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Policy neglect costs households quality life

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The house of four girls

While the Government of Malawi has been implementing initiatives such as social cash transfer and affordable inputs programmes, some of the most vulnerable people continue to be left out, exposing them to hunger and other forms of deprivation. As MATHEWS KASANDA writes, some of the households can be found in Chiponda Village, Dowa District.

Chiponda Village in Dowa District, some 19 kilometres from the M1 Road at Mvera on Lilongwe-Salima Road, is home to 62-year-old Emilida Folokeya, a resource constrained woman who looks after four grandchildren.

She is the typical definition of someone who lives on zero dollar per day, which is on the extreme side of the World Bank’s definition of poverty, which it defines as living below the international poverty line of $1.90 (K1,957) a day.

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Folokeya is not just poor; she has challenges with mobility.

As if that is not enough, she is nursing a sick husband.

As such, she has been surviving on maize husks [madeya] for the good part of this year.

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In the past, that is food she would have fed livestock such as pigs. But, then, if she still had livestock, she would not have fed them the maize husks because that is all she depends on for daily sustenance now.

This is despite that, in 2015, at least 195 nations under the United Nations (UN) agreed to improve lives of their people by 2030 in line with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

SDG number 1 requires countries to end poverty in all its forms everywhere while SDG 2 talks about ending hunger.

However, the story of Folokeya’s family shadows Malawi’s efforts to achieve these two UN goals.

When the Friday Shaker crew arrived at her house around 9am, we found that all family members, except a 16-year-old girl, were home.

It quickly became clear that they had no meal for the day.

Folokeya indicated that she started looking after her four grandchildren in 2021 after her daughter was jailed, which worsened her poverty levels.

Sitting in the sun on the ground near her one-bedroom grass-thatched hut, the 62-year-old looked exhausted.

She said the family has been struggling to source food, such that nsima made from maize husks, with natural vegetables such as okra, has become a treasured meal for the family.

In fact, we learned that other households in Chiponda Village have been making do with maize husks.

“I live at the mercy of other people. When they go to the maize mill, they bring me the husks,” Folokeya explained.

We were given a chance to get into the house she shares with her husband, who is currently ill— meaning that he cannot work.

A basket half full with maize husks and some few clothes hanging on a line on the wall were the only valuable items in her hut.

“On unlucky days, when there are no well-wishers around to give us maize husks, we consume unripe paw paws. When that fails, family members drink warm water just to warm the stomach before going to bed,” she said.

On the day we visited the village, Folokeya’s family members started preparing their meal of the day at 11am but the relish was not yet in.

Some few minutes later, the oldest grandchild, who is 14 years old, arrived home with a handful of vegetables she got after doing some piecework within the village.

As for energy source, they use maize cobs dried in the sun.

The women endured heavy smoke emanating from the maize cobs in the kitchen.

After they were done with cooking, all family members and few neighbours, old and young, gathered around to share the only meal of the day.

When we tasted the meal, we found that the maize husks had a bitter taste.

“Sometimes, we stay three days without eating anything and survive on warm water; I never know what tomorrow holds for me,” Folokeya said.

Hunger is not the only sad story in the family, which is a manifestation of deep levels of poverty in the country; it also has no proper house.

At night, four girls squeeze themselves in a tiny hut which is less than 1.5 meters wide.

The hut has no roof such that, whenever it rains at night, they are forced to wake up and cram in some tiny space at their grandmother’s veranda.

The young girls travel about 300 metres to draw water from a swamp for home use. When they decide to fetch water from a borehole, they cover 600 metres on foot to get to the nearest one.

Folokeya is not the only one in that situation in the village,

Seventy-six-year-old Gogo Nasidewo, who sleeps in a grass-thatched house, had not eaten anything on the day we visited her.

“I play the role of guardian to my two grandsons but often struggle to source food. The food I consume is often sourced from well-wishers,” she said.

Village Headman Chiponda, who is under Traditional Authority Chiwere, said some of his subjects are struggling to source food.

He said, due to deprivation, some of the Affordable Inputs Programme beneficiaries in the area sell the inputs to earn quick money for home use.

“As a result, farm yields are low, hence the prevalence of hunger in my village,” he said.

According to the Department of Disaster Management Affairs, about 3.8 million people are going to face hunger this year.

Last week, Commissioner for Disaster Management Affairs Charles Kalemba indicated that the department needed K76.27 billion to help 3.8 million people that are to face hunger in 27 districts this year.

He said, in terms of long-term solutions, the department is working on breaking the food insecurity cycle by, among other things, enhancing irrigation farming and winter cropping.

According to the National Statistical Office (NSO 2021), poverty levels in Malawi are still high, at 50.7 percent.

According to the World Bank, the share of Malawians living below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day will stagnate at 74 percent in the next two years.

It says Malawi continues to rely on subsistence rain-fed agriculture, which limits its growth potential, increases its susceptibility to weather shocks and creates food insecurity.

Surely, if the likes of Folokeya continue to struggle to source food and live a decent life, the attainment of SDGs may remain a far-fetched dream, even as 2030 is just eight years away.

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