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Desperation as hunger hits hard

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AFFECTED—Banana plants

In this Friday Shaker, MATHEWS KASANDA, THOMAS KACHERE, RICHARD CHIROMBO and PATIENCE LUNDA expose the extent to which people affected by hunger due to poor harvest in 2020-21 agriculture season and flash floods in various parts of the country are being pushed in the fight for survival.

For some people in Malawi, the 2021-22 agriculture season is already becoming a period to forget before it even ends.

To begin with, the rains started late, almost three months after the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services had announced that the wet season officially started on October 1 2021; Tropical Storm Ana hit some parts of the country in late January, hitting the Southern Region hard as it washed away 77,532 hectares of crop-land; and, now, Food and Agriculture Organisation has indicated that the rains will be falling in bits and fragments.

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There is, apparently, nowhere to run.

To have a picture of the situation, one just has to travel to the lakeshore district of Salima.

There, women take turns to look for tubers in the bush, as if they were on some full-time job at the end of which they would get some financial compensation.

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For the most part, they go back home empty-handed.

“In the past, we used to visit maize mills to buy maize husks or beg from those who did not need them. We did that in early January 2021 and now the maize husks are nowhere to be seen. The well-to-do do not even have maize husks to feed pigs and cattle.

“That is why, as a last resort, we have been combing bushes nearby to look for tubers. The tubers are not there because the rains started in early January, meaning that there has not been enough time for the development of tubers,” says Puna Safunana Marten, a 34-year-old mother of three.

Forty-two-year-old Zainabu Katerera, a mother of two, concurs.

She says, despite being one of the beneficiaries of the Affordable Inputs Programme in both the 2020-21 and 2021- 22 season, she received fertiliser late, which means she did not harvest enough.

“In 2020-21 agricultural season, I harvested six 50-kilogramme bags of maize, which were not enough for my family. We sold one bag so that, using the money, we could be buying commodities such as cooking oil, soap, sugar, soap and relish.

“This time around (2021-22 agricultural season), I received fertiliser late. To make matters worse, I only got one type of fertiliser – NPK— because the other type of fertiliser was not available. To make matters worse, the maize I planted in early December (2021) in anticipation of rainfall wilted. I had to buy seeds again and that is how I exhausted all the money I had,” she said.

Village Head Katuwa, who is one of the traditional leaders in Salima District, acknowledges that the hunger situation is getting worse there.

“One of the problems is that rains started late in our area and this has affected everyone,” he said.

His sentiments are echoed by Village Head Mzilira, who says most people have no maize at household level, forcing them to make do with whatever is available, including, for those that are lucky, pumpkins.

“Some of us have been surviving on pumpkin leaves, which we cook and eat the way we eat nsima,” Mzilira said.

These sentiments reflect what is in last year’s Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee report, which indicated that a total of 1.7 million people would be food insecure between December 2021 and February 2022.

In Nkhata Bay District, the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee annual report projected that four extension planning areas would be food insecure and these are Chikwina and Mpamba. Chintheche, Tukombo,

Now the situation has become compounded by the poor state of some roads, which have become impassable due to heavy rains.

This has made relief efforts difficult, affectively thwarting the distribution of maize under the 2021-22 Lean Season Response Programme.

As of February 1 2022, only four traditional authorities (T/As) out of 10 had received relief food.

“Actually, I was asked to contribute K800 so that district officials could bring a bag of maize that is stuck at the Boma to my village but I do not have the money,” said a woman who opted for anonymity.

However, her sentiments were corroborated by T/A Nyaluwanga Area Civil Protection Committee Chairperson William Munthali who said, in cases where roads are impassable, they have been asking beneficiaries to contribute money to cater for transport as maize has to be moved from council offices to locations where it is needed.

However, Commissioner for Disasters Charles Kalemba says the government does not encourage that.

“It is the responsibility of transporters to find means of taking relief maize where it is needed the most,” Kalemba said.

In Chikwawa District, Sarah Harry of Hetala Village, T/A Lundu, has been forced to sleep on an empty stomach on some days due to lack of food.

The mother of five says she does not see how she will survive the coming weeks without getting relief support in the form of food.

“I lost all the five bags of maize I had to Tropical Storm Ana-induced floods. In fact, I lost everything, including kitchen utensils and blankets. I need support immediately,” she says.

On the day we found her, she was preparing the last meal she had.

She can only hope that there will be enough relief items for her and other displaced people.

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