Food Supply Crisis and Food Security in Malawi

The food crisis in Malawi in early 2002 resulted in several hundred hunger-related deaths – perhaps several thousand. These deaths make this the worst famine in living memory, certainly worse than the drought of 1991/92, and worse even than the Nyasaland famine of 1949.

The famine can be explained in one of two ways. The ‘technical’ view is that bad weather,limited information and import bottlenecks resulted in famine, despite the best efforts of well-intentioned actors. The ‘political’ view attempts to attribute blame: depending on who one talks to, the famine was caused by a callous IMF, profiteering traders, or complacent government and donor officials. The truth lies somewhere in between. The famine was a product of a complex combination of both bad luck and inadequate policies.

In May 2002 Action Aid commissioned IDS Fellow, Stephen Devereux, to lead a research team in Malawi to try to unravel what went wrong and identify appropriate policies and responses to prevent similar crises in the future. The resulting paper ‘State of disaster: Causes, consequences and policy lessons from Malawi’ finds that, as with other famines, a combination of ‘technical’ issues and ‘political’ problems has conspired to create a humanitarian crisis.


State of Disaster: Causes, Consequences & Policy Lessons from Malawi ActionAid report, commissioned by ActionAid Malawi and written by Stephen Devereux, June 2002

Project details

start date
18 January 2002
end date
20 December 2002


In partnership with
ActionAid Malawi
Supported by
ActionAid Malawi

About this project



Stephen Devereux

Research Fellow