Project Everest


[PROBLEM]: Hidden Hunger Malawi - Education, Security, Finance - January 2019.

Lean Phase: Problem Definition

Aim: The aim of this post is to identify the most prevalent issues that affect rural Malawian mothers with young children in relation to Nutrition.

The problem definition is centred around three major pillars identified over the last two months of research.

  • Rural Malawian mothers lack the understanding of nutrition required for their children to grow up healthy.

  • Rural Malawian mothers are unable to guarantee secure, healthy food for their families for all 12 months of the year.

  • Rural Malawian mothers do not have sufficient finances to provide a nutritionally diverse diet for their children.


Malawi’s economy loses MKW 150 billion (nearly US$600 million) annually due to the effects of child undernutrition. (Cost of hunger Malawi, 2015). The fact that this issue constitutes over 10% of Malawian GDP is an accurate representation of the saliancy of this issue in a specifically Malawian context. These costs come as a result of issues such as access to food, food security, financial difficulties and a lack of knowledge on nutrition. A critical point to note is the basic difference between the nutritional and dietary inefficiencies referred to under the umbrella term “Hidden Hunger” and the separate issue of extreme hunger and starvation. Thanks to economic growth and smarter government policies, starvation is less rampant in comparison to several years ago. What remains however is the widespread issue of micronutrient deficiency and a lack of variety in a typical rural Malawians diet. In short the problem that the Hidden Hunger project aims to address today isn’t specifically the quantity of food available to rural Malawian communities, but rather the quality - whether kids are getting enough protein and other nutrients to fully develop.


In general, when mothers were asked about the food they and their children eat, they communicated a variety of feelings and emotions including sadness, frustration and heartbreak as well as happiness and contentment. The emotions felt have been broadly categorized as: positive (42%), negative (50%) and content/OK (8%) emotions in relation to the nutrition that mothers provide for their children

PCM obtained:

As a result of a combination qualitative surveying of 50 subjects and an offer test conducted on an additional 37 subjects - the problem facing rural Malawian mothers has been defined as follows:

Rural Malawian mothers lack the understanding of nutrition required for their children to grow up healthy.

Through empathizing with rural Malawian mothers, there was a distinguished trend identified of mothers acknowledging they had a lack of information and understanding of nutrition and what constitutes a healthy and holistic diet for their family. This 1st order problem was then broken down further into:

  1. General understanding of fundamental importance of nutrition for survival and development.

  2. Practical knowledge of how to identify healthy foods and implement them into a typical diet.

Key Statistics

  • 74.1% of mothers expressed that they wanted more information on nutrition.

  • E.g. “Yes I want to know knowledge about different foods.” (Faith, 17)

  • 69% of mothers believe that their child is lacking energy at certain times of the day, a key indicator of malnutrition.

  • E.g. “I worry when the children don’t have energy sometimes because they won't be healthy.” (Maggie, 28)

Mothers that conveyed that they lacked the understanding of nutrition required for the healthy development of their children also expressed feelings of:

  • Confusion

  • Frustration

  • Dissatisfaction

This lack of knowledge on nutrition both from a fundamental and practical point of view led to behaviors such as subjects expressing a satisfaction with the foods they are currently eating while simultaneously highlighting that a major proportion of their daily food intake comes from 1-2 major food groups, suggesting that mothers are under the misconception that feeling full is directly related to healthy living leading to unintentionally implicating:

  • Anaemia

  • Obesity

  • Micro-nutrient deficiency

  • Fatigue

According to the Malawi Micro-nutrient Survey by the Malawian Government:

  • 60% of children are affected by zinc deficiency which is responsible for child growth, immune function and healthy pregnancy.

Malawian mothers are unable to guarantee secure, healthy food for their families for all 12 months of the year.

84 per cent of Malawians live in rural areas where about 11 million are engaged in smallholder subsistence farming, despite the fact that just 20.4% of this land is arable and only 1% is used to grow permanent evergreen crops. ( New Ag info, 2012). As a result, a high proportion of mothers - particularly those with farming backgrounds expressed difficulty in supplying food to their children through the months of december to April. As the vast majority of Malawian crops are grown and harvested at particular times of the year, this creates a lack of  food security for these 1-3 months and makes the food on sale at local markets significantly more expensive during this time.

This is demonstrated in the data collected which shows that

  • 66.7% of the 32 mothers that interviewed wanted better access to healthy foods

  • 64% of the people originally interviewed were struggling to find food for 1-3 months in the year.

A quote from Felista (a mother we interviewed) “I am heartbroken that I can’t provide food for the family” demonstrates a common response that was given when asked about access to foods.

In general it was found that mothers were worried, shamed and experienced heartbreak when unable to provide enough or nutritious foods for their children. This was shown in all three different clinics in which the offer test was conducted.

Another subject of the offer test mentioned how “ When food at the Markets is good, I buy it. When food at the market is bad, I still buy it because I have no other option.”

It was determined that this problem was prompting a behaviour of rationing food ineffectively during prosperous months and surviving on substantially less during more demanding months. Poor planning and foresight has also been a factor in significantly exacerbating these issues to the point where Malawian Families skip 1-2 entire meals per day.

Rural Malawian mothers do not have sufficient finances to provide a nutritionally diverse diet for their children.

Many mothers struggle to provide for their family due to an inability to afford a diverse and quality diet. Mothers frequently claim that food is readily available on the market but is simply too expensive to purchase. The cost of certain foods resulted in one of the mothers explaining, “I feel frustrated as children want different foods, but I can only provide a limited range” (Beatrice, 24). The experiments run in December illustrate the financial issues that Malawian Mothers are facing,70% of rural Malawian families had less than 6000MK ($12 AUD) of disposable income at the end of the week.

Food prices increase dramatically with quality. As a result, mothers are forced to buy low quality food if they are struggling. “Sometimes the sellers will bring in food such as maize that is about to go bad” (Norah, 20) which is the my only option when financially strained.

Some mothers believed that business opportunities are the only way to combat malnutrition of their children. They have also expressed an interest in optimizing the limited resources they have in relation to the foods they purchase.

Lack of sufficient finances has resulted in the following behavior by rural Malawian mothers:

  • Substitution of wholesome, nutritious foods with bulk servings of cheaper, empty carbohydrates and other foods lacking in micronutrients such as Cassava potatoes, porridge, nsima and beans in order to “feel full” rather than effectively fuel their bodies.

Further Results:

January ‘19 Results - - Offer test results

December ‘18 Results - - Preliminary surveying

Issues and external factors:

General education levels, Illiteracy.

Education methods for nutrition will need to be optimized for a population with low education levels and a literacy rate for adult women of 59%.

Technology penetration

Smartphone penetration in Malawi is roughly 7%. On top of this almost 90% of the Malawian population are not connected to a functioning electricity grid. These conditions hamper greatly Malawians ability to take advantage of technical advancements and means that Project everest may need to adjust their offering accordingly

Financial instability/low average Malawian income

50% of the Malawian population live below the poverty line. Furthermore 25% of the Malawian population live in what is considered extreme poverty. This lack of access to finance can be disheartening for Malawians and impede their openness to potential solutions to social issues such as Nutrition, education and productivity.

Seasonality (December through to April especially difficult for food access)

Malawian households have a huge dependency on Maize in order to fuel their daily activities. Aside from the clear lack of micro-nutrients this dependence provides, this dependency also leads to a massive issue of food insecurity. Harsh seasonality means that:

1) Malawians are incapable of growing enough produce to sustain themselves for all 12 months of the year

2) They run the risk of losing large proportions of their yearly produce at the hands of severe weather conditions such as drought and flooding.

Availability of Arable land

Current renting practises in Malawi result in a shortage of arable land required to successfully farm subsistence crops. This lack of arable land results in Malawians paying over the odds prices at Markets for foods they could alternatively purchase themselves for a significantly lower price.

What Next?

The next course of action for the Hidden Hunger team is currency testing - Validating that rural malawian mothers value a solution to the issues mentioned previously to the extent where they would be willing to part with time, money effort or any means of currency in exchange for a solution.

edited on 4th February 2019, 13:02 by Rhys O'Brien

Ella Grier Jan 27, 2019

Status label added: Problem

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