Development Partner Remarks – Launch of the Malawi Food Insecurity Plan

  • Your Excellency, Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, President of the Republic of Malawi
  • The Right Honorable Dr. Saulos Chilima, Vice President of the Republic of Malawi
  • The Honorable Dr. George Chaponda, MP,  Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development and other Cabinet Ministers here present
  • Ambassadors, High Commissioners and Representatives of International Organizations
  • Ladies and Gentlemen
  • All Protocols Observed.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Development Partners at this important event. I will be brief, Mr. President, because everybody here has a great deal of work to do to ensure that the critical food needs of the 6.5 million people facing hunger this year will be met.

We want to make five points:

First, we must ensure that development gains Malawi has made in recent years are not rolled back by hunger. We support this holistic Food Insecurity Plan which addresses not just the critical food needs of Malawi’s population but also safety, health, education and gender issues raised by a hunger crisis. And, we support the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment which will assess the impact of the drought and identify a multi-sectoral recovery strategy aimed at building long-term resilience to future risks. The PDNA will be printed next week and we hope it will provide a strong analytical input into the Government’s National Resilience Plan. Again, we must ensure that development gains Malawi has made in recent years are not rolled back by hunger:

  • We don’t want families to have to sell the possessions and livestock they have toiled to obtain in order to feed their families
  • We can’t afford for people not to stay on the Anti-Retroviral Therapies they need to treat HIV because they can’t afford to get to clinic or because the medicines don’t work when they haven’t eaten.
  • We can’t see more children stunted;
  • We can’t see children dropping out of school because their families can’t afford their fees or because they’re too hungry to pay attention in class. We need to make sure girls stay in school and are not forced to engage in transactional sex just to survive.

Second, we can’t just wring our hands and blame climate change. Policy changes are needed NOW. Development Partners and the Government of Malawi have been working all year on how to Break the Cycle of food insecurity, but the time has come for aggressive reform of the Farm Input Subsidy Program with greater private sector involvement in both sourcing and distribution.  The time has come for government to table and Parliament to pass: amendments to the Land Act to improve security of land tenure currently before Parliament; a Seed Act which will enable Malawian farmers to access improved seed and improve their yields; a Fertilizer Policy and a Fertilzer Act.

We need reform of the Control of Goods Act now – we’ve been talking about it for months. Even if there is no formal export ban in place, if there is no clear path to obtaining export licensing and no export permits are granted, commercial farmers won’t plant the crops you badly need. The Government must clearly articulate conditions for agricultural commodity exportation, apply those conditions fairly and transparently, and then stand back and let the markets work. These legal and policy reforms will incentivize investment in agriculture to help Malawi achieve not just food security but more dynamic economic growth.

Third, ADMARC’s interventions must be much more transparent.  To respond to the humanitarian crisis, ADMARC needs to coordinate its distribution plans for subsidized maize and other commodities with the WFP and other humanitarian actors to ensure fair access for those in need. Development partners will provide cash rather than commodities when there is subsidized grain to buy. Coordination will save us and the Government millions of dollars in the overall cost of the response. On the commercial side, when ADMARC will intervene to stabilize market prices must be clear to all market actors. The current lack of transparency allows for theft and sweetheart deals which disadvantage Malawi’s poor. Malawian consumers suffer with the most volatile maize price in the region. Easily available and timely information about where ADMARC has maize available; where, when, and at what price it will buy and sell maize will help stop speculation and slow price volatility. The days of back-door sales to commercial and other interests at ADMARC depots must come to an end.

Fourth, we urge you to stay the course – and indeed pick up the pace — on Public Service and Public Financial Management Reforms.  Increased accountability is critical for the success of all of the humanitarian work we’re talking about today.

Finally, there has been insufficient urgency. We need urgent action to ensure that the 1.5 million Malawians whose livelihoods are at risk because of the current crisis don’t fall below the survival threshold. We must redouble our efforts to purchase (or plant) food, make tough policy reforms necessary to energize markets, and hold officials and the private sector accountable. We need a transparent, proactive and coherent approach (or fourm?) involving the government, donors, ADMAERC, NFRA and the private sector. NOW. This is an emergency. We need to see and feel that sense of emergency in the response. We need to see much greater urgency, where the priority of government business is the response. Where all government departments are working together under proactive leadership that is united to deal with the emergency, politics relegated to another day.

To sum up, we strongly support this plan and the Post Disaster Needs Assessment which will complement it and inform Malawi’s Resliency Strategy. But,

  • it won’t be enough without bold reform of the agricultural sector requiring real political courage NOW,
  • It won’t be enough without much greater transparency of ADMARC operations to prevent graft, ensure maximum effectiveness of the relief effort, and make the agriculture sector an engine for economic growth.
  • It won’t be enough Without a renewed commitment to Public Financial Management Reform and Public Sector Reform; and
  • It won’t be enough without a real sense of urgency, a proactive and coherent process to determine what is needed and where,  with clear leadership that is united to deal with the emergency.

The humanitarian response you’re launching here is critically important. Without it, millions of Malawians may face starvation this year. Development Partners are ready to help Malawi again this year. We will all do everything we can to support this response.  At the same time, both we and all Malawians must do everything we can, together, to break the cycle of hunger and humanitarian need. The taxpayers in our countries who support our programs expect nothing less; the people of Malawi deserve nothing less.

Zikomo