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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.
Although overall production levels have been good in the 2010/11 and 2011/12 seasons, localized massive crop losses left over 500 000 people without enough food in 2010/11. This rose further in 2011/12, with 1.63 million people – over 10 percent of the population – unable to produce enough food following late rains at the start of the season and prolonged dry spells in early 2012. Some of the areas hit by unfavourable weather have experienced poor harvests for the past two seasons, eroding their ability to cope.
In response, FAO is seeking immediate funding to help 15 000 families to start off-season vegetable and maize production to limit their losses. At the same time, FAO is expanding the use of improved seeds and planting materials, which will make farmers more “resilient” to disasters. For example, by promoting the use of short-cycle crop varieties, FAO is giving farmers a chance to plant when rains are late.
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.