Panel Paper: Relating Seasonal Hunger, Coping and Prevention Strategies, and Household Nutrition: A Panel Analysis of Malawian Farm Households

Tuesday, June 14, 2016 : 12:10 PM
Clement House, 3rd Floor, Room 04 (London School of Economics)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

C. Leigh Anderson1, Travis Reynolds2, Josh Merfeld1, Pierre Biscaye1, Katie Panhorst Harris1, Margaret Beetstra1 and Carol Levin3, (1)University of Washington, Evans School of Public Policy & Governance, (2)Colby College, (3)University of Washington, Department of Global Health
Chronic hunger and food insecurity have long been acknowledged as central issues in global poverty reduction. Both the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals have targeted hunger (UN, 2016). The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the World Food Program, which track global and regional trends in undernourishment, report that nearly 800 million people are chronically undernourished worldwide (FAO, 2015; WFP, 2015). Though undernourishment is falling globally, progress in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has been slower than average; more than one quarter of the world’s hungry now live in SSA as compared to 17% in 1990, and the total number of hungry in SSA has grown with the population, though the percentage affected by hunger has fallen from 33% to 23% over the same time period (FAO, 2015).

In Sub-Saharan Africa, over 400 million people live in poverty, and 60% of these people live in rural areas (World Bank, 2014a; World Bank, 2014b). The rural poor are likely to depend on agriculture and as such, are particularly susceptible to seasonal hunger in the months leading up to the annual harvest. However, the effects of seasonality likely spill over to the urban sphere as well, since food prices rise as food becomes relatively scarce. Despite its growing recognition in the literature, the prevalence of seasonal hunger in rural and urban areas of Africa is poorly understood. No estimates are compiled, and limited evidence exists on how causes and impacts differ between seasonal and chronic hunger.

This paper contributes to the body of evidence on the extent and drivers of seasonal hunger using panel data from the Malawi Integrated Household Panel Survey. A panel sample of 2,270 rural and 400 urban households across 2 survey waves (2010-2013) allows us to first examine the prevalence of hunger in general and seasonal hunger in particular, and across farm and non-farm households.

After establishing that seasonal hunger persists in Malawi, we investigate whether it is potentially associated with some variation in household and farm characteristics, or if it appears to be solely explained by rainfall.  We find the former, implying some scope for meaningful interventions beyond irrigation. Farmers use various ex-ante on-farm strategies to smooth consumption, including planting “off-season” crops, investing in post-harvest storage technologies, or generally diversifying farm portfolios including livestock products and/or wild crops.  Similarly, when markets are available, farmers may diversify through off-farm income sources (local wages and remittances) in order to purchase food in lean seasons. Second, we investigate whether households with seasonal hunger practice other commonly cited ex-poste coping responses such as early harvesting of crops, and selling assets or borrowing money. Finally, we investigate whether a short-run response of early harvesting could exacerbate future seasonal, and ultimately chronic, hunger by reducing crop yield and nutritional value.