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Food insecurity, poverty and the Malawian Starter Pack: Fresh start or false start

Harrigan, Jane
Food policy 2008 v.33 no.3 pp. 237-249
food security, poverty, food policy, agricultural programs and projects, corn, planting seed, small farms, farmers, fertilizers, legumes, food production, Malawi
Chronic food insecurity and chronic poverty are closely related in Malawi. Since independence in 1964 national food security has been a key policy objective. However, until the 1990s less emphasis was placed on the household dimensions of food security and its links with chronic poverty. In the last decade a number of initiatives have been used in Malawi to tackle the issue of household food insecurity. One of the most controversial has been the Starter Pack programme launched in 1998. Initially consisting of a free handout of packs of improved maize seed, legumes and fertiliser to every small holder farm household in Malawi the scheme, under donor pressure, was subsequently scaled down to become a form of targeted social safety net programme. This paper analyses the strengths and weakness of both the original programme and its scaled down version and assesses the reason for the considerable opposition to the programme from Malawi's donor community. Although Starter Pack is no longer operative in Malawi the Malawian experience is used to derive lessons for other countries where household food insecurity is an important dimension of chronic poverty.