Members present:

Tony Baldry, in the Chair
John Barrett
John Battle
Mr Tony Colman
Chris McCafferty
Tony Worthington


Memorandum submitted by the Department for International Development

Examination of Witnesses

MR JOHN WINTER, Head of Central and Southern Africa Department, DFID London, MR ROB HOLDEN, Crisis Management Group, Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs Department (CHAD), DFID Johannesburg, and MR JOHN HANSELL, OBE, Food Security Adviser, DFID Zimbabwe, examined.


  1. Good morning. Thank you very much for coming and giving evidence this morning. As you know, most of the Committee have recently been in Malawi. Some of us, through the World Food Programme, have been in Afghanistan, and I was in Ethiopia a couple of weeks ago. I think it would be fair to put on the record that wherever we went there was strong praise for the work of DFID, whether it be from the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, the President of Afghanistan or from people in Malawi. DFID is not on the rack on this occasion! I think many of our Foreign Office interlocutors, including Jim Morris of the World Food Programme whom we saw yesterday, said very often DFID is in the lead on being helpful. There are a number of issues which I think are causing us concern; can I start off with two of them which cause me concern. We saw Jim Morris yesterday and he left us with a press release concerning the Horn of Africa in which he says, "... if this month's rains stop early, up to 14 million people there [in Ethiopia] will require urgent assistance ... These figures are large and dramatic and the international community should take notice ... The situation in the Horn of Africa is not unique. In southern Africa drought is also the prime cause of hunger which is now threatening an estimated 14.4 million people". Taking these two together, that is 28 million people in Africa. "Most of these crises are related to erratic weather patterns". Then he goes on to the bit which I see as a policy issue: "The World Food Programme .. are finding it increasingly difficult to find the resources to respond adequately to the growing number of emergencies. Dependent on voluntary contributions, WFP and NGOs are caught between the rising needs of millions of hungry people and government budgets that are already stretched and contending with a global economic slowdown. The sad truth is that as things stand the humanitarian system faces the prospect of being completely overwhelmed". What struck me when I was in Malawi, and other places, is that we have this system with WFP whereby, whenever there is a crisis, firstly the country itself has to put up its hands and say, "We are in difficulties", and that sometimes, for all sorts of reasons, takes time; and then WFP has to go scratching around getting pledges and then turning those pledges into commitments, and then actually turning those commitments into hard grain, moving it through the pipeline and sorting out logistical things like the Nacala railway and all that kind of stuff. Do we not need to move to a system whereby the international community works on the basis that WFP each year is going to require some base funding, so that WFP can actually have a much faster start to responding to these crises - rather than being dependent, as it is, on this very much hand-to-mouth funding it has at the present moment?
  2. (Mr Winter) Chairman, firstly, I ought to say I cover Central and Southern Africa operationally and not our relations with WFP more generally. I can only give a very general answer. I think that your description of the way in which we have had to find resources for Southern Africa matches the reality very well. WFP does have access to a certain amount of revolving funds within the UN system, in order to kick-start its operations. It may well be that if we get to the point where WFP are feeling they are going to be faced, year after year, with very large emergencies that we do need to move to some kind of more predictable funding basis. In terms of the management of this operation, I think we would all have found it easier if WFP had had access to those resources, yes.

  3. My second concern (which if Mr Stegmann had been here he could have dealt with because he covers the whole of Africa) relates to Ethiopia but applies equally to Malawi. When talking to EU officials in Addis I was concerned they were saying that, notwithstanding whether there is a drought, the situation now is that there are more people each year in need of food-help in Ethiopia simply because whenever you have a drought or difficulties everyone sells up their livelihood, their livestock, their assets, whatever they have, and therefore when the next problem comes they have no coping mechanisms left whatsoever. Indeed, the EU put out a report which says, "... many households slowly falling into destitution ... As a consequence, coping mechanisms have lost their effectiveness and even small downturns in production translate into major shocks for large numbers of rural livelihoods ... food aid only fulfils one of its three objectives: saving lives (the other two being saving assets and improving nutrition), and it doesn't do it that well ... emergency food aid has a limited usefulness in addressing structural problems at the basis of the recurrent crises in Ethiopia. Asset depletion over the long term continues unabated and, under the current scheme of things, donors would be facing a caseload of 20 million food insecure people by 2015, a clearly unsustainable situation... [there is] the need for a long-term structural approach to food security". It is understandable, of course, that politicians, envoys, everyone, are concerned about the immediate crisis, but one does not get a sense of sufficient attention being given on how does one get people away from the crisis, back into long-term food security. Going back to the UN family - I can understand the World Food Programme has responsibility for shifting huge quantities of metric tonnes, and they are doing that logistical first aid job; but I have not had a sense in my travels (and other colleagues may have a different view on this) of other parts of the UN family helping with the long-term food security. Years ago the FAO was one of the stars of the UN firmament . My impression now is that the FAO, apart from a few seed banks, is not really there as a key player, helping countries with agricultural diversification. I just welcome your thoughts, both in Southern Africa and elsewhere, on how we get away from this annual humanitarian crisis, of press releases of 14 million people food insecure in the Horn and 14 million in Southern Africa? How do we get away from that back into some kind of long-term food security?
  4. (Mr Winter) Let me try and answer that in relation to Malawi. You are right that depletion of assets at the households level, as we said in our memoranda, is a matter of intense concern. The absolute shortages of food in Southern Africa have not been enormous this year, and yet they have put many more people into a vulnerable situation because of the cumulative effects of years' of neglect of the agricultural sector, the effects of HIV/AIDS on families, and then, of course, climatic problems as well. In Malawi we have been trying to address this to some extent through the Safety Nets Programme, which you will have had an opportunity to discuss with some of our staff in Malawi, and that is an attempt to ensure that people do not fall below a certain level of food insecurity, either by providing targeted agricultural inputs, public works programmes, or feeding programmes for particular target groups. We are, of course, increasingly working through the country's own poverty reduction strategies. One of the striking things that comes out when you start looking at the causes of households' food insecurity is that it is not always to do with agricultural inputs, although that is obviously very important. In Malawi one of the things that really impacts on the ability of households to produce food is security in rural areas, because households are not able to keep livestock, which is one of the things we are trying to address through our access to justice project. We are trying to approach it from a number of angles. Within poverty reduction strategies, however, if you ask me whether food security has an adequate profile I would have to say, "No". That is one of the areas where, certainly in Malawi and Zambia, we want to work with the government on improving that. Work is already underway in Malawi with a number of donors and with UN agencies and government working together on food security strategies. On the UN, I would share your views certainly in our region that FAO has not been there leading the thinking. In fact, of the UN family, I would guess that the World Bank and the IMF, if you include them, probably have much more impact on food security than the specialised agencies. We are very conscious of the need, particularly in light of the experience of the last year, to work in a much more coherent way with the World Bank and the IMF. We are concerned, as you know, that there has been a rather ad hoc approach both to dealing with the short-term needs and how that translates into the longer term development.

    Chris McCafferty

  5. We are aware that in the last year DFID has put about 68 million into Southern Africa, into humanitarian assistance; and another 17.5 million is DFID's share of the EU contribution; quite a lot of money. We have also established a Humanitarian Crisis Unit in Johannesburg. Could you tell us a little bit about the organisational mechanisms. How do DFID country offices relate to the DFID regional office? How do they both relate to the DFID London office?
  6. (Mr Winter) Firstly, I would say I was based in Harare until August, so up until very recently there was not a London corner to this, except insofar as we had CHAD back-up - and I will come back to that in a moment. We have taken a view, since the middle of 2001 when it became clear there would be problems, that since the problems were so deeply rooted in governance and economic and agricultural policy within the countries, since they were so closely related to the dialogue that we had and continue to have with the government of these countries, and that the relationships we needed in order to make progress on these issues were the ones that were held within the county offices, that our response would be led by the country offices. I think we have tried to work it so that, where a response is clearly appropriate at country level, the country office has worked it up with whatever partner, and has the delegated authority to approve it. Because there is clearly a regional angle, we have sought to back-up our country offices by having Mr Hansell as our full-time Food Security Adviser in Harare. We have had throughout this crisis, at least since the beginning of 2002, professional back-up from our Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs Department (CHAD). We decided in early September - because, as we expected, needs were increasing, the possibility of it going badly wrong had increased, and because there was a call from the media and from bodies such as your Committee quite properly for considerably greater amounts of information - that we ought to up the CHAD support to our country offices. That was the origin of the setting up of the Unit in Johannesburg. We still run the relief operation very much from the region, from the country offices as a focal point, but with increased back-up from the Unit. They have recently done a further round of country assessments which we are sharing openly with all our NGO partners, which are pinpointing things which the country office ought to be doing in order to both put in a more effective bilateral response and to get the international system working better.

  7. You have mentioned CHAD and the Crisis Unit. How do you feel that that will improve DFID coordination with other donors?
  8. (Mr Winter) The CHAD Unit is in Johannesburg full square, which is the nerve centre of the UN operation. The World Food Programme Director there has a mandate from Mr Morris as the UN's Special Envoy for Crisis to cover the whole emergency for the UN system. What it does in country I think is to give a better picture of needs, to be able to share with other people who do not have this resource in the region. I believe it is only we and the Americans who have this specialised unit within the regions of response.

  9. Did the DFID country office request CHAD's assistance when it saw the situation developing?
  10. (Mr Winter) I decided, as the Regional Manager, that we needed CHAD's support, yes.

  11. Given the current situation in Zimbabwe, which we are all very aware of, is it possible for DFID to work effectively?
  12. (Mr Winter) The impact we can have in Zimbabwe is obviously limited. There is no transparent flow of information about needs. There is no regular dialogue with governments, such as there is in Malawi. We have very poor information about what government is bringing in itself. We have very poor information about what it is doing with the food it brings in. We have very poor information about the rural works programmes, with which we know Zimbabwe did very well in the past, the food for work programmes. What we are able to do is work within the space that the UN negotiates for international agencies. Within that I think I can say we are being quite effective. We have a bilateral programme with a number of NGO partners, which is providing both supplementary and general feeding. We are quite confident that that is getting to the people who are targeted and it is well targeted. We are contributing to the WFP programme, which we believe is making an impact on food shortages. However, as you know, there are considerable political problems in meeting the needs of some vulnerable groups, particularly farm workers. We are having to work around a number of obstacles put in the way of the international relief effort.

  13. We have heard that President Mugabe has, from time to time, prevented food getting to certain groups of people, particularly those he suspects are opposition supporters and voted against his presidency. In your view, is that the case? Is it making it particularly difficult to get food to those groups?
  14. (Mr Winter) We certainly see the same reports as you do and it is clear that food aid is being used as a political weapon. It is obvious that when there is a by-election, for example, the difficulties of the grain marketing board go up in the relevant constituency. We have also heard that it is very difficult to be able to buy food or to be able to get on to the list of recipients for food for work projects if you are known to be a member of, or a supporter of, the opposition.

    (Mr Hansell) I should make it clear that most of our bilateral support is being supplementary feeding mainly for large numbers of children. We have, as John indicated, been doing general feeding in particular areas, such as Binga and Nyaminyami. Binga, as you have probably heard, has recently been a problem where Save the Children have been prevented from delivering food; and that is a general ration to all people in that area, into that district; it is not selection; it is not targeting; it is food for everybody. That area did actually vote for the opposition in the last general election; and, therefore, one of the reasons the government has prevented Save the Children from getting there is that they are seen to be feeding opposition members.

  15. Do you feel that the uncertainty about Zimbabwe affects planning for projects in other countries?
  16. (Mr Winter) Do you have any particular projects in mind?

  17. No, just the countries in the region.
  18. (Mr Winter) It certainly creates a great deal of uncertainty for the humanitarian relief effort as a whole, because Zimbabwe is such a large part of the problem - half the people who need support are Zimbabweans. Because we cannot see our way clear through to next March, there are still big holes in the food requirements. Because Zimbabwe is a very important transit corridor for commodities going through to Malawi and Zambia, you have to raise questions about how safe it is to put food through Zimbabwe. In the sense that in most years since independence you would have expected that Zimbabwe would be part of the solution and not part of the problem, it does make planning much more difficult. Supply routes are that much greater into Malawi and Zambia.

    Mr Battle

  19. Could I just pick up on looking at the whole region. We were there in Malawi trying to address the whole region and we met people from the High Commission and people from Zimbabwe, as well as people from Southern Africa; and we met with the European Union team and they had just come back to Malawi from South Africa and we were a bit surprised they had not actually met with the CHADL - the Crisis Liaison Unit in Southern Africa for the whole of the region. It seemed to me the EU was happening; there was great work that DFID had done, and there was not a word of criticism of DFID, they were praised as leaders; but is there sufficient coordination? Should the EU not liaise a bit more closely with the Crisis Unit in Johannesburg? Can we help do that in any way? Otherwise we are going to have crisis units sparking off countering crisis units, and we have not got a regional grip.
  20. (Mr Winter) One of the reasons for having Mr Holden and his team in Johannesburg is that they do make contact with passing teams, and their position in Johannesburg means that they normally know when these people are coming through. They obviously do not meet each and every team. On the EU I would say that they are suffering a problem of human resources in the region, which has certainly affected their ability to analyse and respond. That partly explains why it is not always obvious that they have consulted everybody before they do what they do.

  21. The people were there and I was surprised they had not met with them to try and do a bit of coordination or compare notes?
  22. (Mr Winter) We can follow that up and find out why and try and make contact.

    (Mr Holden) I think the person you are talking about flew in and flew out. It is a question of a lot of assessment missions, or a lot of missions coming through Johannesburg, and it is very difficult to know when they are arriving, when they are leaving and whether your diaries can match. There is an important issue you do raise in relation to the coordination. It is something, we agree, does need to be strengthened. It is something we are trying to do, and is part of the role of my team in Johannesburg, to try and help that happen with the UN.

    Tony Worthington

  23. Can I ask about the early warning system with regard to this crisis. This seems to have been one which people stumbled across, although NGOs were warning, I think, from August 2001, and then the government denied that there was a crisis. It seemed like the warning systems or the alerts were not working all that well. Do you agree with that?
  24. (Mr Winter) The way you put the problem, I assume you are referring to Malawi specifically?

    Tony Worthington: Yes.

    (Mr Winter) I think it was clear in July and August last year that there was going to be a problem up until March 2002, and then with the failure of the current harvest that rolled on into 2002-03 marketing year. One of the very useful papers put before your Committee by a group of academics led by Professor Kydd talks about information on crops, information from rural areas and information on prices; and we did indeed have all of those in August and September of last year. Of course, as you know, at the time they did conflict. There was a certain amount of evidence from crop assessments that the situation was better than it turned out to be. Where we had information from rural areas we had specific proposals put to us by NGOs who were working in those areas, and we did try to respond. If you are asking whether this fed through into a coherent response by government and the international community - clearly it did not. As we have said in our memorandum, a lot of the discussion with government in the last quarter of last year was clouded by the problem of what had happened to the national food reserve. We did not get a very clear steer from government. Not having a clear steer from government is not an excuse for inaction. As I say, we were responding to localised emergencies through NGO partners.

  25. What action have you taken to improve the situation? What I brought back was: we are there for a long time.
  26. (Mr Winter) Indeed, we are; and one of the working groups being convened by government to consider food security more generally is on early warning systems. I think the experts would agree that early warning systems are not a matter of rocket science.

  27. Why did we cut the Starter Packs programme?
  28. (Mr Winter) That is going back a year.

  29. It is after warnings about the problem being considerable. I just do not understand. We distributed to 1.5 million households in 2000-01 and then we cut that in 2001-02 to one million households, and I cannot see the rationale for that?
  30. (Mr Winter) We were trying to move from a universal Starter Packs programme to something that would be more consistent with the national safety nets programme, of which this was going to form a part. With hindsight, no doubt we would not have reduced the programme as fast last year. Nevertheless, it still made a substantial contribution to the harvest this year.

  31. That indicates the information system was wrong, does it not? It is not really with hindsight; it is because you did not have foresight.
  32. (Mr Winter) We did not have the information at the time.

  33. What is being done to improve that?
  34. (Mr Winter) We are trying to persuade government to put much more effort into -----


  35. Just for the record, there is quite a lot of reference to "government". I think it might be helpful if we can talk about either "the government of Malawi" or "the UK Government". I am sure you are not trying to persuade the Secretary of State of whatever you are about to say!
  36. (Mr Winter) We are trying to take the lessons from last year and to persuade the government of Malawi to put much more effort into collating and translating into policy the information that is received on food security. The phasing down or scaling down of the Starter Packs programme was done with the agreement of the government in Malawi. This year we have responded by putting it back up again. This is obviously not a very satisfactory way of doing it. It is a stop/go series of inputs. We would like to move much more rapidly than has been possible with the government of Malawi towards the consistent safety net strategy.

    Tony Worthington

  37. The problem I have with this whole area is that this is all about crisis, and about response to crisis. It is the absence of agricultural policy that disturbs me. Here we have a country rapidly growing in population, subsistence economy, ever-more depleted land; it is inevitable it will be short of food, absolutely inevitable, but we do not have an irrigation policy; the country does not have a land policy; the cost of importing fertiliser is exorbitant, and I think needs looking at. There are problems marketing the right kinds of seeds. We do not get a briefing from DFID that has any kind of strategic element to it. The World Bank has not got that; the government has not got it; and yet it just screams out that this country is going to be in deep problems forever unless there is strategic thinking. Is that right?
  38. (Mr Winter) I think you are right. One of the criticisms that we have of the poverty reduction strategy in Malawi is that the sections that deal with agricultural policy are very technical. They involve the improvement of extension service, the introduction of new technologies, all of which may be necessary but certainly not sufficient for turning round agricultural production.

  39. We have had the World Bank programme which has been falling, falling and falling; and then we have a new programme which is about subsidised grain, which will be used in the election, will it not?
  40. (Mr Winter) I do not know.

  41. It will be used in the election to either make people rich or to help by votes. DFID has to come along with the Nacala railway programme, which is an obvious one and should have happened years ago, but the government does not really push it forward; there do not seem to be any adequate discussions with the IMF or World Bank. Is that not a true reflection of the situation in Malawi?
  42. (Mr Winter) I think we have not, between us, got a consistent agricultural situation for Malawi, no, that is true. One of the effects of the current crisis has been to push government further into thinking about the food security, with the result that it has launched the work I have described earlier with donors. We are very conscious that we need to get the Bretton Woods Institutions much more firmly on its agenda for Malawi. Insofar as we continue with budget support for Malawi, it has to be conditional on the government of Malawi's policy meeting much more the needs of the rural poor.

  43. I am a fan of DFID, as everyone knows, but is it not a failure not just in Malawi but in DFID's strategy generally in Africa that agricultural strategy (and we talk about livelihoods) which is key to the future of Africa just has not featured?
  44. (Mr Winter) We have certainly been concentrating much more on cross-cutting issues such as public service reform and public financial management reform than we did previously. I think that the Malawi team would say that one of the most effective ways of meeting the needs of the rural poor in Malawi is to get the fundamentals of the economy right, and to stimulate what is at the moment a very partial and small private sector. Meeting the needs of the rural poor does not necessarily mean concentrating on agricultural strategy. I accept where you have a poverty reduction strategy for countries like Malawi or Zambia it does need to cover agricultural strategy. One of the things we have been doing in Malawi is to try and plug one of the gaps which you mention, which is not having a land policy. We have put quite a lot of money and effort into that particular aspect.

    Mr Colman

  45. Briefly, coming back to the point where Mr Worthington started a question about the reduction in Starter Packs in Malawi, at the World Summit for Sustainable Development, in the first week the Malawian Minister for Agriculture speaking on the food security debate stated that the reduction in Starter Packs was not something which the government of Malawi had agreed to. For the record, you did say about five minutes ago that they did agree to that reduction in Starter Packs. You might want to take away and examine what the Malawian Minister for Agriculture said; but do you still stand by what you said five minutes ago, that the government of Malawi had agreed to this reduction in the number of Starter Packs?
  46. (Mr Winter) I think they agreed reluctantly. It is an issue which has come back again in discussion with them.


  47. Could I ask a couple of factual questions. Why did you rely so heavily on expectations of a good cassava and potato crop, because I think you must have known that estimates compiled by local extension workers could be exaggerated?
  48. (Mr Hansell) Yes, of course, any estimate can always be exaggerated, but we were getting it on what we considered good authority. We knew there had been an increase in the areas of sweet potato and cassava that had been planted over the last few years. What we did not expect was that the figures we were given were going to be as exaggerated as they turned out to be. In all these countries there is almost a fixation on maize. We accept that maize is the main staple but any other food is often dismissed; any other food is often seen as a snack, as something which is not really important, and that people have to eat maize all the time. We thought there might have been an element of this coming in; that unless people were getting at least one meal of maize a day no other food counted.

  49. May I just pick up on something you said in reply to Tony Worthington's question about the need for greater focus on agricultural policy for countries such as Malawi and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, that it might require the introduction of new technologies. One of the things which struck me was that there was a perfectly good, although not particularly new, technology in treadle pumps. The introduction of treadle pumps enabled there to be two harvests a year, two crops a year. It is not rocket science, yet ironically they are importing treadle pumps from Bangladesh. They do not have the facility in Malawi to manufacture treadle pumps. Surely there must be some benefit in helping farmers acquire treadle pumps, even to the extent of trying to set up a manufacturing facility for treadle pumps in Southern Africa? I think treadle pumps are psychologically important in that, if one looks at all these figures of 14 million people with a lack of food, the rest of the world and our constituents after a while start to get the feeling that this is just desperate and beyond hope. The great thing about treadle pumps is they can actually see this technology making a real difference. My last point is, the week I came back from Malawi, where we were literally going to villages where people were eating crushed-down wheat and grasses on the Mozambique border, I went to my local prison where we have a thousand men banged up for 23 hours a day doing absolutely nothing. It seemed to me somehow there was a disfunction here. At least in the Prison Service we might be making treadle pumps for use - not taking jobs from anyone in the UK but doing rather better. It is not new technology but it needs some direct leadership, not from us but from their own government, in employing rather old technology to have an agricultural policy across Malawi and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
  50. (Mr Winter) For the record, what I was doing when I mentioned new technologies was quoting the Malawi poverty reduction strategy.

    (Mr Hansell) First of all, we have to remember that treadle pumps can only be used where the water table is relatively close to the surface, and it is these dam areas you see as you fly over Malawi. Not all the population is going to have access to that type of land. Those people who do have access to that land are already, as you probably saw, using it for winter cropping anyway. Sure, we could enhance their productivity by putting in treadle pumps. Although treadle pumps may appear to be fairly cheap as far as we are concerned, they are extremely expensive for the average Malawian. Even if they were produced locally they would probably be out of the reach of most smallholder Malawians who, as we know, have less than half a hectare to subsist on. We have to look very carefully at how we introduce these pumps, and to whom we introduce the pumps. Some of you may have gone down to Dedza and seen what was happening down there. There was an attempt there by DFID to introduce treadle pumps but it is not an easy thing. To start with, you cannot hand them out, and if you do who do you hand them to? There tends to be elite capture by senior people in the village. Secondly, running treadle pumps on a community basis, which is a way of doing it, there are also questions there of who owns it and whose land is it operating. There are many of these sociological problems which we do need to resolve. Having said all of that, I still believe there is a future because one of the things you notice as you go across Malawi is so little surface water; so little water is stored or utilised in that country compared, with example, to Zimbabwe to the south where there are dams and other forms of small-scale irrigation everywhere.

    Tony Worthington

  51. You do not even use Lake Malawi which is 20 per cent of the country, and that is surface water.
  52. (Mr Hansell) It is in the rift valley, so there is an awful lot of pumping to get it out.

    John Barrett

  53. My question follows on from Tony's point about the early warning systems, particularly in relation to Malawi. Any early warning systems are only as good as the information gathered for that system. Mr Hansell mentioned earlier on how the information gathered about the maize production and the root crop was inaccurate. When we were in Malawi we saw that there was a lack of people in the field collecting this data. People were filling in the projected output based on last year's production, and there were a lot of errors in the system. Why did DFID accept these over-optimistic estimates as a basis of what to do next? It was very much on the basis of over-optimistic estimates that the strategic grain reserve was sold; and there was a knock-on effect with grain having to be bought at a later date at an increased price. I would have thought that within DFID somebody must have had the expertise to say, "This information coming into the system is not that accurate. Let's get more accurate information so that we can make a more accurate prediction". What lessons can be learned and how can that be avoided, because the knock-on effect from this poor information is quite catastrophic?
  54. (Mr Winter) I would not want the Committee to go away with the impression that we rely solely on crop forecasts. As I think I said earlier, it was clear from the other forms of information that there was a developing problem. There was then a protracted period of dialogue with the government of Malawi as to what they intended to do about it; and a certain reluctance on the part of donors to be putting large amounts of food into the country at a time when it was not clear what had happened to the grain reserve - whether it had been exported or whether it was still being hoarded within the country. An early warning system is only as good as the use that is made of it, not only as good as the information that goes into it. In terms of the lessons we have drawn, clearly there does need to be improved information. As I have said, it does not take a great deal of resource or ingenuity to work out that problems are developing. What we are concentrating on is trying to get the government of Malawi to have a more consistent approach to the use of information than they have - balancing information from one source against another. Clearly, if the government of Malawi had taken all the information available to it in the last quarter of last year they might have put their hands up earlier and said, "We have a problem".

  55. Is it not the case that getting accurate information into the system is going to become more difficult year on year, partly because of the HIV/AIDS crisis and other crises within the country? We cannot expect there suddenly to be good information for the early warning system. How is DFID approaching this problem, because of the increased problems of getting good information into the early warning systems? An optimistic prediction was made about the root crops, but I am not sure that anybody looked at that prediction. Was it just taken at face value?
  56. (Mr Hansell) Can I just step back and say, I admit last year there was a glitch in Malawi with the early warning systems; but it has been remarkably reliable in the past. This year again it warned us in good time that there was going to be a serious shortfall in cereal production. You have to look at how it operates. It is looking at rainfall. It is getting reports in about what the crops are doing and crop condition. As Mr Winter mentioned, there is also an indication of market prices and what market prices are doing. It does not actually do crop assessments until quite late in the season. February, I think, is the pre-harvest crop system when it is assessed, and it does another one afterwards. It is based on a limited amount of information. This is really about cereal production per se. What we are investigating at the moment and preparing is to go further than this into what we call "vulnerability assessments", which is using the methodology designed by the Save the Children Fund of household vulnerability assessments, which takes a look at the livelihoods at the household level and at village level to try to assess what is the real picture. Rather than looking at the national food production and saying, "Nationally, we're fine" when at the same time there can be pockets of hunger taking place - we are trying to get better assessment through a series of base lines of the food situation at provincial, district and even village level. We hope that that will come on-stream within the next few months. We are continuing to discuss how we fund that. That will be region-wide. That will be working with all of the SADC countries, not just the six affected countries at the moment, which will set up these vulnerability committees that will try and work things out. If they have a baseline, from then onwards it should be quite easy to assess what changes are taking place against those baselines.

  57. Following on from that, it is a problem we saw in Malawi and you can see a similar problem unfolding in Zimbabwe, and that is the delay which is caused in DFID taking action because of their concern or the government within the country. In Malawi there were questions over the sale of the strategic grain reserve and the situation in Zimbabwe is worsening. How does the governance of the country delay the decision-making process of DFID? How can we not leave people hungry because of the problems of the government?
  58. (Mr Winter) The answer to that obviously varies from country to country. In Zimbabwe the governance situation is very stark. The Secretary of State took the view very early on in this developing crisis that we were going to do all that we could to make sure that people did not starve (in her words) because of the actions of the government of Zimbabwe. Our response to the crisis in Zimbabwe in financial terms has been the largest part of our response to the Southern African crisis as a whole. What we can do in Zimbabwe is limited by the fact that we do not have a constructive relationship with the government; but within those limits we are doing all that we can to make sure that food does get through to people who need it. Where we have an ongoing dialogue with government, such as that in Malawi, about governance the situation does perhaps get cloudier. There were genuine concerns in the last quarter of last year as to the governance position on the Grain Reserve, why it had gone, who had ordered it to go and who benefited, but the operational point was where was the maize and was taking action to bring in large amounts of food necessary when it was quite possible that food was already in the country. There was a lack of information. I do not think we were ever saying at any point because the government of Malawi has allowed the Grain Reserve to go therefore we are not going to put any more food in. It certainly was one of the elements that led to the Secretary of State's decision not to provide any further budget support this year, but that was a rather different thing.

  59. On the question about the sale of the Grain Reserve, are you aware of any evidence that the grain actually remained within the Grain Reserve and it was sold at a low cost and bought back in at a high price and it was effectively corruption within the system which led to the people of Malawi suffering and the government and those dealing with the Grain Reserve were culpable?
  60. (Mr Winter) As you probably heard in Malawi, there has been quite an extensive report into this by the Anti-corruption Commission and a report has gone to the Director of Public Prosecutions. We are paying for an independent audit. Rather than attempt to deal with that question in any detail perhaps we could undertake to let you have the results of the audit.

    John Barrett: Thank you.

    Mr Battle

  61. We have spoken about this year's crisis and the lack of grain and maize this year and there was obviously a lack of rain. When I was there I wondered how we are going to avoid a crisis next year. I say that because I visited a seed store which had a modest amount of seed, not all maize it had other crops, but certainly not sufficient maize. They had not got any fertiliser. There was a sense as well that the packs had gone out a bit late because they have got to catch the rain and the rain will come in November. The day I was there it did actually rain a little bit early, but there is a time window to get the fields ready to plant and hopefully the rain will consistently fall and crops will grow. The land needs to be prepared. Much of the land is prepared by people, personally hoed by hand, occasionally you saw oxen but it is a very intensive agricultural process. Some of the fields were not ready and in one village I asked why, they had all the time to prepare the land, there were people out there, and after muttering around I got the reply that the fields were not ready because the people who were doing that bit are now dead. The reason was HIV/AIDS. I would have to say I was aware that I was in a country more dependent upon agriculture than I have ever been in my life but as I stood in the fields there I have to say I have never been so strongly aware, to use that old imagery, of the shadow of the Grim Reaper over those fields. So the possibilities of them growing sufficient food for next year seemed to me to be not too optimistic. In other words, it is not just one failure of the rain, you get people back on track and next year there will be food and it will all be all right again. When you speak of a consistent agricultural strategy I get the impression it is going to be an agricultural country for a long time to come, there is not a clear pathway to industrialisation or even through steps into more intermediate trade and cropping for export, it seems to me it is going to be a self-sufficient economy, not that that is a good thing and could it ever get there. Is there a wider strategy that is going to address not only agriculture and the failure of the rain, not only irrigation, but the HIV/AIDS crisis as well because it seems there is a complexion of issues that need to be addressed in Malawi otherwise we are going to have the crisis repeated year after year?
  62. (Mr Hansell) You are talking about Malawi there.

  63. Yes.
  64. (Mr Hansell) Yes, I would agree with you that we all see this as a complex emergency with HIV/AIDS playing a dramatic part in it. In terms of the two million packs going out, those two million packs will be planted by people. I think the evidence is most of them will go into the ground. They were out in good time this year as opposed to last year. We do expect to see that probably that Starter Pack will bring in another 400,000 tonnes of maize this year given favourable weather. Although some people will not have prepared their land, that will go out to people that have got land and it will be planted. The overall impact of HIV/AIDS in the whole of Southern Africa is dramatic and it is impacting in particular upon subsistence farmers in the area. One of the problems we have to grasp is how do we help them where you are depending upon agriculture for your family labour, where you may have sold your assets which include draught oxen and you are down to family members hoeing the land, and the family members consist of a grandmother and a grandfather and ten orphan children. We have not yet managed to solve how we get technologies to those people. Even if you give them fertiliser and seed are they able to prepare the land to put it in. We need to be spending much more time finding out how we can find appropriate technologies for those people, people who have shortages of labour first and foremost, who are unable to grow cash crops. If you are going to grow a crop at all you go into a subsistence food crop as being a survival mechanism. We have not cracked that one yet but we are working on it and we are talking to many of these CG centres about looking at new technologies that will address people with large numbers of HIV/AIDS affected people in the family.

  65. I related it to my experience in Malawi but if I were to ask a more general question, in the DFID memo, paragraph 12, it acknowledges that the Southern Africa crisis is multisectoral, so there is an acknowledgement of the range of challenges that are faced. While food pledges are 70 per cent of the appeal to date, non-food pledges are currently at 13 per cent of the needs. Why is there such a shortfall of non-food aid?
  66. (Mr Holden) I think some of that comes down to the fact that for such a long period this crisis was primarily seen as a food crisis and people were heavily focused on just the food sector, the provision of food. We have only just seen in the last couple of months that people are now pushing it much wider than that to take a multisectoral approach, to look at the impact of things like HIV/AIDS, to look at health, look at nutrition, look at water and sanitation, those other factors that contribute to people's well-being. That may be some of the cause, that it has taken some time to push it much wider than a food crisis.

  67. So there will be efforts made to narrow that gap so that non-food aid will go up rapidly, will there?
  68. (Mr Holden) I think there are efforts under way to narrow that gap. I think we will see when the consolidated appeals are reissued in the New Year that those needs will probably rise and rise dramatically.

    (Mr Winter) Can I just come in on that. As you say, some of these underlying problems are longer term ones and are being dealt with through longer term programmes. We have tried very hard to mainstream HIV/AIDS in all our programmes in Southern Africa so that no national policy that we support fails to take account of the impact of HIV. We do know that we are in there for the long haul and some of the response needs to be through increased UN emergency activity, some of it needs to be in the way that we manage our long-term development programmes.

  69. While we were there we visited the World Food Programme store of gifts from everywhere and I was a little bit surprised as I walked around the great warehouse to see bags from Zimbabwe and bags from Zambia given that they have got a food crisis as well. I asked why they were getting food sent to Malawi from Zimbabwe and we went into a discussion about GM maize and whether or not GM maize was available and the whole question of milling. I had some vague idea of the situation there, not so much in terms of the food aid programmes but what they told me is that maize is flowing around in Southern Africa, it is moving. What about the commercial maize and food imports that take place informally? Do we know anything about cross-border flows of maize between Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi? Have we any information? Do we have any knowledge about this? Do we record this? Do we know what is actually going on in the marketplace?
  70. (Mr Hansell) A very interesting question, do we know. There is a lot of informal movement of maize across those borders. They are open borders, as you have seen. We are pretty sure that something in the region of 100,000 tonnes or more of maize has come across from Northern Mozambique into both Malawi and into Zambia. There have been reports that there is lots of maize in Northern Zambia while the donors continue to import it from outside. That maize is almost certainly coming in from Tanzania and it is moving across to Northern Mozambique, which is quite normal at this time of the year when there is a shortage in some countries as it comes in. That, if you like, is the informal trade that is taking place by small scale traders. There is, of course, a distortion in prices throughout the region. All the countries now are putting some degree of subsidy on maize in the countries and none more so than in Zimbabwe where the subsidy is huge. Therefore, it would not be inconceivable that people with access to maize in Zimbabwe would be selling it across the border to Zambia where you would get, in effect, the export price for your maize. I also believe that there is a certain amount of illegal, you might say, cross-border selling and purchasing taking place within the region.

    (Mr Winter) We would, of course, like to see an open market in maize within the region.

  71. Is DFID completely opposed to food subsidies as a form of price support?
  72. (Mr Winter) No. You had a discussion, I believe, with our office in Malawi about this. What we would like to see are subsidies, where they are necessary, to be as cost-effective as possible and that will normally mean targeted subsidies where methodologies for targeting are available. What we do think is a bad idea is to have general subsidies which are often brought about for political reasons which are very expensive and have the risk of elite capture.


  73. Can I just pick up something that John Battle was saying. This is not getting at DFID, one is not expecting one donor or one UK government at any one time to solve all the problems of the world. What probably struck all of us possibly more forcibly in Malawi than other countries that we have visited recently simply because it was starker there was the huge impact of HIV/AIDS. This is a country with only 11 million and we were told there are something like one million orphans already. One would go into many villages finding elderly grandparents looking after quite young children and clearly on their life expectancy those children are likely to be totally orphaned quite soon. One came across a number of completely ad hoc orphanages with NGOs of varying degrees running them. Both there and in Ethiopia and Kabul to a certain extent it struck me that we have not got a hope in hell of meeting the 2015 targets of children in primary education if you have these huge numbers of HIV/AIDS orphans without any overreaching strategy. I have to say my impression of Malawi was there was practically no grip from the government in Malawi on some of these issues, they seemed to me to be rather preoccupied by whether the President would have a third term. I think I probably want to put on the record, to use Jim Morris' comments in the press release on the Horn of Africa, that these figures are large and dramatic and the international community should take notice. It is the scale of some of this which perhaps the international community needs to take on board, not just in DFID. It is the huge scale of the challenge that we have in Sub-Saharan Africa in relation to HIV/AIDS which is so frightening.
  74. (Mr Winter) You are absolutely right. Trying to run development programmes in the shadow of HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa is a very sobering challenge. We do have programmes of support to combat HIV/AIDS in support of national committees where they exist. Only a certain amount can be done with technical inputs from outside and until this gets to the top of the political agenda in these countries things will not change. We have some idea of things that work at the margins but the thing that really works is political direction from the top.

  75. Finally could I just ask some straight forward factual questions. Firstly, what is DFID's position on agricultural input subsidies, either targeted or universal, in the long run? The team that have evaluated the Starter Packs seem to be strongly in favour but other donors appear to be sceptical. What is DFID's position on long-term agricultural input subsidies?
  76. (Mr Winter) That they are perfectly valid as part of the long-term agricultural policy.

  77. What is the future of the Strategic Grain Reserves in national food security strategies? Can the "options markets" suggestion work for countries like Malawi and Zambia, which are landlocked, poor and short of foreign exchange?
  78. (Mr Hansell) Yes, we believe it can. We think it is time to move away from holding extremely large and expensive Strategic Grain Reserves. There is a need and there is an interest, particularly in Malawi, for looking at the options market in South Africa to see whether or not there are alternative ways of holding this within the continent rather than at the moment the Strategic Grain Reserve is actually being held in the USA.

  79. We have had evidence from quite a number of NGOs - Action Aid, Christian Aid, Oxfam, WDM - all of whom in their memos in one way or another have submitted that the radical one-size-fits-all liberalisation policies - I am paraphrasing - which they allege were effectively imposed by the World Bank and IMF through loan conditionality, have contributed to the current food security crisis in the region. What do you say about that? What are your feelings about the role of the World Bank and IMF in all of this?
  80. (Mr Winter) Certainly agricultural liberalisation has had a role in food insecurity. When you look at organisations like ADMARC in Malawi, they provided a cradle to grave service for farmers at enormous expense and there was considerable justification for asking governments to look at the effect on their budgets of continuing that kind of comprehensive input. The losses incurred by ADMARC are still a massive drain on the Malawi budget. I do not think that going back to the days of universal provision is a starter. Nevertheless, the private sector has clearly not come in to meet the need in the way that the people who designed these programmes, and governments themselves when they signed up to these programmes, envisaged. One of the points made by Professor Kydd in his paper is that although you cannot go back to the old days you do need more imaginative solutions in terms of incentives for the private sector to move in and, indeed, infrastructure to enable them to move in. One of the base requirements of Malawi is for a decent road system and it is one of the things that the EU is now finally concentrating on. Things that were started for very good reasons have not had the effects that we expected. In Malawi we have attempted to make up for the lack of this universal provision through a safety nets programme and we will continue working with the government on that, and on its food security strategy which we firmly expect will involve a higher role from the private sector.

    Tony Worthington

  81. One of the issues which greatly annoyed us when we were in Malawi to the extent that we wrote to the Secretary of State about this was that the NGOs and others, the donors, had set up what seemed to us to be a very efficient allocation system for grain within the country which was distributing to about a third of the population, but then the World Bank and the government of Malawi negotiated a new deal for undifferentiated subsidised grain to go into the country and to be distributed by ADMARC. ADMARC had been the agency which had lost the previous grain. What is the Government's attitude to that?
  82. (Mr Winter) As you will have discussed with the team, we were disappointed that the Bank had chosen to go ahead with this without widespread consultation and without taking cognisance of the work that had been done, and this point has been made very firmly to the Bank. As we understand it the World Bank took the view that in the circumstances and the need, as they saw it, to get affordable food out into the market that they had to accept a second best solution which was a general subsidy and using, as they saw it, the only organisation which was capable of it. As you know, we have reservations about both those judgments, reservations which we are taking up with the Bank now. That was one of the things I had in mind when I said earlier that we needed a much closer understanding with the World Bank and the IMF about their roles in promoting long-term food security rather than the kind of ad hoc decisions which people had felt rushed into because it is an emergency.

  83. Here we have a situation where the general manager of ADMARC, which managed to lose the grain, became promoted to become the Minister of Finance. In any normal situation you could expect him to be at least suspended rather than promoted.
  84. (Mr Winter) As you know, we have serious concerns about governance in Malawi.

  85. If we are looking at these issues we have got to be quite open about it and there we have a negotiation of subsidised grain from the World Bank which is to be then administered by ADMARC on a very large scale. Might I just ask you to confirm that is the situation.
  86. (Mr Winter) I believe that is the situation, yes.

  87. We were very concerned about the relationship with the World Bank in Malawi, that here we had a situation where the World Bank programme had declined to the extent that if there had not been this grain coming in Malawi would have been the net contributor to the World Bank. That is true, is it not?
  88. (Mr Winter) I do not have the figures.

  89. Can you assure us that the British Government is making strong representations to the World Bank about what has been happening with the World Bank's programme in Malawi?
  90. (Mr Winter) I can assure you that we are taking it up at a senior level in the World Bank and that we have asked for a board discussion on this particular credit.

  91. There is one other point concerning the IMF which does disturb me. The relationship, I think quite correctly, with the IMF had broken down because of the governance issues in Malawi but now we have a situation where the person who was in charge of Africa for the IMF, a Malawian, has now returned to become the President's Economic Advisor in Malawi. I do not see how you go from one side of the table to the other without questions being asked.
  92. (Mr Winter) It is not a situation of which I have the details but we can certainly follow it up.

  93. I think it is very important that as far as this Committee is concerned that we put these items on the agenda.
  94. (Mr Winter) Thank you.


  95. A very final question from me. Going back to the government of Malawi, and I think there have been a number of expressions of concern about their ability to deliver, I suspect that is as much a problem of capacity as suggestions of corruption. In other words, one of the impacts of HIV/AIDS is that it is no respecter of who you are and if one looks at government departments in Malawi a lot of civil servants are dying. I think I am right in saying that a quarter of Malawi's education budget is being spent on paying for the funerals of teachers who have died. In Kenya I noticed the other day they are losing something like 6,000 teachers a year to HIV/AIDS. I suspect that is the equivalent of all the teachers in Oxfordshire and not even a country like the UK could afford to do that. I just wonder to what extent you think in the future we and other Commonwealth countries, if HIV/AIDS continues to have the impact on countries like Malawi, the attrition rate, countries such as ourselves, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, other countries throughout the Commonwealth, are going to have to support Malawi in terms of people, people in ministries, people undertaking active roles again in management of projects rather than just having a DFID programme which tries to interact with the government of Malawi, that the international community with the support of the Malawi people and the government, maybe elsewhere in South Africa, will have to have a proactive role in reinforcing the capacity of government?

(Mr Winter) It is a problem that is particularly stark in Malawi and you may well have had Malawians saying to you, as they do to us, that this is something we need to consider. We phased out all this 20 years ago and here we are back in the position of having to think about white faces in ministries. It is something we are looking at. Clearly continuing to provide technical advice to an overstretched institution is not going to produce results in the long run. The solutions that are being thought about in Malawi revolve around firstly trying to entice educated Malawians back into the country, because that is an enormous untapped resource, but also, if necessary, some flexible technical assistance funding to enable them to hire in expertise at whatever seems to them to be good value for money, whether or not it is people coming from Britain or other parts of Africa or other parts of the developing world.

Chairman: Thank you very much. Thank you for your evidence. I think there are some substantial issues here that we will be grappling with for some time to come. Thank you.