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Escaping the weight of maize shortage

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Luke Chipojola, 32, of Maele Village in the area of Traditional Authority Mpama in Chiradzulu may be a man down in the dumps –wherever he is in Kasungu.

Not necessarily because of the hunger that has ravaged his village for two consecutive years but rather because of the possible guilt he will live with for the rest of his life after he abandoned his family after he failed to provide for it.

Today, life for Chipojola’s wife and four children is but a daily uphill struggle for survival as combined forces of drought and flash floods wiped out the little maize the family could have harvested this year.

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Gremu Chipojola is Luke’s father and agrees that the hunger situation in his area has seen a number of marriages going on the rocks with either the wife or husband running away.

“My son indeed ran away to Kasungu leaving behind his family with nothing and rumour is rife that he married again,” Chipojola says.

He says had it not been for some humanitarian organisations that provided the vulnerable people with relief food items, the push by hunger would have become a shove for those affected in the area.

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Having food is a human right and it is provided for in the Republican Constitution.

Chapter III of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi clearly says the state shall actively promote the welfare and development of the people of Malawi by progressively adopting and implementing policies and legislation aimed at achieving the following goals; gender equality, health and nutrition amongst others.

Section 13 (b) of the same Chapter focuses on nutrition and obliges the state to achieve adequate nutrition for all in order to promote good and healthy self-sufficient.

According to Suresh Babu, Senior Research Fellow and Head of Capacity Strengthening at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, food security is when all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active healthy life.

“Hunger is number one on the list of the world’s top health risks and kills more people every year than HIV and Aids, malaria and tuberculosis combined,” Babu says.

He said 240 million people in Africa are undernourished as they consume less than 2100Kcal per day stressing half of all maternal mortality is due to malnutrition.

According to the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods, governments committed to ending hunger by 2025.

The Malabo Declaration also recommitted to the principles and values of the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (Caadp) process which obliged governments to spend 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture and achieve at least a 6 percent growth in agriculture annually.

The Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) which the government started implementing in 2005 was highly commended as an initiative that fitted well in the continental dreams as espoused through Caadp.

Under Fisp, coupled with good weather, Malawi achieved food self sufficiency.

But the programme faced a reality check in January 2015 when the country suffered devastating floods, considered the worst in a decade.

The floods affected 15 districts across the country and exacted damages estimated at US$335 million, according to the Malawi 2015 Floods Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) report.

The agriculture sector alone suffered losses calculated at the cost US$ 54.4 million.

This resulted in up 2.8 million people being left food insecure.

And the drought situation the country has suffered this year has compounded the hunger situation leading to President Peter Mutharika declaring State of Disaster early this month.

In his address, Mutharika disclosed that the second round Agricultural Production Estimates Survey which the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development undertook between mid- February and March this year, estimated maize production for the season at 2.4 million metric tons.

This represented 12.4 percent decline in production as compared to the 2014/2015 final round estimate of 2.7 million metric tons.

According to Mutharika, the country’s maize requirement for human consumption, seed, stock feed, and industrial use is currently estimated at 3.2 million metric tons, which leaves the country with a maize deficit of about 1.07 metric tons.

“With the increased maize deficit, it is expected that an increased number of people will be food insecure and will require humanitarian relief assistance for the whole 2016/17 consumption year,” Mutharika said in his declaration of state of disaster.

That is, Malawi’s commitment to Caadp and the food and agricultural dreams are under serious weight, which is in turn being brought to bear on families like Chipojola’s.

But as Morris Salifu, an official in the Chiradzulu District Agriculture Office (Dado) suggests, famers can escape from this weight and live normal lives.

He says government, in collaboration with non-governmental organisations, has come up with interventions to help farmers achieve food security in the country.

“We distributed vines for sweet potato which is a resilient crop to alleviate the effects of hunger in the area and those that planted the vines are now smiling as they have something to fall back on,” Salifu says.

He says some even grew pigeon peas which do better even with little rains and will sell at a price of not less than K800 per kilogramme. They will then use the money to buy maize, the country’s staple grain.

Boniface Kapichi, 27, of Maele Village, T/A Mpama in Chiradzulu, is one of the farmers who heeded to government’s call to diversify their farming by planting resilient crops such as cassava, sweet potato and pigeon peas, among others.

Kapichi says he planted over an acre of sweet potato with vines which the government distributed through Agriculture Sector Wide Approach (Aswap). Today, he is all smiles.

“I have a lot of sweet potatoes and have already sold 10 bags at K7000 each. I have used the money to buy maize for my family,” Kapichi says.

He says he expects to harvest over 100 bags of sweet potato from the remaining crop the proceeds of which he plans to buy fertilisers for next growing season and also start a small business enterprise.

Margaret Nkuziona, Agriculture Extension Development Coordinator (AEDC) for Mbulumbuzi Extension Planning Area (EPA), says those who showed interest to plant the sweet potato vines are now celebrating as they are going to harvest a lot of potatoes.

“Potato can be eaten as an alternative to nsima and it can also be sold and the money used to buy maize or other basic needs for the family,” Nkuziona says.

She says although people like Kapichi will not harvest any maize this year, they are not worried because they will be eating the sweet potatoes and buy maize when they sell some.

Hamilton Chimala, public relations officer (PRO) for the Ministry of Agriculture Irrigation and Water Development (MAIWD), says farmers should diversify their farming by planting resilient crops such as sweet potatoes, cassava, cow peas and pigeon peas, amongst others.

He says government will support them with extension services to maximise production.

“The combination of strong winds, flash floods and drought left a trail of destruction of our traditional crops but through provision of expanded access to seed and vegetative planting material and small stocks that we have provided will increase resilience and prevent a food crisis emanating from the impact of lost crops,” Chimala says.

He says there is a readily available, big market in India, an opportunity which farmers in Malawi need to take advantage of.

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