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Women and children separate grain from soil, Machinga, Malawi, May 24, 2016 (AP photo by Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi).

From Drought to Green Revolution? Malawi’s—and Africa’s—Quest for Food Security

Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016

Driving along central Malawi’s M5 lakeshore highway in mid-2016, a visitor could be forgiven for mistaking the surrounding countryside for desert. In what should have been an area lush from rains ending in April, the land of gently sloping hills, baobab trees and fiery sunsets was parched. Although the road meandered past some signs of greenery—mango trees, tobacco fields, irrigated sugar cane for export—the dust that stretched to the horizon did little to mask that Malawi, like much of eastern and southern Africa, is in crisis. Hit by the strongest El Nino in a generation, which disrupted rainfall patterns, ruined crops and unleashed drought conditions from Addis Ababa to Cape Town, the region now faces one of its most acute food shortages in memory. According to the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP), 18 million people in seven countries will need emergency food support by the end of the year, as stocks from April’s notably poor harvest dwindle.

In Malawi, which faces a 790,000-ton deficit of maize, the staple crop, 6.5 million people will be in need of assistance, up from 2.8 million who required aid during a flood-ravaged 2015. Although food shortages in the country, one of Africa’s least developed, are not uncommon, emergency distribution usually begins in November, when Malawi’s most vulnerable households typically exhaust their stocks. This year, the WFP started distributing in July. By August, the organization had raised just $65 million of the $280 million necessary to fully meet the country’s humanitarian needs. “July and August is the time we should be buying and importing,” says Coco Ushiyama, the WFP’s country director, in an interview from the capital, Lilongwe. “But the donations are coming in so slowly. We feel as if our hands are tied.” ...

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