Malawi Crisis - Guest Blog

We asked Sheena Wynne the Programme Development Manager from our field partners, Temwa Malawi to write a guest blog, explaining the severity of the current crisis in Malawi and how it is affecting our Deki entrepreneurs.

I would love to be writing this blog post about the success that Deki lenders support has enabled entrepreneurs in northern Malawi to achieve. Please don’t get me wrong, your lending has dramatically transformed some of the world’s poorest people and their families’ lives. However I am writing this post, while in our Malawi office, to inform you of the current food crisis that Malawi, as well as Southern Africa, is experiencing.

I arrived in Malawi on 19th January. Jo (Founder of Temwa) and I travel here every January to work with our colleagues on budgeting and planning for Temwa Malawi's year ahead. Our January trip is the busiest one of the year, with a lot of crucial work to get done. Next time I see my colleagues could be in six to nine months,  so this time is certainly precious. However, this year things are slightly different, as well as planning we are holding a series of emergency meetings to discuss the current situation facing our communities. Soon after arriving, reports from project staff and community leaders told of families so desperate for food that they were boiling mangoes to give to their children as porridge and of potato producers who even resorted to eating recently distributed potato seed, as there was nothing else. Heartbroken does not adequately cover how we, at Temwa, feel about this.

Many Malawian households usually rely on growing their own food crops during the rainy season, which typically begins at the end of November. Farmers plant maize and cassava seeds at this time, taking four months to grow. This time is often known as the hunger season, as the food that families have stored from the last rainy season has been used up and many families only have a small amount of savings to buy food. Many families only eat one meal a day during this time.

Last year’s rainy season was late too, but the rains arrived within enough time for people to at least be able to grow food for their families. Without producing extra crops, many families throughout Nkhata Bay North (NBN – the area Temwa works) were not able to generate any income. This has meant that in December 2015 many families had no remaining maize, nor did they have any savings to buy food. For those who did have some savings the price of maize was well beyond their expectations, tripling in price within the last month. We have heard of people walking 6-8 hours to local Admarc (maize) shops, arriving at 1am and sleeping outside overnight in the hope of a maize delivery. Many times maize has not arrived.

For Deki clients the situation is slightly better but still they have been adversely affected. For those who do have savings from the profits of their business, purchasing food has become incredibly expensive due to its scarcity and also the crippling rate of inflation (25%). For others, business is slow, as community members do not have the money to spend meaning that many clients have noticed a decline in profits. In the field our Microfinance Officer has experienced difficulty in collecting repayments, with some clients telling him they had to spend the money on traveling to the city to purchase incredibly expensive maize, otherwise they would not be able to feed their children.

The situation is only set to worsen. The World Food Programme has already estimated that this year 14 million people throughout southern Africa will go hungry. They report that Malawi is the worst affected a result of El Nino and continued effects of climate change. Reports estimate that 16% of the population here faces starvation. With crops failing, there will be no food or income for many households throughout Nkhata Bay North this year.

None of this is to say that Microfinance does not have transformative and live changing impacts, rather we feel compelled to inform potential lenders about the situation. We believe that micro-finance has the ability to support people through this situation and also give long-term hope. However, for those clients with loans right now, repayment is difficult as livelihood resilience has been eroded due to climate change.

Temwa is working to develop partnerships with emergency aid organisations to bring support to the region.

Sheena Wynne
Programme Development Manager,Temwa Malawi