Scores of Malawians are at risk of being food insecure due to the impacts of the Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, a situation which has triggered a call for policy consideration that builds the resilience of communities during such calamities and other climate change related chocks affecting food security.
This is contained in a Policy Brief on Food Security, which ActionAid and its partners did in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Mozambique-through the Partnership for Social Accountability Project which promotes public social accountability in the four countries.
The policy brief for Malawi-launched virtually Tuesday from the Capital, Lilongwe-says Covid-19 has contributed to food insecurity through; restriction of movement and shrinking of economic activities such as cross border trade, leading to "escalation of urban poverty to the extent that some people are not able to buy food".
The brief then calls for increased budgetary allocation to agriculture, social accountability and balance of allocation of resources in the sector, improvement of extension services and efficient and effective implementation of the Affordable Inputs Program (AIP) in order to help people achieve food and nutrition security.
According to acting executive director for ActionAid Malawi, Clement Ndiwo Banda-the policy brief looked at how Covid-19 and climate change are affecting the food situation in the country and also reflected on how government policies and commitments can help bail out communities in times such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said the policy brief was conducted against the background of a Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Mvac) study done in July 2020, which already determined that 20% of the Malawi population could experience food insecurity.
"We looked at the commitments the Malawi Government has towards agriculture. For instance, the Maputo declaration in which governments have committed to invest 10% of their annual budgets to agriculture. Then, the Malabo declaration and several other commitments. All these and more commitments government has towards Sustainable Development Goals that encourage it to invest in agriculture so that the country can achieve zero hunger situation even in difficult times such as Covid-19. We recommend that government enforce these commitments seriously," said Banda
Banda also asked government to analyze its investment in what he termed as "access" to AIP, questioning the benefits of the current AIP budgetary allocation which he noted has quadrupled as compared to previous budgets.
He added: "Government must also invest in agricultural research in order to meet the Maputo, Malabo and other commitments. Though Malawi has met some of these commitments before, the growth of the country's agriculture sector is quite limited largely due to little research and innovation. The expectation is that growth should be six percent annually".
Taking her turn, one of the participants-renowned agriculture activist Pamela Kuwali-concurred with Banda, emphasizing that the number of Malawians at risk of food insecurity is indeed much higher in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Kuwali, who is also national director for Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet) to which ActionAid Malawi is a member, added that consideration must be made to build the resilience of communities so that they still have food.
"The government must take into account the issues raised in the policy brief as it plans and makes decisions regarding the agriculture budget especially when planning for the next AIP.
"There must be a cost benefit analysis of the current AIP because the amount it was allocated is four times as much on average that has been allocated before. The key question is: Have we been able to achieve the target? Production alone is not enough. We also need to have markets for the produce," she said.
And reacting to the issues in the policy brief, director of agriculture planning services, Rodwell Mzonde, acknowledged that investment in agriculture, especially in research, is indeed vital in helping to meet food security targets that would cushion people in times of disasters such as Covid-19.
"In the next agriculture budget, we will consider prioritizing areas of growth in the sector in order to attain desired food security targets. We will ensure that there is quality when it comes to allocating resources in agriculture. We will also consider investing in irrigation so that, as a country, we stop relying too much on rain fed agriculture," Mzonde said.