Famine in Malawi: causes and consequences

Famine in Malawi: causes and consequences

Social protection key to mitigating famine

Reports of a devastating famine in Malawi first surfaced as rumors whispered in rural areas in the country around October 2001. However, little was done by way of action, despite warnings from expert civil society groups. This paper examines the causes of the 2002 famine as well as the greater context for the underlying vulnerability factors that left poor Malawians unable to cope with a negative production shock that was, in reality, less severe than the drought of 1991/92.

The author aims to assess both the ‘technical’ and ‘political’ reasons for the famine, and the related failure of the donor community to respond in a timely manner. This is followed by a brief overview of the factors leading to further food insecurity in 2005. Finally, the paper considers social protection measures in place in Malawi, as well as the potential policy gaps in this regard.

The overall conclusion established is that two sets of problems need to be addressed in the country - livelihood vulnerability and institutional vulnerability:

  • livelihood vulnerability can ultimately only be redressed through socio-economic development
  • this requires support for policies that directly or indirectly raises the incomes of poor households and diversifies or stabilises their food sources in order to reduce food security risks
  • employment creation programmes and policy initiatives designed to enhance access to agricultural inputs are examples of direct measures to mitigate this form of vulnerability - indirect measures include education to improve the prospects for Malawians to find nonfarm employment, thus reducing the dependence on rain-fed agriculture
  • institutional vulnerability is best tackled through institution-building and strengthening the ability of government to design and implement sound, pro-poor policies
  • the exchange between the IMF and the government of Malawi during the 2001/02 crisis clearly demonstrates the need to integrate macroeconomic and sectoral policy reforms with adequate social protection measures.
  1. How good is this research?

    Assessing the quality of research can be a tricky business. This blog from our editor offers some tools and tips.