A landlocked country in Southern Africa, Malawi has one of the lowest Human Development Index rankings in the world: 171 out of 187 countries. Agriculture is the primary industry, employing over 64% of the working age population. Food insecurity is chronic, and is exacerbated by extensive mono-cropping of maize (corn) and an over dependence on rain-fed agriculture. Food security and human development are further constrained by malaria, HIV/AIDS and high infant and maternal mortality rates – adult HIV prevalence is 11% and around 770 thousand children are orphans to HIV-related causes.
PCI has operated in Malawi since 2007, when it began activities by leading an innovative Global Development Alliance initiative to strengthen aquaculture value chains for fish farmers and other related micro, small and medium enterprises in the southern Zomba River basin. Since that time, PCI has expanded its efforts to include important initiatives in HIV/AIDS care and prevention, food security, maternal, newborn and child health and nutrition, women’s empowerment, and disaster prevention, response and mitigation.
COMBATING FOOD INSECURITY
Since 2014, PCI has led the Njira project, a $30 million USAID-funded initiative to address the underlying causes of food security in the Balaka and Machinga districts of Malawi. In 2016, Njira reached over 107,000 individuals through a tailored approach that improves agriculture, agribusiness, health, nutrition and disaster preparedness within vulnerable communities. Community Complementary Feeding and Learning Sessions (CCFLS) are one of Njira’s hallmark approaches to improving the health of children under five years of age. CCFLS are skills-based trainings which give mothers and care givers the knowledge and ability to prepare, process and provide highly nutritious foods from all six food groups to their underweight and malnourished children. In 2016, nearly 300 health promoters, surveillance assistants, and agriculture extension officers were trained in CCFLS and over 100 sessions were conducted, reaching over 1,600 children under five.
Njira builds on previous PCI successes in Balaka and Machinga under the USAID-funded Wellness and Agriculture for Life Advancement (WALA) project, through which PCI reduced the food insecurity of over 31,000 chronically food insecure households. PCI improved maternal and child health and nutritional status in 25,000 households, improved the livelihood status of 21,000 smallholder farming households, and improved the capacity of 39 communities to withstand shocks and stresses.
Additionally, through the Women Empowered (WE) Initiative PCI successfully formed 2,288 economic and social empowerment groups with over 48,300 members. Once established and operational, WE groups become a sustainable, ongoing business and economic development platform that is entirely directed and administered by the members themselves, without outside management, resources or long-term external support.
ADDRESSING THE ROOT CAUSES OF RECURRENT DROUGHT
In early 2013, PCI initiated Project ARC (Addressing Root Causes), a project funded by USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) to mitigate the root causes of widespread food insecurity in Malawi caused by drought and late or erratic rainfall. The project targeted households in Balaka, where climatic and economic challenges are further compounded by reliance on drought intolerant crops and poor land management practices, resulting in high levels of land degradation, erosion, inefficient irrigation, poor soil fertility, low water table levels, and rampant deforestation. PCI reinforced the coping mechanisms of households in areas of high water scarcity through the introduction of drought tolerant crops and improved production technologies, as well as community-level projects to increase natural water retention in soils and recharge aquifers. The project increased agricultural productivity and access to food for 5,432 people through conservation agriculture and home gardens; reached 7,360 people through the expansion and support of WE groups; and reached 9,266 people through strengthened early detection and treatment of acute malnutrition.
PCI is currently leading the USAID/OFDA-funded Malawi Emergency Response in Tandem (MERIT) project aimed at addressing the severity and significant dimensions of the current drought and the impact of El Niño on affected households in Balaka and Machinga. The program plans to reach 42,000 beneficiaries to mitigate the impact of the drought on agricultural production, improve post-harvest storage, increase access to clean water, improve sanitation conditions, and increase access to nutrition and income.
HIV/AIDS PREVENTION, TREATMENT AND SUPPORT
In Malawi, where the national HIV prevalence rate is 11%, PCI has cumulatively reached over 28,000 people with prevention messaging and over 14,000 people with HIV testing through the Department of Defense HIV/AIDS Prevention Program since 2009. The Malawi program’s unique features include the engagement of chaplains for disseminating HIV/AIDS prevention messages to youth and couples using the True Love Waits/True Love Stays methodology; self-help groups for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV) focusing on empowerment, prevention, and care and support for PLHIV; training HIV positive military personnel as peer educators to strengthen prevention efforts among soldiers who are HIV positive; utilizing Theatre for Development, a behavior change communications methodology employing live interactive performances; and supporting income-generating activities for PLHIV.
RECENT PROGRAM HIGHLIGHTS
Building Local Capacity in Aquaculture: Between 2007 and 2010, PCI implemented an innovative aquaculture program designed to significantly improve the production and commercialization of pond-raised fish by providing small scale, low-income producers with training, improved feeds, fish fingerlings, and access to credit with the goal of increasing their production, income and food security. The C-FISH project developed and disseminated a wide range of technological and commercial advances which fostered increased entrepreneurship and profitability along aquaculture value-chains in Malawi.
Integrated HIV and Food/Nutrition Security (FNS) Programming: From 2006-2009 PCI led a multi-agency initiative which aimed to bring to scale integrated food, nutrition, and livelihood security along with HIV/AIDS interventions throughout Africa. The initiative’s three central strategies included: 1) Communities of Practice to promote field-based learning on promising practices in integrated HIV and FNS programming; FANSHA, an advocacy group with the purpose of strengthening awareness about HIV/FNS and influencing key policy and donor decisions; and two Africa Forums which brought together local practitioners, public health and development organizations, and select policy makers to share experiences in integrating HIV/AIDS and FNS programming.