March 19, 2018
I first landed in Malawi in mid-2002. At the time, I was working for Catholic Relief Services, responsible for overseeing a massive food aid distribution as part of a consortium of almost 20 NGOs providing food to nearly 9 million people. It was a humanitarian disaster ostensibly triggered by drought, compounded by the added misfortune of pervasive malnutrition (which also led to the acceleration of the AIDS crisis in the country). The food crisis affected all southern African countries and should have served as a lesson on how to prevent similar crises from ever-ravaging populations again. The lesson was not learned.
Fast forward 16 years. I returned to Malawi in early March to launch the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World’s Agricultural Transformation Initiative. Charged with a mandate to identify complementary livelihoods for smallholder tobacco farmers, we are challenged by the same economic and climatic conditions as any farmer in Malawi. The backdrop is a familiar one. Over the past 10 months, the current food crisis has absorbed $400 million dollars of in-kind food aid and cash to purchase food. The unfortunate truth is that Malawi has been subject to cyclical food crises over the past 2 decades and seems poised to continue this historic trend.