significant and frequent changes in food prices, results in harmful effects on producers, consumers and states. This phenomenon puts at risk decisions made by producers about what and how much to produce. The increased prices are major factors in the increase in the number of hungry people. This situation may be a threat at the level of the state also because it may confront high inflationary situations with unexpected fiscal and budgetary repercussions, thus generating social tension.

The Right to Food

The right to adequate food is realized when every woman, man and child, alone or in community with others, have physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.

In this scenario (increase in food prices), there are measures that can be followed in line with the Right to Food Approach.

Sustainable production and risk management

In a context of soaring food prices, any structural answer to food price volatility must be linked to re-investment in the agricultural sector. It seems significant part if the solution could be found in small scale agriculture and consequently this has to be promoted on a scale large enough to obtain the amount of income and food to satisfy producer and consumer demand. This could be achieved by giving priority to public goods like extension services, and access to credit.

Management of food reserves

The availability and use of strategic food stocks at national, regional and local levels is one of the most important measures. This measure would facilitate the intervention in the food supply when extremely high food volatility situations undermine the right to food of the most vulnerable groups. A rights approach also needs to promote measures to provide more reliable information about stocks management. It would offer better knowledge regarding the stocks level availability, transparency and accountability in the management.

The right to food is recognized in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as part of the right to an adequate standard of living and is enshrined in the 1966 International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

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