By Selah Chilora, Rebecca Chimjeka & Feston Malekezo:
Thousands of families are faced with starvation in some parts of the country due shortage of maize, a situation compounded by Admarc which is supposed to sell maize at an affordable price but has a critical shortage of the staple.
A snap survey by Malawi News shows that people in Shire Valley districts, particularly Nsanje, are grappling with hunger as most households we visited said they mostly sleep on empty stomachs.
A visit to Traditional Authority (TA) Tengani in Nsanje revealed that many households are food insecure, a problem exacerbated by lack of maize at the grain trader, Agriculture Development Marketing Corporation (Admarc).
A family at Group Village Head (GVH) Chisi narrated how they are struggling to feed themselves during this time.
A mother of six children Fatsani Chimwaza said lucky days are the ones they eat once a day or at times two times a week.
“We have been affected by hunger because, during the 2018/2019 farming season, drought affected our fields and, as such, we did not harvest much. In the end, we are suffering from hunger now. Instead of eating three times a day, we eat once and sometimes we don’t eat at all because we don’t have food in our homes.”
This was not the only situation we encountered on our visit as more other homes we visited in Senior Group Village Head Kachere and GVH Nyanthumbi narrated similar ordeals.
A household of five members in Nyanthumbi said their only hope is in Admarc which they said is not reliable as it is rationing the sale of maize at its market points in the district.
“It is true we have been affected by hunger at this household. There are times we go a day or two without food at this home. Some days we are lucky enough to buy at least 10kgs of maize from Admarc but because there is always scramble for the maize, sometimes we are not able to buy the maize,” the mother said.
Senior Chief Tengani Thursday said he is aware of the situation in his area.
“I am aware of the situation on the ground and we have been reporting the matter so that we get the necessary help,” he said.
Efforts to speak to Nsanje District Commissioner Douglas Moffat proved futile as he could not be reached on his mobile phone.
However, Admarc spokesperson Agness Chikoko- Ndovie said the corporation is trying its best to meet the demands of the people in Shire Valley districts.
“You know what happens is that Shire Valley alone has more than 60 markets, so there is no way maize would be coming to the markets every day. But you should also know that Shire Valley was heavily hit by floods and drought last year, so we have been sending maize since August last year.
“So what happens is, if we deliver maize to a particular market today, we will not deliver the next day, so we rotate so that other people do not complain. So usually what happens is that maize is delivered again after three or two days. But we are really trying,” she said.
Malawi News can also reveal that at least 40,361 people from 249,794 households in Dedza are facing acute food shortages raising fears of worsening hunger in the district.
Further, with armyworms currently destroying farmers’ maize crop fields, the situation will be worse as villagers will not be able to harvest enough.
We visited several villages to assess the hunger situation only to find out the grim picture, especially in villages of Pinji, Makankhula, Chimamba, Mwenje and Kumtelera just to mention but few communities under TA Kaphuka.
In these communities, people are sleeping on empty stomachs with others relying on mangoes and while in TA Tambala, just like last year, communities are foraging for food in the graveyard where they dig out wild yam-like tubers locally known as mpama.
In some villages in TA Kaphuka, families are relying on cassava leaves, pumpkin leaves and other unpalatable foodstuffs to survive.
The hunger situation is affecting education as schools are now registering high school dropout rate.
Eleven-year-old Catherine Salingana is a victim and said she dropped out to help her family search for food through piecework in other people’s fields.
“I am in Standard Three and my mother has told me to t stop attending classes due to lack of food at home. I will enroll back when the situation eases. We collect firewood which we sell and the money is used to purchase maize,” she said.
According to our investigations, the prices of maize at the market has skyrocketed as a 50kg bag is being sold at K16,500, the price that only a few individuals can afford.
GVH Kumtelera admitted the challenge saying the situation is worsening each and every passing day.
“My subjects are facing acute hunger. The little maize reserved from last harvest has already finished. Situation has worsened and needs government’s intervention,” she said.
The traditional leader said Admarc depots are at distant places and have no maize in stock.
While children, the elderly and expectant women have begun showing signs and symptoms of malnutrition, Dedza District Commissioner Emmanuel Bulukutu told Malawi News that people are coping with hunger through casual labour for money to buy food from local markets.
“Those with no food is mainly due to low production last season and preference to sell food maize without considering their annual household food requirement,” he said.
Bulukutu said government is stocking Admarc markets with food maize for those in need to go and buy
He said: “Government through Dodma [Department of Disaster Management Affairs] has also distributed once-off relief food maize to 17,769 in the month of December covering all traditional authorities in the district.”
He said other foods such as sweet potato, Irish potato and rice, among others, are available on local markets in the district, downplaying fears of hunger.
Meanwhile, officials at Dedza District Agriculture Development Office said close to 3,000 hectares has already been affected by armyworms this year.
Out of this, 2,106 hectares have been affected by fall armyworms while 739 hectares has been attacked by African armyworms.
Malawi News’ also visit to Mzimba Thursday revealed that pains of hunger torment most communities in the district.
At Mzimba Boma, for instance, we were welcomed by long queues of people grappling to access maize at Admarc which only sells a ceiling of 15 kilogrammes per person.
One of the buyers, Tamara Nyika, who is in her late 60s comes from Kafoteka about five kilometres from Mzimba Township.
Nyika said she woke up on an empty stomach and left at around 5 am to access the grain at the boma.
She has six grandchildren to look after and the maize she was about to buy could not even take her for a week.
“This means I have to be coming here every week to buy maize. I cannot afford to buy from local traders who are selling at between K4,800 to K5,000 per tin [20 litres bucket]. Last night, I did not eat hoping that this morning I would buy maize and rush home to make some food but, as it looks, I might go home late in the afternoon, meaning to say I will also not eat this afternoon. Despite that I am old and weak,” she said.
This has become the daily life for most of the people in the district —hand-to-mouth kind of food they survive on.
Mzimba South East Member of Parliament Ackson Kalaire Banda said his area has also been greatly affected by pockets of hunger.
Kalaire Banda (People’s Party) estimated that around 15,000 people face hunger in his constituency and he has been reporting the issue to the district council.
“I also personally spoke to the minister of Agriculture on the issue of hunger to help our people,” he said.
Mzimba South Director of Planning and Development Precious Kamtsitsi, said they work hand in hand with Department of Disaster Risk Management who help them with food and other non-food assistance when need arises.
A food situation assessment report by Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Mvac) for 2019/2020 lean period released in June 2019 indicates that Mzimba, which has a population of about 914,000 people, has its 36,564 sitting on thorns of hunger.
The affected people who represent 8,125 households need about 813 metric tonnes of maize, an equivalent of K138 million to save the people from the jaws of hunger.
Food situation analyses are conducted every fortnight by Mvac who work hand in hand with district agriculture development offices.
Meanwhile, the number of people facing hunger in the country has increased from 1.1 million to 1.9 million, according to a second assessment which Mvac conducted last November.
The assessment shows that the number of people in need of food aid has increased from 1,062,674t o 1,879,391 across the country.
The increase, according to the report, is due to the prevailing situation on the ground that differs from the assumptions made in June 2019.
Among other situations, which have resulted in the increase, is insufficient maize on the market.
This, the report says, is contributing to unprecedented price increases as private traders withhold stocks in anticipation of higher prices.
“High staple prices, food inflation and fuel prices are reducing purchasing power of vulnerable households throughout the country,” the report reads.
Dodma spokesperson, Chipiliro Khamula, confirmed receiving the new figures.
He, however, said Dodma will meet the new demand for food aid.
“The department will adjust its budget to cover the additional people in need of the food aid with support from the government. Again, we work with other humanitarian organisations which are implementing cash transfers in some targeted areas,” Khamula said.
He said Dodma has been working with higher numbers in the past.
“You will recall that in 2017/2018, Mvac said six million needed food aid while in 2018/2019 the committee said 3.3 million were in need of food aid but we met the demand,” Khamula said.
Last year, at least 3.3 million people were affected by hunger in the country and most affected districts were in the Southern and Central regions.
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