Easing hunger in the Lower Shire

At first, it appeared bizarre that Eliza Diyala, 78, was speaking to herself, repeatedly saying: “We have been saved!” as she kept an eye on a 50-kg bag of maize beside her.

But it was only after speaking to her that one understood her behaviour.

“I had not eaten anything when I left home to come to the food distribution centre. I was so hungry that I felt dizzy,” she said.

Diyala was one of hundreds of people who recently converged on Chikhwawa Primary School to receive food aid government is providing to families in some parts of the Southern Region.

“I am grateful to whoever has brought us this food,” she said.

Nearly 202 000 people in the region and Ntcheu in the Centre experienced food shortage following a dry spell that failed crops during the last growing season.

With logistical support from the World Food Programme (WFP), government is to distribute a total of 4 829 metric tonnes of maize to the affected areas for three months. Distribution work started in January.

Save the Children, Emmanuel International, Adventist Development and Relief Agency (Adra), World Vision Malawi, Concern Universal and Catholic Development Commission (Cadecom) are the non-governmental organisations that have been engaged to distribute the food.

World Vision is responsible for Chikhwawa, targeting about 160 group village heads, representing 8 190 beneficiaries. The organisation has completed distributing maize to all beneficiaries in traditional authorities (T/As) Ngabu, Lundu, Chapananga, Maseya, Kasisi and Katunga.

According to crop production estimates that the Ministry of Agriculture released last year, Malawi projected a total production of 3 895 181 metric tonnes of maize for the 2010-2011 growing season.

The maize estimates were above the national food requirement of 2 687 242 metric tonnes. Thus a surplus of 1 200 461 metric tonnes was envisaged.

But when the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Mvac) conducted its annual vulnerability assessment and analysis in May 2011, it found that despite high production of maize at national level, there were localised food deficit areas, mostly in the southern parts of the country.

The assessment looked at factors contributing to reduction in people’s crop production, income generating activities, trade and markets, and economic indicators such as food prices to determine individual household access to food and non-food needs during the 2010-2011 consumption year.

The Mvac analysis showed that a total of 201 854 people would be at risk of food shortage in selected parts of Nsanje, Chikhwawa, Balaka, Blantyre, Chiradzulu, Mwanza, Neno, Phalombe, Zomba and Ntcheu.

The analysis also indicated that although the prolonged dry spells were experienced nationwide, the Southern Region was the worst hit. The North and most of Central Region managed to recover from the impact of the dry spell, thereby registering normal to above average crop production.

The dry spells occurred at critical phases of crop development and maturity and severely affected late planted crops and local varieties. Hence, reduced yields and, consequently, production.

“The [food aid] project is a response to the Mvac report for the 2010-2011 agricultural season,” said Andrew Chimera, World Vision area development programme manager for Chikhwawa, when he gave a briefing on progress of food aid distribution in the district.

Chimera said last Sunday that distribution work was progressing well. He also said they were through with the first cycle of the exercise, having distributed maize to victims who were registered.

“We have finished the first cycle of distribution, and expect to start the second cycle either on January 29 or 30,” Chimera said. “We hope this time we’ll have pulses and vegetable oil.”

While government is providing maize, the United States Agency for International Development (USaid), UKaid, and Irish Aid have provided pulses and cooking oil which were not included in the first cycle.

“Besides a 50-kg bag of maize, a beneficiary will also receive 10-kg of pulses plus cooking oil,” Chimera said. “Our plan is to finish the second cycle not beyond February 15, and start the third February end.”

The sight of hundreds of people, young and old, who braved the scorching Chikhwawa heat to queue up for maize for hours just underlined the importance of the staple to this nation of 14 million plus people.

Many victims told stories of how they were finding it extremely difficult to feed themselves in the wake of the drought that hit their areas and resulted in poor maize yields.

Some, such as Diyala of Kaponda Village in T/A Kasisi, consider themselves fortunate to have received the aid.

She said she only had a basinful of maize flour when she left her home.

“We were eating maize bran. We will have a good meal this month,” she said.

Diyala said her family did not harvest enough because of the erratic rainfall they had last season. She expressed hope that crops would have matured by the time the food aid stops.

Jeffrey Kanyinji, Secretary and Commissioner for Disaster Management Affairs, said everyone affected by drought would receive maize. He said they had started with those who were severely hit, adding that others who were missed in the registration would also be helped.

“In a second assessment, we identified others who were missed. These, too, will be assisted,” he said, when he visited distribution points, adding: “We have enough maize stock for everybody who was recorded.”

He said government had provided maize, while WFP was assisting with logistical support for the work.

As drought victims were receiving relief maize in Chikhwawa, Cadecom was also doing the same at various points in the areas of T/As Mbenje, Chimombo, Makoko, Ndamera, Ngabu and Tengani in Nsanje.

Father Cosmas Chasukwa, Vicar General of Chikhwawa Diocese, told reporters that Cadecom started distributing maize to needy families on January 10, targeting about 4 336 beneficiaries in the district.

Hundreds of drought victims converged on the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) market at Mbenje with expectant faces as they waited to receive the free maize.

“This problem [of hunger] is a big one. It came about because of the dry spell. We are very grateful to government for the food aid, even if it means having to eat just for a number of days,” said T/A Ngabu of Nsanje.

The chief’s fears are cemented by the floods that have affected Nsanje this past week whereby hundreds of people have lost their property and crops in the garden.

Nsanje District Commissioner Rodney Simwaka described the Nsanje floods as the worst in recent years says there is need for another assessment to determine how many more people need food aid following the displacement due to flooding.

“Last growing season, most families did not harvest enough food. The Mvac assessment took place and now we are distributing food items. But another assessment needs to take place [following displacement of people due to flooding].

“It is a double impact. We need to do another assessment to take care of what happened recently.”

The floods have affected two out of nine T/As in the district.

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