Turning food into mutual, endless exploitation tool


When Malawians exiled the Union Jack to Britain in 1964, the country did not have laws safeguarding the right to food. 51 years down the line, not much has changed. RICHARD CHIROMBO explores this and other issues in the second of a three-part series on the right to food and food security in Malawi.

Dorothy Nanthulu, 48, is old enough to know that first impressions last. She, therefore, wears a smile as she welcomes us at Nankumba Extension Planning Area (EPA) offices in Mangochi.

In a way, Nanthulu— from Makokola Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Nankumba, in Mangochi— can be said to be a leader of leaders. She is the leader of a group of fellow lead farmers such as Stephano Elesoni from Kasiya Village and Chrissy Davison from Mvumba Village, both from T/A Nankumba.


However, all semblances of hospitality disappear from her face, which now wears an odd emptiness, once a question is thrown in-between the niceties of a warm welcome.

Why do you eat?

“To feed my family and generate income after selling some of the produce,” Nanthulu says.


Not because you have a right to food?

“No. I have never heard of anything like that. If we don’t eat, we die. We, therefore, eat to survive,” answers Nanthulu.

Have you ever heard of the term right to food?

“No,” she says.

Elesoni and Davison also admit that they do not recognise access to food as a right; claiming that food is a means of survival. Davison adds that she does not even know if Malawi has laws promoting access to food and food security issues.

This, in short, is the irony that surrounds right to food and food security issues in Malawi.

Yet, everyone— politicians, technocrats, policy makers, ordinary citizens— talks of food.

Just that many say it with their lips, but few— very few— are willing to translate their seemingly great love for food into laws. Take the country’s political parties as a typical example.

In the run-up to the 2014 tripartite elections, food security was one of the issues on the lips of every political party leader.

The then Democratic Progressive Party spokesperson, Nicholas Dausi, told The Sunday Times of March 16, 2014 that the DPP would ensure that “People have food to eat and even more food to store”.

Not to be outdone, the then ruling People’s Party deputy spokesperson, Ken Msonda, told the same publication that, if re-elected, the party would “promote food security through farmer clubs, which will help farmers access farm inputs on loan through clubs”.

Umodzi Party president, John Chisi, also indicated that attaining food security was his party’s preferred route to food security, indicating that “Party will focus on hectares, and what we will be doing is to ask traditional leaders about the land they have and provide bags of, say, maize, based on the number of farmers on a piece of land”.

Meanwhile, Malawi Congress Party expert on agriculture issues, Felix Jumbe, was waxing lyrical about the need to re-invent the Farm Inputs Subsidy Programme (Fisp) wheel and focus on farmer clubs. Today, as chairperson for the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, he stands his ground on Fisp.

“Fisp, in its current format, cannot work well as a food security tool in the country. At the moment, only 1.5 million farmers are targeted and, yet, the country has 3.5 million smallholder farmers. This means 2 million farmers have been left out of the programme and this will automatically negatively impact on food security in the country,” Jumbe says.

Therefore, while political leaders and policymakers seem to have deep interest in food issues, it is evident that they all are steeped in their own sense of self importance, and cannot spare a minute to reflect on the relevance of entrenching the right to food and food security in the country’s statutes, unless the issues relate to their own interests.


In the end, it is as if policymakers and politicians want to keep Malawians in a condition of mutual, endless exploitation, in order to sustain their political motives.

Skeletal framework

A report titled ‘The Human Right to Food: Report of an International Fact-Finding Mission’, which is based on findings obtained in Malawi between April 17 and 23, 2006, indicates that hunger is prevalent in Malawi.

“The majority of Malawians living in rural areas have faced repeated seasonal food shortages for the past decade, often compelling them to supplement incomes through work for food programmes or for cash. Low agricultural productivity, poorly developed markets, and limited access to credit and productive land are additional factors that contribute to hunger and poverty in rural communities,” reads part of the report.

It further observes that, since 2002, Malawi has faced at least two serious droughts, citing 2002 when drought and “poor management” of strategic grain reserves brought about “the worst famine in fifty years”. It adds that, in 2005, following a prolonged dry spell which affected crops at the most critical growing stage, “Malawi was confronted by yet another hunger crisis”.

As if these droughts have not been enough, Malawi faces yet another hunger crisis this year. President Peter Mutharika announced on September 21 that Malawi needs up to US$146.4 million (K 84 billion) to cater for people who face hunger between October this year and March 2016.

The Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) indicated in July that 2.8 million people face hunger in 24 districts.

“This maize will be used to stabilize the price of the commodity on the market through ADMARC [Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation] across the country. The Strategic Grain Reserves has maize in stock and it continues to be replenished. The government is, therefore, ready to roll out food relief to food insecure households during the lean period from October 2015 to March 2016, as recommended by MVAC,” Mutharika said in his announcement.

It is due to disasters like these that, the Human Right to Food: Report of an International Fact-Finding Mission’ report, which was funded by Rights and Democracy with support from FIAN International, Action Aid, Misereor and the International Food Security Network (a project of the European Union)— indicates that stakeholders have seen the need to create an enabling legal environment.

“However, recognising the need to create a legal framework for the promotion of the right to food and food security, the National Right to Food Network in consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, the Department of Nutrition and HIV/AIDS, the Malawi Human Right Commission and the Malawi Law Commission, with funding from the Presbyterian World Service and Development, Rights and Democracy and Action Aid International Malawi facilitated the process,” reads part of the report.

Indeed, Malawi has draft legislation on food security titled ‘Enhancing the Protection of the Right to Food in Malawi Final Draft Food Security Bill’.

Among other things, the draft Food Security Bill provides for the protection of the right to food, the establishment of a National Food Security Council and the establishment of the Food Security Fund.

Food security is described in the draft bill as “a situation when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life; “food” means safe, edible and nutritious substances, acceptable within a given culture, originating from a biological source and includes water, any beverage, food additive material, in processed form or not, which is fit for human consumption and further includes food additive material, food raw material and other materials used in the processing and preparation of such edible substance or beverage”.

It describes “freedom from hunger” as a “a situation where all people, especially the vulnerable, have access to a level of food, capable of meeting the recommended minimum dietary requirements as may be set out by the Minister from time to time”.

“In fulfilling its obligations under section 3, the State shall, depending on the availability of resources, available within and outside Malawi, including through international cooperation and assistance, take necessary measures to progressively realise the right to food,” reads part of the draft bill on the state’s obligation in meeting food security requirements.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports that more than 800 million people around the world suffer from hunger and that the millennium target of reducing that number by half will not be met without stronger commitments and an accelerated pace. FAO cites “good governance” as a key factor in countries where food insecurity has been significantly reduced.

Not that the country is short on policies, though. By 2005, the report indicates that Malawi had “approximately 43 different policies”, indicating that what is needed is a law, or laws, regulating the right to food and food security.

Some of the climate change and right to food-related policies that have been formulated and enacted include Disaster Risk Reduction (DRP) Policy— approved in February this year— National Climate Change Policy, Right to Food Bill, and National Agriculture Policy.

The DRM policy was recently approved by the Government of Malawi and the DRM bill is now being developed. National Climate change policy was developed three years ago but it is not yet approved by the government and the Right to Food Bill, which was developed almost five years ago, is also lying idle without being enacted.

The other policy is the Food and Nutrition Security Policy adopted by the Government of Malawi in July 2005. Malawi’s Ministry of Agriculture is responsible for implementation of the policy, reporting directly to the Cabinet Committee on Food and Nutrition.

Regularising food

Diocese of Mangochi Diocesan Catholic Development Commission (Cadecom) secretary, Peter Nthenda, observes that politicisation of issues hampers Malawi’s efforts in creating an enabling legal environment.

“But the truth is that food security and right to food are key to an integrated approach to development. Communities can only develop if they are food-secure. [Ancient civilisations] Mesopotamia and Yangtze Kiang developed because they were food secure but we don’t seem to realise this in Malawi, despite the fact that the majority of rural dwellers believe in producing their own food in the country,” says Nthenda, adding:

“Due to lack of an enabling environment, most farmers don’t generate enough funds to buy all the required inputs; eventually, they opt for low-yield seeds and, technically, they do not know how to manage their land. The situation is worse in Mangochi and Balaka, which are rain-shadow areas and prone to drought.”

Cadecom, which is which is a relief and developmental arm of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, is one of the civil society organisations promoting citizens’ right to food through a three-year project known as “Increasing Food Security and resilience to climate shocks for 1,250 households in Malawi”.

Right to Food Network Coordinator, Billy Mayaya, observes that the country has a long way to go to meet international human rights standards pertaining to food.

“While there are laudable efforts to provide social protection through initiatives such as Fisp, there are gaps in Malawi as a state fulfilling its obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the right to food. The human right to food is a human rights concept which is justifiable. Justifiability refers to the ability by any party to take individuals and the state to court to seek legal redress in terms of proven violations of the right to food. There is currently a draft bill which when enacted will go to great length to fulfill Malawi’s commitments to issues related to Economic Social and Cultural Rights,” says Mayaya.

Mayaya observes that the situation contradicts constitutional provisions on food.

Argues Mayaya: “The Constitution, in Section 30, makes reference to the right to development which is a broad legal reference to the human right to food. However, the draft bill will extend this expansive provision by narrowing it down to a rights based approach to food. The right to food is not about food security alone but, more, importantly, a rights based approach to adequate food.”

Without adopting such approaches, food may remain a mutual, endless exploitation tool.

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