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The recent flooding in southern Malawi has submerged 35 000 hectares of cropland under water, swept away livestock and displaced some 174 000 people. The interrupted agricultural cycle threatens the already vulnerable food security and livelihoods of those that depend on agriculture – an estimated 86 percent of the country. Since early January 2015 the floods have affected nearly 116 000 farmers, and this number may rise as the rains continue.
Malawi’s small-scale producers – who make up the vast majority of farmers – are struggling to produce enough to feed themselves and their families. Small landholdings, little access to credit, limited technological know-how and poor market access make it difficult for farmers to move from subsistence to commercial production. And frequent shocks, like dry spells and flooding during the cropping season, outbreaks of crop and livestock diseases and high food prices, are further undermining their livelihoods.
Working closely with the Government, FAO Malawi developed a four-year Plan of Action through which FAO is seeking to help reduce the risk and impact of disasters on food and nutrition security in the country.
Preparing for and recovering from disasters
As the scale and intensity of disasters becomes more frequent in Malawi – linked to climate change and a degrading environment – FAO has been working to help farmers prepare for and resist the effects of drought and floods.
An estimated 640 000 people did not have enough food in 2014 – a sharp decline from the 1.46 million people estimated in 2013. Although food security conditions have improved, localized production declines remain a concern. Below-average rains in 2014 delayed the planting of 2015 crops, which may have been affected by the recent floods. A missed planting season would mean farmers could not plant again until November/December and would not harvest food until March/April 2016.
Moving towards long-term development
The recurrence of droughts and floods makes recovery progressively more difficult for communities when livelihoods are already weakened by poverty. FAO is working to help families transition from emergency and relief assistance to longer-term development by addressing the underlying factors that heighten household vulnerability at the same time as response interventions are implemented.
FAO Malawi is promoting improved cropping practices like conservation agriculture. This involves training not only farmers, but also extension workers who will continue to train farmers over the years, in good agricultural practices, integrated production and pest management and other new technologies. Farmers also receive high quality inputs to ensure they achieve better harvests.
Helping farmers access markets
Smallholders face a number of difficulties in accessing markets – from low productivity to poor post-harvest handling and processing to limited access to quality inputs to inadequate transport networks. FAO is helping farmers access more reliable sources of income by linking them to markets through contract growing and out-growing arrangements. These ensure that farmers receive the inputs and training they need with a guaranteed market for their produce.