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Hunger bites Balaka

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Year in, year out, Esnart Mdula struggles to feed her family of four children.

But this year, Mdula and others in Kumagombo Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Amidu, Balaka District, fear they would perish if relief food arrives late.

Many families in this village are lucky to have at least a meal in a day. Many, we found out, are surviving on boiled mangoes.

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“If the food aid government is talking about comes late, we will perish,” Mdula said after Agriculture Minister Joseph Mwanamvekha launched this year’s Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) at Mtaya Primary School in the district.

Almost 3.3 million people in the country face hunger this year because of drought exacerbated by an El Nino weather pattern, and the invasion of maize eating pests [the armyworm] but Balaka is one of the worst-hit districts with over 50 percent of its population affected.

Maize, the nation’s staple food, is not affordable, making it increasingly difficult for many people to buy it.

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In Balaka, a 50 kilogramme bag is selling at about K8,000.

Last week, the government raised fuel prices partly in response to the kwacha’s depreciation against the United States dollar and increases in global prices of the commodity.

The move is likely to push up maize prices.

In Kumagombo Village, maize is available and private traders are selling it. But, like many others in her village, Mdula cannot afford to buy even five kilogrammes of maize to feed her children just for a day.

“We do piecework but we cannot find piece work now. Nobody is willing to give us work in their fields looking at how the agriculture season out last year. We did everything we could but, due to the fall armyworm and dry spells, nobody had maize by June this year,” she says.

Another Balaka resident, Ali Sabiti, is worried. She told us that the 2018/19 agriculture season will again be catastrophic if the government does not save them from biting hunger this year.

“The minister is launching Fisp, yes, but we first have to be alive to think of next year’s growing season. As we speak, we do not have time to tend to our maize fields,” he says.

Ajima Bamusi of Kumagombo Village, T/A Amidu, does not have a different story to tell. He struggles to feed his family every day.

He says he has been looking forward to relief maize, which the government promised people of his area, but time is running out.

“At least the government should have started distributing the maize in September; otherwise, hunger has affected us here,” he said.

And 60-year-old Comzy Njerenga feels that his area is cursed because, after all the hard work last year, the rains never came and the armyworm attacked the maize that grew in some parts of the district.

Balaka West legislator, Patricia Shanil Dzimbiri, is having a hard time convincing people in her constituency.

She says over 200 people beg for food at her home every day, adding that the 600 bags of maize she kept to distribute to

empty sacks to pack the maize in but, when I volunteered to buy the bags at least for people in Balaka West, they changed the story and said they would bring the maize from Limbe Depot,” she said

The government has budgeted K20 billion for food purchases and distribution to affected families in the 15 districts affected.

It also plans to buy 200,000 metric tonnes to fill up the Strategic Grain Reserves at Kanengo in Lilongwe.

But, speaking when he launched the once off relief maize distribution exercise on September 20 in the area of T/A Chigaru in Blantyre, Minister of Agriculture Joseph Mwanamvekha said the government has enough to feed Malawians who are food insecure.

Queried on whether the Fisp he was launching has failed to help Malawi break from the cycle of hunger, Mwanamvekha defended the programme, saying it is working well.

He added that the hunger in Balaka and other parts of the country is due to the fall army worm and dry spells.

Last year, over K30 billion was spent on Fisp while, this year, the government has allocated over K40 billion for the exercise.

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