Page last updated at 10:17 GMT, Tuesday, 3 June 2008 11:17 UK

Beating the global food crisis

Britain has joined a global summit on soaring world food prices as the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation urged wealthy nations to use the summit to agree "urgent and concrete actions" to address rising malnutrition rates.

Malcolm Fleming, of Oxfam Scotland, is in Malawi, where he spoke to a poor family which has learned how to manage its food supplies, through a government programme.

Today in countries from Haiti to Indonesia families are struggling, and in many cases failing, to put food on the table as food prices rise dramatically.

Estere Chiperenga
Estere Chiperenga has extra food for her family this year

However, Estere Chiperenga has, perhaps surprisingly, enough food for her family of eight.

Grandmother Estere, who is in her 40s, is a small farmer in Wruma, a rural area in Phalombe district of southern Malawi.

I met her a few days ago when I visited her village to meet with her and her neighbours to discuss how Malawi has managed to 'buck the trend' of the world food crisis.

Estere's family is one of the poorest families in a poor rural community in the 13th poorest country in the world. Yet despite facing shortages in the past, this year she was able to show me bags of maize, the staple food here, stored in her home.

Yet more maize, still unbagged, sits in her small brick food store. Normally, she and her husband would manage to harvest about four or five bags of maize in a year. This year she estimates she has 15 bags.

With that extra food she is confident that she will be able to feed her family and also have extra left over to sell and generate some valuable income.

Poor farmers

So what has helped families like Estere's get to this position, whilst elsewhere the world is facing possibly its worst ever food crisis?

Only a few years ago Malawi faced its own crisis, with droughts driving the country to the edge of famine, making food distributions from the likes of Oxfam and the World Food Programme essential to people's survival.

Now, while such food distribution is still available for the most vulnerable, many hundreds of thousands of families just like Estere's have food in stock for the months ahead.

This change is a result of an agricultural inputs programme implemented by the government of Malawi, with support from donor agencies, including the UK Government.

Estere Chiperenga with Malcolm Fleming
Malcolm Fleming is in Malawi with Oxfam Scotland

One of the main planks of the programme has been a fertiliser subsidy allowing poor farmers, typically farming small plots of 0.4 of a hectare, to buy and use fertiliser, thus greatly improving their harvest.

Over two million families have benefited from the programme, with national food security established and other countries in Southern Africa now looking to Malawi as the example to follow.

Yes there are still difficulties, and yes putting food on the table can still be a struggle, but in a country which doesn't have its problems to seek, this is a definite success story, made all the more noteworthy given the growing crisis elsewhere.

Tackling that crisis is the purpose of an emergency United Nations meeting in Rome today (3 June).

As politicians, diplomats and officials meet to discuss how to best respond to the problem, Oxfam is calling on them to implement a co-ordinated global action plan to address the immediate needs of 300 million poor people worldwide.

One of the actions that governments need to take is to follow the Malawian example and support poor small-scale farmers across the developing world.

In the EU and US farmers have enjoyed substantial subsidies for decades. In the developing world, in countries like Malawi, it just takes a little to make a big change for families like Estere Chiperenga's.

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