Malawi: Poor Pushed to Brink of Hunger in Malawi, UN Agency Warns

Geneva — Soaring food prices, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, are pushing poor people to the brink of hunger in Malawi, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has warned.

The WFP said nearly 400,000 Malawians were already food insecure due to floods and droughts and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the southern African nation. “Malawi’s challenges are now further exacerbated by the effects of the Ukraine crisis,” said WFP spokesperson Tomson Phiri at a UN press briefing in Geneva on Friday.

He said half of Malawians lived on less than $2 a day even before food price hikes, which included the cost of bread rocketing by 50 percent.

According to the UN, Malawi has a fragile economy, and with a population of 19 million it has the fourth-highest percentage of people living in extreme poverty in the world.

Wheat flour price jumps

The disruption of essential cereal supplies after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 is pushing up fuel, fertilizer, and food prices globally, hitting the most vulnerable populations.

“ In the last three months, interviews with bakery owners revealed that the retail price of a 50-kilogram bag of wheat flour has risen by 42 percent since the onset of the Ukraine crisis,” Phiri said.

He added that Malawi imports all of its petroleum products. Between October 2021 and April 2022, petrol prices rose by 54 percent and diesel by 64 percent.

“ The fuel price increases… triggered an upsurge in food prices. Fertilizer prices are now nearing an all-time high, between 130 to 160 percent higher than in 2020,” he noted. “The price of beans, a very common staple, has increased by 28 percent compared to last year.”

Phiri said the government of Malawi removed value-added tax on some of its commodities from April 1, but prices for items such as cooking oil have increased by more than 300 percent since November 2020.

The autumn period in southern Africa is supposed to be a time of plenty, said the WFP official. “It is just after the main agricultural harvest. But surprisingly, while the average price of grain is typically supposed to drop significantly, in early April – just last month – maize prices rose sharply.”

The WFP helps some 1.5 million people in Malawi every year with various forms of assistance. “As you’d expect, we have been forced to provide reduced assistance to 400,000 people in need of food assistance due to climatic shocks,” the UN official added.