Recognising food as a right


Eston Damiano from Mponela in Dowa District is into the sixth year of his 10-year jail term at Ntchisi Prison. He was convicted for stealing cattle in July 2011.

So far, his tenancy in prison appears to have had a positive impact on his life. Damiano and his friends have found their stay in prison productive, mainly due to the agricultural activities the prison engages them in.

This has helped in reshaping the inmates’ perception of life. Their reformation process has been a fruitful journey that has empowered them with life skills they never had before.


“When I first came here, I could not even manage a vegetable garden or engage in any farming activity. But, today, I am in charge of the prison garden together with five colleagues.

“We are very proud of our contribution here because the food we produce forms part of the prison diet,” said Damiano while watering vegetables together with his friends.

He vowed to engage in full scale farming once he gets out of prison.


“I intend to fully utilise the farming skills and knowledge I have acquired here. I do not want to get on the wrong side of the law again,” he said.

Food production in prisons

Ntchisi Prison and Byazi Prison in Dowa are among the few reformatory facilities in the country practicing both rain fed and irrigation farming, albeit at a small scale.

For instance, Ntchisi Prison has a total of 12 hectares of arable land for both crop and livestock production.

Nine hectares are allocated for growing maize, soya and vegetables while the remaining hectares are reserved for rearing ducks, chickens, rabbits and goats. They also have two ponds for fish production.

Ntchisi Prison Officer-in- Charge, Superintendent Ben Mthulama, said during a visit to the prison that owing to their farming activities, the diet and health status of prisoners at the facility is one of the best in the country.

“Most facilities in the country fall short of fulfilling the government’s requirement of providing three meals a day because of resource constraints. But that is not the case here.

In the morning, prisoners are served porridge from Soya, which we produce ourselves and have adequate meals for their lunch and supper,” Mthulama boasted.

He said they are still making efforts to increase land under cultivation by subleasing an extra four hectares because they have difficulties in cultivating on the available piece of land, which is on a hilly terrain.

The prison, which accommodates a maximum of 380 prisoners, requires 2000 bags to feed its inmates throughout the year.

“In the 2016/17 farming season, the Prison Department gave us a target to produce 1, 600 bags after they gave us farm inputs such as fertilizer. We are hopeful that we will reach this target and even beat it,” he said.

For the inmates, taking part in such ventured is a must.

“We make it very clear to them that taking part in farming is mandatory because the purpose is to make the prison self-sustainable in terms of food. It is also part of their reformation because we want to create better citizens out of them,” Mthulama said.

Byazi Prison is another correction facility practicing farming in order to sustain itself. The facility is a juvenile centre, keeping young offenders below 22 years old.

Officer-in-charge, Inspector Rodwell Mpangaza, said the facility requires 750 bags of maize annually to feed its 150 inmates [holding capacity], which is often difficult to reach.

But in the just ending season, production has trebled.

“We have 1, 820 bags from the rain fed field and 394 bags from the irrigated field from a total land of 18 hectares. This has been achieved with the help of 112 bags of fertilizer we received from the prison department,” Mpangaza said.

Their vegetable garden is also producing in abundance. They have plants such as Chinese leaves, onions, spinach, egg plants, tomatoes mustard and cabbage. They are also keeping 150 fingerings of chambo in their fish pond and also practicing piggery and, at present, they have 22 pigs.

But Mpangaza believes they could do better than now in agricultural production if they were given enough resources.

“Prisons have the capacity of contributing to the country’s food basket and feed a much larger population. What we need is an upgrade to mechanised farming.

There are times when we produce surplus and share with other institutions such as Kachere Juvenile Centre in Lilongwe, Ntchisi and Dowa district hospitals,” he said.

Right to food advocacy

The Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet) is one of the organisations advocating the right to food.

The organisation is running a project called ‘Civil Society Policy and Advocacy Towards Right to Food in Malawi’. It is being implemented under the United Nations window to develop the right to food bill.

Development of the bill in Malawi is in progress and Cisanet has engaged a number of stakeholders such as the Department of Nutrition and parliamentary committees on Nutrition, Food Security and Agriculture.

Cisanet Executive Director Pamela Kuwali said her organisation is pushing for the bill to be tabled in Parliament as soon as possible.

The bill intends to empower vulnerable populations such as prisoners to enjoy their right to food, irrespective of their status in society and where they are, more so when they can produce their own food.

“Prisoners have the right to food. If authorities cannot manage to give them all the three meals in a day, then they should be empowered to produce it themselves, as is the case in other prisons,” Kuwali said

As demonstrated by Ntchisi and Byazi prisons, this is possible and a step in the right direction.

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