Malawi's government invited The Carter Center to help avert disaster by assisting with agricultural development programs to stave off the worst effects of drought and prevent a food crisis.
The Carter Center began working in partnership with the Malawian Ministry of Agriculture to improve food security in 1999. The African food crisis in 2002, worsened by drought in southern Africa, led to huge swings in Malawi's maize prices, discouraging farmers from investing in production of maize, the country's staple food crop.
Maize accounted for half of the national cropping area in Malawi, the largest per capita producer of maize in the world. However, unstable market conditions drove large-scale farmers, who previously accounted for 25 percent of maize production, to end maize cultivation in the nation altogether.
The Center's Agriculture Program, in partnership with the Sasakawa Africa Association, worked with the regional Agricultural Development Division under the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation in six of the eight divisions to demonstrate that small-scale farmers across the country could make up for this shortage. Large yields were achieved with the use of fertilizer, drought-resistant maize, and other techniques.
During the program's years of activity, more than 16,000 maize management training plots were planted. The project also promoted the improved technologies to small-scale farmers through farm field schools, which worked closely with local agricultural departments to discuss and explain the techniques being used; the importance of land preparation and conservation tillage; the planting dates for different regions; and the recommendations for maize. To promote crop diversification, the training also covered soybeans, pigeon peas, rice, and wheat production technologies.
Among other activities and efforts, the program encouraged the use of quality protein maize (QPM) for better nutrition. Loan recovery reached around 90 percent, remarkable considering the pressures on farmers to produce enough food despite insufficient and delayed rainfall. Conservation agriculture, which addressed problems of soil fertility and water conservation, also proved popular with Malawi's farmers.
The Carter Center ended its agricultural activities in Malawi in 2006.
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Size: 118,484 square kilometers
Population below poverty line: 53 percent
Life expectancy: 61 years
Ethnic groups: Chewa, Lomwe, Yao, Ngoni, Tumbuka, Nyanja, Sena, Tonga, Ngonde, other
Religions: Christian, Muslim, other, none
Languages: English (official), Chichewa (common), Chinyanja, Chiyao, Chitumbuka, Chilomwe, Chinkhonde, Chingoni, Chisena, Chitonga, Chinyakyusa, Chilambya
Source: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook 2016