Malawi’s food system has likely deteriorated since 2010-2011, according to a new report from IFPRI’s Malawi Strategy Support Program (MSSP). Severe drought and rising food prices have been the largest contributors to rising food insecurity.
The report uses data from the 2010-2011, 2016-2017, and 2019-2020 Integrated Household Surveys conducted by the Malawi National Statistical Office (NSO). The surveys each covered around 12,000 households and included questionnaires on households, agriculture, fisheries, and communities. The data is representative of Malawi’s population at the national, district, and urban/rural levels.
Households were asked whether, over the past seven days, they had worried about not having enough food, relied on food assistance, or altered the quality, quantity, variety or frequency of the food they’d consumed. The report found that over the survey years, the proportion of households with very low food security status—households that reported worrying about having enough food, relying on food assistance, or reducing food quality, quantity, variety, and frequency—has increased, as had households with marginal food security status (those that had worried about accessing food but had not changed their food consumption patterns).
At the same time, the proportion of households that had no concerns about food security declined, particularly between the 2010-2011 and 2016-2017 surveys. Malawi experienced a severe and prolonged drought in 2015-2016, which largely explains the decline in food security seen between the first two survey periods.
However, the decline in in food security continued into the third survey period, strongly suggesting that the country’s food system has steadily declined. In 2019-2020, 64 percent of households reported that their food consumption in the month preceding the survey was not enough to meet their minimum consumption needs; this number was up from 38 percent in the 2010-2011 survey. Similarly, 68 percent of households in the 2019-2020 survey reported experiencing a situation in which they did not have enough food in the past 12 months, up from 48 percent in the 2010-2011 survey.
Food insecure households in Malawi used several strategies to cope with rising food insecurity. The report found that the most common coping mechanism across all three survey periods was changing consumption to less preferred or less costly foods; in the 2019-2020 survey period, 62 percent of households used this strategy.
The surveys also covered households’ nutrition security, in the form of dietary diversity. The report uses two composite indices to examine nutrition trends: the household dietary diversity score (HDDS) and the food consumption score (FCS). The results suggest that overall dietary diversity declined between the 2010-2011 and 2016-2017 surveys, likely due to the 2015-2016 drought. Dietary diversity recovered somewhat in the 2019-2020 survey period but never recovered to its original level captured by the FCS. Dietary diversity was lower for households headed by women, children under the age of 18, and people over the age of 60 than for households headed by men and people between the ages of 18 and 60.