Support for Capacity Building in Malawi

Duration: 2009-2010

Responsible Ministry/Institution: Department of Nutrition, HIV and AIDS (DNHA), Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC)


To address the current capacity crisis in nutrition and facilitate the implementation of the National Nutrition Policy and Strategic Plan (NNPSP), a comprehensive assessment of nutrition capacities was undertaken in Malawi in 2009.


  • To gain a good understanding of current gaps and needs for strengthening institutional capacities in nutrition.
  • To reach consensus among government and development partners on an integrated and well-coordinated framework for nutrition capacity development in Malawi.
  • To provide a basis for enhancing nutrition actions at all levels in support of the implementation of the Malawian National Nutrition Policy and Strategic Plan (NNPSP).

Main activities:

A comprehensive national nutrition capacity assessment was carried out and a stakeholder workshop, comprising more than 50 participants from government, civil society, development partners and training institutions, was held to determine the main issues, challenges and opportunties. Recommendations for advancing the capacity development agenda in Malawi and for developing a plan of action were provided.

Main outputs:

A capacity assessment report has been prepared and widely circulated among relevant stakeholders in Malawi. Based on the stakeholder workshop recommendations, during which the assessment findings were reviewed, a road map has been prepared for the way forward.

Findings and recommendations:

The stakeholder workshop highlighted important issues for consideration in developing a capacity development strategy for the country.

Interagency collaboration and coordination. All agencies, government and NGOs operating at field level identified limited numbers of front-line staff as a major obstacle not only to sustaining programme results but also to upscaling successful interventions. There are substantial capacity gaps, both in terms of human capacities (i.e. staff availability and level of training skills) and programming. Different agencies frequently operate in the same district without adequate communication and coordination. Many districts have disjointed programmes and there is currently no comprehensive mapping to understand who is doing what, where and at what level. Efforts to coordinate and harmonize approaches among agencies are limited.

Programme Focus is on Treating Malnutrition. Malnutrition is still seen as an illness and not as a condition that is preventable. Consequently, the focus is on treatment. The need for stronger links between treatment and prevention was highlighted. It was also recommended that problems of malnutrition be addressed in a more holistic manner to achieve lasting improvements.

Gathering lessons learned and making use of best practices. Monitoring & evaluation is weak and good practices and lessons are not captured adequately. There is limited knowledge about the impact of different interventions. There is also weak integration of lessons and good practices into national frameworks. Moreover, translation of policies into programmes at community level is slow.

Sustainability of interventions. Poor programme sustainability is another critical issue. Sustainability of NGO-supported interventions is compromised because of donor dependence and poor integration with government programmes at district level. Government capacity to assume responsibility for NGO programmes is weak owing to limited numbers of staff, lack of support and operational funds. Capacities at district level to coordinate, capture lessons learned, ensure complementarity and enhance synergies between different interventions and agencies need to be strengthened.

Infrastructure, logistics, materials and transport. When discussing capacity, the focus should not only embody human capacity but also infrastructural capacity. The infrastructure, especially in rural areas, is not conducive for work and many graduates do not feel attracted by working conditions that are offered. Upgrading housing and office facilities and improving transport and electricity by installing solar panels could provide incentives to young aspiring staff.

Human resources development and training. There are inadequate numbers of trained personnel in nutrition throughout the government sectors and in NGOs. In government this situation is exacerbated by a very high vacancy rate in the key sectors. Where positions are filled, most incumbents do not have the prerequisite training and experience for the job. To increase human resources in nutrition at community level, some donor agencies favour increased numbers of community facilitators, a strengthening of the volunteer system and the provision of a comprehensive in-service training packages to existing line ministry and NGO personnel working at community level. In addition, nutrition curricula require updating and a curriculum analysis may be needed.

Recommendations and next steps. This was the first interdisciplinary workshop of its kind that brought together a broad group of stakeholders from different sectors and institutions, all of whom play key roles in nutrition in Malawi. The workshop provided an excellent platform for sharing information and experiences among key government staff, development partners, academic institutions and the private sector and resulted in substantive debates and tangible outputs and recommendations for follow-up. The workshop reached most but not all of its goals and further consultations with key stakeholders will be essential for future action. The following recommendations and next steps were made:

  • Participants agreed that harmonization of approaches and achieving synergies among different agencies is crucial for comprehensive programming to reduce malnutrition. There is currently a serious gap and complementarities are not captured at community level. This needs to be addressed through effective coordination at all levels, especially at district and community level where capacities need to be increased.
  • Each organization needs to advocate for nutrition in line with its mandate. Universities and training institutions have an important role to play in preparing adequately qualified nutritionists, focusing on both theoretical and practical learning in nutrition. Group work reports highlighted the need for curriculum analysis to strengthen practical application of nutrition in the field. It was suggested that proper definition of required competencies should be conducted and an appropriate curriculum designed for on-the-job training as well so that professionals can discharge their duties more effectively.
  • Regarding fortification of food products with iron, iodine and vitamin A, work is needed to set national standards for micronutrient requirements, raise consumer awareness on fortification and establish appropriate monitoring and control mechanisms to ensure that the quality and safety of fortified food products is maintained.
  • The workshop proposed that FAO and the DHNA/OPC establish a capacity development task force to be composed of key line agencies and development partners. The task force would be responsible for reviewing the final capacity assessment report, for prioritizing capacity development actions and for drawing up a draft action plan and budget. A second workshop should be convened to review the action plan and prepare a draft framework for programme implementation.

last updated:  Friday, January 8, 2016