Tales of hunger

The July 2012 Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Mvac) assessment report indicated that 1.6 million people in rural areas (11 percent of the total population) will be food insecure, as such; require food assistance from August 2012 to March 2013. Who are these people and what is the scale of their plight? Ephraim Nyondo talked to some of them.

Ambasoni Village in group village Therere, T/A Ngabu, Chikhwawa, is an impoverished island community located an hour drive from Ngabu Market.

The road that connects Ngabu Market and Ambasoni is potholed, narrow, and above all, dusty. In fact, as you get close to Ambasoni the spiral of dust, almost like a whirlwind, increases. And the spiral is symbolic.

It symbolises the dryness of the soil—its visible infertility. Even when you feel the coarseness of the soil in your hands, there is nothing hopeful in it, just emptiness almost.

“This year has been the worst. The soil is completely dry. It can’t support any crop,” says Janet Khundiwe, a divorced mother of eight who was born and raised in Ambasoni and later, got married there. 

Having missed on the list of recipients of the subsidised farm input, she did not give up. As a farmer of maize and sorghum, she played to the gallery, and was hopeful.  But the rains took away the hope in her. The maize crop wilted in the drought. Her hope, as a result, was on sorghum.

“On a good year—for instance, two years ago when the rains, at least, fell better—I manage eight bags of sorghum. This year, I only managed a single bag,” she says.

A single bag of sorghum, with six children to feed at her home, barely lasted her two months. In fact, the tradition here—and it is quite common in Lower Shire—food security is when an average household, say of seven people, has, at least, 10 bags of sorghum and 7 bags of maize.

But Khundiwe, with six children to feed and without a husband, only managed a single bag. How is she surviving?

“I do piecework. Through that, I earn a little money which I use to buy maize [maize is K350 per basin]. A single basin only lasts a day,” she says.

Despite her pains, Khundiwe’s story, at least sounds better if you compare it with Annie Maya, from Mutiza Village—about 7km from Ambasoni.

At 75, married with five children, Maya has a small piece of land where she grows sorghum. She was a recipient of free farm inputs, of course; but, unfortunately, yielded nothing. The crop wilted. 

“This is the first time I have reaped nothing from my farming. I have nothing at home,” she complains.

While it is the first time for Maya to her experience such, it is not so for Anderson Kong’a.

“The past four years have been terrible here. We can’t cultivate as we used to. For me, I sell wood to the people to earn something and buy maize,” says Kong’a, a married man of six, who hails from Kutama Village in the same areas of T/A Ngabu.

Khundiwe, Maya and Kong’a—taking it from the remoteness of their habitation—might feel their villages are the odd ones out in terms of experiencing food insecurity in the country. They are not.

The three are just part of the 1.6 million Malawians living, mostly, in rural areas, according to the 2012 Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Mvac), they will be food insecure from August 2012 to March 2013, as such; require food assistance.

“This represents eight times as many Malawians in need of food assistance during the 2012/2013 food consumption period compared to the lean season,” reads the Mvac report released June this year.

As usual, when such tragedies strike the next thing is to begin to call for relief food. World Food Programme (WFP) has already started to scale up the response system.

“Our first priority will be to make sure that vulnerable people have enough food to sustain themselves through this lean season,” says Abdoulaye Diop, WFP country director.

For Chikhwawa alone, where Khundiwe and the two others hail, 275 653 people are expected to receive relief food totalling to 18 996.81 metric tonnes. They are given a 50kg bag of maize, 10 kg of pigeon peas (Nandolo) and two 5 kg soya.

In fact, when WFP donated to 500 households—holding to 2 750 people—last week, most beneficiaries still yearned for more.

“We are grateful for the gesture. But the problem is that there are a lot of people who have been left out. What this means is that the moment they hear that I have received something, they will all camp at my house. In few weeks the food will be gone,” complained Maya.

Certainly, in few weeks, Maya will revert to her pains, again. And that calls for a long term solution to the problem.

“We need to invest in more long term solution to build resilience and break the cycle of hunger,” says Diop.

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