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Malawi is a landlocked, low-income country with a rapidly expanding population, over 80 percent of whom are smallholder farmers. Poverty is experienced by most rural families in Malawi, with those headed by women suffering most.

Relying on small parcels of densely cultivated land for their livelihoods, rural Malawians are highly vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters such as floods and droughts. Twenty-five percent of the country has experienced drought more than seven times in the last decade. Episodes of drought as well as severe flooding are increasing in frequency, intensity and unpredictably in Malawi, giving the most vulnerable households inadequate time to recover.

Smallholder farmers are currently suffering the effects of a prolonged El Niño-induced drought. These drought conditions and other factors greatly reduced the national harvest, leading to the second consecutive year of deficit maize production. Meanwhile, economic conditions remain precarious with high inflation, high food prices and limited opportunity for income-earning work. Some 6.7 million people now need urgent food or cash support to tide them over to the next harvest, expected in March 2017.

Malawi’s food security crisis is made worse by a high HIV infection rate, which is the ninth highest in the world at 9.1 percent. The stunting (low height for age) prevalence rate among children under five is 37 percent. Apart from height, stunting also hinders brain development, school performance, immunity and health. A recent Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA) study for Malawi found that 10.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product is lost annually due to the effects of stunting. 

WFP is working with the Government of Malawi and other partners to bring food assistance to the country’s most vulnerable people including thousands of refugees mostly from the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa region as well as – most recently – from Mozambique. Guided by the Sustainable Development Goals, with a particular emphasis on achieving Zero Hunger, WFP provides emergency food and cash assistance in the face of natural disasters such as the current drought, as well as delivers longer-term programmes designed to build the resilience of vulnerable communities and help break the cycle of hunger.

What the World Food Programme is doing in Malawi

School meals and nutrition

WFP supports education through the provision of daily meals to around 1 million schoolchildren in 900 primary and nursery schools. In 10 percent of these schools, meals are cooked from fresh foods bought from local smallholder farmers. WFP also provides countrywide nutrition support to 318,000 children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and HIV/TB patients to treat acute malnutrition, and runs a Stunting Prevention project in one district.

Restoring food security, nutrition and livelihoods

WFP provides relief assistance in times of emergency to save lives and protect livelihoods. Currently, WFP is assisting 6 million drought-affected Malawians with in-kind food, cash and vouchers in order to restore food and nutrition security. Seeking to create a smoother transition to recovery and build resilience in the long run, WFP also delivers a multi-year resilience programme to help the most vulnerable build sustainable livelihoods.

Food assistance to refugees in Malawi

Around 30,000 people are registered as refugees and asylum seekers in Malawi. They live in officially-designated camps, making them largely dependent on WFP food assistance. WFP works to achieve and maintain food security among refugees through monthly food distributions in the country’s two refugee camps.

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