Malawi had a vibrant agriculture sector before the early 90s. The sector was classified into subsistent, smallholder and large-scale commercial agriculture.
This enhanced production and subsequent economic returns at different levels including rural households.
However, climate change, environmental degradation, rapid population growth alongside ever-shrinking landholding size and collapse of agricultural infrastructure facilities such as dip tanks and irrigation systems mean the current failure to achieve food security will worsen in the coming years.
In order to address some of the challenges and ensure the right to food among the citizenry, Danish Church Aid (DCA) is piloting accessibility and accountability of agricultural resources in Rumphi and Ntchisi with women – the major producers of food – high on the agenda.
“Despite legislative and policy reforms, women in Malawi have largely remained marginalised when it comes to land rights; despite their high degree of involvement in agricultural and land-related activities. Whether in patrilineal or matrilineal societies, access to land is typically mediated by men; women are discriminated against in extension services; in the land reform process, they are unaware of their land and food rights,” says John Chawinga, DCA Active Citizenship Programme Officer.
To overcome these challenges, initiatives are underway to empower ground-roots structures such as Political Party Forums and Women Action Groups (WAG) with knowledge and expertise on reclaiming their rights. This is being done through capacity building training in governance and human and women rights-related issues for communities to discharge their duties diligently and effectively.
No wonder, Centre for Multiparty Democracy, the implementing partner of the three-year programme, took the effort to develop a manual on accessibility and accountability of resources that has covered issues related to good governance, power, voice and accountability, budget, how councils work, gender, right to food and agriculture.
One challenge the initiative is trying to address is administration of Constituency Development Fund (CDF) in Ntchisi and Rumphi. This has proved to be thorny between councillors and parliamentarians. In contrast, in areas where the relationship between a councillor and a parliamentarian is cordial, development projects are going on smoothly.
Traditional Authority (T/A) Mwamlowe, for example, says Local Development and District Development funds (LDF/DDF) are working well. But he says they have problems with CDF.
“This is because this fund is under the mandate of the parliamentarian. As such, village development and area development committees (VDC/ ADC) are not consulted on design and implementation of the projects. The committee is for the party only and not the area, so they just go and buy materials without consulting us,” T/A Mwamlowe says.
Director of Planning and Development at Rumphi District Council Frank Mkandawire agrees with Mwamlowe that CDF management has been a bit problematic, especially from the identification and then through to the implementation of the projects. VDCs and ADCs are not having full participation in the projects.
“As a council, we noted there were problems of monitoring, hence compromising the quality of the works of CDF resources. This time around, we have put in remedial measure to avoid the problems we had last time. No project will be implemented if the CDF form is not endorsed by the VDC and ADC and put aside five percent of the CDF to be used for monitoring to ensure quality of the works,” Mkandawire says.
On land access and control among women, T/A Mwankhunikira of Rumphi says there is need to consider allocating land to women just like we do to sons. He says there is need for deliberate mechanisms in place to ensure equal distribution of land to children, adding with equality and equity coming into play, there is a need to ensure mass civic education.
“I took the initiative to share part of my personal estate to my sister who had come back to the village after end of marriage to allow her to farm on it, a thing my brother refused to do,” Mwankhunikira says when asked if anything is being done in his area on access to and control of land, especially among women.
In Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe’s area, culturally, land is shred among men.
But WAGs are advocating the need to look at families from biological perspective and that both males and females should be considered as equal when it comes to land distribution in a family.
“As WAG, we are advocating access and control of land among women. Women just like men should own land both at their parent’s origin and where they are married as part of empowerment,” Chimwemwe Mkandawire and Mwazisi and Nkhwazi WAGs Chairperson concur.
Right to food
The right to food network advocates a rights-based approach to food with the realisation that food is used as a political tool and, in the process, violating vulnerable people’s right to food. The network conducts research and advocate good policy environment and service delivery in the agriculture sector.
Furthermore, DCA and partners will work with research institutions such as Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources in different value chains analysis and this is expected to lead to diversified and sustainable income sources from different value chains, that is, legumes for targeted rural women and youth groups.
In strengthening climate change, resilience and humanitarian response, DCA will continue working with Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services, Department of Disaster and Management Affairs and Civil Society Network on Climate Change to timely respond to disasters and save lives, build capacity in early warning systems and also adaptation.
There will be continuing participation in the climate change humanitarian team, food security cluster and in the water and sanitation hygiene sector to ensure up-to-date information and rapid humanitarian response.
Food and Agriculture Organisation says “the right to adequate food is realised when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.”
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