Skip to main content

The Politics of Hunger in an SDG Era: Food Policy in Malawi


This study focuses on the relationship between politics and hunger and the national political discourse on food security in Malawi. Our aim is to better understand the role of local and national actors in pursuing policies that aim to achieve the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The empirical focus is on the Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP), introduced by the Malawian government in 2005–2006, which supports smallholder farmers to better access to agricultural inputs. We provide an overview of the food security discourse and highlight the importance of political commitment for policy coherence that is required for achieving the SDGs. Thereafter, we introduce the policymaking scene in Malawi and FISP before critically examining the policy narratives on food security in the country. Our goal is to examine why some issues are effectively dealt with and not others. We argue that food security policies in Malawi are influenced by the political incentives they provide for electoral campaigns and for securing a regular flow of financial resources in agriculture projects that are highly dependent on foreign aid.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Global Targets 2025 to improve maternal, infant and young child nutrition, World Health Organization,

  2. “African and Middle Eastern countries remain world’s poorest, IMF data shows”, The Independent, 01 June 2018,

  3. Second International Conference on Nutrition Rome, 19–21 November 2014,

  4. “Malawi’s Life Expectancy Up”, The Times, 12 October, 2016,

  5. According to UNAIDs, Malawi has been one of the biggest success stories in Sub-Saharan Africa, having reportedly saved over 260,000 lives since 2004 and achieved a 67% reduction in the number of children acquiring HIV. “How Malawi reduced its HIV/Aids infection rate”, 19 July 2016,

  6. “Climate change is making it harder to reduce poverty in Malawi”, The Economist, 16 September 2019.


  8. “2.8 million face hunger in Malawi - WFP”,

  9. “1.9 m Malawi families face food shortage: Minister Mwanamvekhha outlines strategies to fight looming hunger”, Nyasa Times, 06 February 2018,

  10. Interview with official, Ministry of Agriculture, Lilongwe, 21 August 2016.

  11. Interview with official, Ministry of Agriculture, 28 April 2018.

  12. “Nasfam fears that debt might choke economy”, The Nation, 16 October 2017,

  13. The remaining two being the ministries of education and health.

  14. “Minimum farm gate prices low”, The Nation, 09 May 2017,

  15. Interview with official, Ministry of Trade, Lilongwe, 11 July 2014.

  16. “Mutharika Lifts Export Ban”, The Nation, 31 October 2017,

  17. Op.cit.

  18. Interview with official, Ministry of Agriculture, Lilongwe 19 August 2016.

  19. Interview with official, Ministry of Agriculture, Lilongwe, 18 September 2014.

  20. Interview NGO official, Catholic Development Commission of Malawi, 12 June 2014.

  21. “I’m Not a Stealer but Shrewd Businessman – Mulli”, Nyasa Times, 25 September 2018,

  22. “Mulli’s bid rejected, Nyiombo gets deal: Malawi fertilizer subsidy for IRLAD”, Nyasa Times, 13 September 2012,

  23. Thus, Mulli Brothers Ltd. supplied 8% of the total 150,000 tons of fertilizer under the FISP program. “Mulli bounces back in Fisp”, The Nation 12 November 2014,

  24. “Mulli’s bid rejected, Nyiombo gets deal: Malawi fertilizer subsidy for IRLAD”, Nyasa Times, 13 September 2012,


  • African Union. 2015. The cost of hunger in Malawi: Implications on National Development and vision 2020. Addis Ababa: African Union.

    Google Scholar 

  • Banik, D. 2007. Starvation and India’s democracy. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Banik, D. 2016. The hungry nation: Food policy and food politics in India. Food Ethics 1 (1): 29–45.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Banik, D., and B. Chinsinga. 2016. Political transition, poverty and inclusive development: The democratic dividend. London: Routledge.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Beresford, A. 2014. Editorial: Understanding how ‘Africa works’. Critical African Studies 6 (1): 1–5.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bull, B. and McNeill, D. 2019. From Market Multilateralism to Governance by Goal Setting: SDGs and the Changing Role of Partnerships in a New Global Order. Business and Politics,

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chinsinga, B. 2010a. Seeds and Subsidies: The Political Economy of Input Programmes in Malawi. FAC Working Paper 013 Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.

  • Chinsinga, B. 2010b. The Political Economy of Agricultural Policy Processes in Malawi: A Case Study of the Fertilizer Subsidy Programme. FAC Working Paper 039 Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.

  • Chinsinga, B. 2012. Deconstructing the Success Myth: A Case of the Malawi Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP), Paper presented at 3rd International Conference of Institute of Economic and Social Studies, “Mozambique: Accumulation and Transformation in the Context of International Crisis, 4–5 September 2012, Maputo.

  • Chinsinga, B. 2018. The Political Economy of Agricultural Commercialisation in Malawi. APRA Working Paper 17 Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.

  • Chinsinga, B., and M. Chasukwa. 2014. Agriculture and climate change policy: Processes, decision makers and implementation instruments. Lilongwe: FAO.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chinsinga, B., and M. Chasukwa. 2018. Narratives, climate change and agricultural policy processes in Malawi. Africa Review 10 (2): 140–156.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chinsinga, B., and C. Poulton. 2013. Beyond technocratic debates: The significance and transience of political incentives in the Malawi farm input subsidy Programme (FISP). Development Policy Review 32 (2): 123–150.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chirwa, E. and Chinsinga, B. 2013. Dealing with the 2007/08 Global Food Price Crisis: Political Economy of Food Price Policy in Malawi. WIDER Working Paper No.2013/30 Helsinki: United Nations University.

  • Chirwa, E., and A. Dorward. 2013a. Agricultural input subsidies and Malawi’s recent experience 2005–2010. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Chirwa, E. W. and Dorward, A.R. 2013b The Role of the Private Sector in the Farm Input Subsidy Programme in Malawi. FAC Working Paper 064. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.

  • Cooper, F. 2002. Africa since 1940: The past in the present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Cromwell, E., and B. Zambezi. 1993. The performance of the seed sector in Malawi: An analysis of the influence of Organisational structure. London: Overseas Development Institute.

  • Dawson, N., A. Martin, and T. Sikor. 2016. Green revolution in sub-Saharan Africa: Implications of imposed innovation for the wellbeing of rural smallholders. World Development. 78: 204–218.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Devereux, S. 2002. The Malawi famine of 2002. IDS Bulletin 33 (4): 70–78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dorward, A., and J. Kydd. 2004. The Malawi 2002 food crisis: The rural development challenge. Journal ofModern Africa Studies 42 (3): 343–361.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Drèze, J., and A. Sen. 1989. Hunger and public action. Oxford: Clarendon.

    Google Scholar 

  • EAD/UNDP. 2016. Malawi NAP stocktaking report. Prepared by S.K. Reddy and K.J. Gondwe. Environmental Affairs Department (EAD) and United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Malawi.

  • FAO. 2003. Trade Reforms and Food Security: Conceptualizing the Linkages, Rome: FAO. Accessed on 23 May 2019.

  • FAO. 2017. The state of food and agriculture leveraging food Systems for Inclusive Rural Transformation. Rome: FAO.

    Google Scholar 

  • FAO. 2018. The state of food insecurity in the world: Building climate resilience for food security and nutrition. Rome: FAO.

    Google Scholar 

  • FAO. 2019. Global report on food crises 2019. Rome: FAO.

    Google Scholar 

  • Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems. 2017. Healthy diets for all: A key to meeting the SDGs. Policy Brief No. 10, November 2017. London: Glopan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Haug, R. 2011. In the policy maze of food dilemmas. In The political economy of environment and development in a globalised world, ed. D.J. Kjosavik and P. Vedeld. Trondheim: Tapir Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Haug, R 2016. Emergency preparedness and early recovery for enhanced food security in Africa, Noragric Report No. 78 October 2016. Oslo: Department of International Environment and Development Studies, Noragric Faculty of Social Sciences Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

  • Haug, R. 2018. Food Security Indicators: How to measure and communicate results. Noragric report no 83. Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Accessed 12 November 2019.

  • IFAD. 2011. Enabling poor rural people to overcome poverty in Malawi. Rome: IFAD.

    Google Scholar 

  • IFPRI. 2018. Global food policy report. Washington DC: International Food Policy Research Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  • IMF. 2017. International development association economic development document for the republic of Malawi assessment letter for the IMF. Lilongwe: International Monetary Fund.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kamangira, D., Kapasila, W., Akinbango, Y., Abiodun, F., Baumuller, H., von Braun, J., Debary A., Gallant, K., Getahum, T., Husmann, C., Jaenicke, H., Kirui, O., Rezaei, E., Smith, Y., Tambo, J., Virlow, D. and Zinn, K. 2016. Malawi: Potentials and possibilities for German collaboration in agriculture. Bonn: Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and Centre for Development Research (ZEF), Program of Accompanying Research for Agricultural Innovation. Accessed 26 October 2019.

  • Kato, T. 2016. Agricultural Input Subsidies in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Case of Tanzania, Unpublished PhD Thesis. Brighton: University of Sussex.

  • Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee. 2019. State of Food and Nutrition Security during the 2019/2020 Consumption Year. Bulletin No. 16/19. (1), 1–5.

  • Malawi Government. 2016. National Agricultural Policy, Ministry of Agriculture, irrigation and water development. Lilongwe: Government Printers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Malawi Government. 2018. National agricultural policy, Ministry of Agriculture, irrigation and water development. Lilongwe: Government Printers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mvula, P.M., Chirwa, E.W., Matita, M.W., Dorward, A.R. 2011. Evaluation of the 2010/11 Farm Input Subsidy Programme, Malawi: Challenges of Access to Farm Input Subsidy by Most Vulnerable Groups in Malawi. London: SOAS.

  • Nabarro, D. and Haddad, L. 2018 Malnutrition is a staggering global burden – we must give new meaning to the food we eat. The Telegraph, 16 October 2018. Accessed 28 October 2019.

  • National Statistical Office. 2016. Malawi Demographic and Health Survey (2015–16. Zomba: National Statistical Office.

  • National Statistical Office (NSO) and ICF Macro. 2011. Malawi Demographic and Health Survey 2010, Zomba, Malawi, and Calverton, Maryland, USA: NSO and ICF Macro.

  • OECD. 2016. Better policies for sustainable development: A new framework for policy coherence. Paris: OECD.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Sen, A. 1984. Food battles: Conflicts in the access to food. Food and Nutrition 10: 81–89.

    Google Scholar 

  • Westengen, O.T., and D. Banik. 2016. The state of food security: From availability, access and rights to food systems approaches. Forum for Development Studies 43 (1): 113–134.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wiyo, K.A., and J. Mtethiwa. 2018. Review of irrigation development in Malawi: Opportunities, approaches and challenges. Journal of Public Administration and Development Alternatives 3 (1.1): 43–61.

    Google Scholar 

  • WFP. 2018. Nutrition. Fact sheet. Lilongwe: WFP Malawi.

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dan Banik.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material


(DOCX 19 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Banik, D., Chasukwa, M. The Politics of Hunger in an SDG Era: Food Policy in Malawi. Food ethics 4, 189–206 (2019).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Food policy
  • Hunger
  • SDG 2
  • Policy coherence
  • Malawi