22 January 2016
Arriving in Malawi on Tuesday (19th Jan) I was aware that the rains had been late in coming. The Malawi rainy season usually begins at the end of November; this is when farmers throughout the country begin planting their maize and cassava crops. The later the rains arrive, the less time crops have to grow. With the reports from the Temwa team that December had seen little rain, I knew this meant that many farmers would not produce enough food for their families to eat this year. However, I must admit, what I didn’t expect was a huge shortage of maize throughout the country, meaning that this hunger season would be as bad as that of 2002, if not worse.
As we embarked on the long car journey from the airport (in Lilongwe) to Mzuzu, Moyo, Temwa’s Logistic Officer, told me of the situation unfolding. As he spoke I was on the verge of tears.
Malawi, every year, has what is known as a hunger season. This is when farmers are waiting for crops to grow during the first rains. At this time the food they have stored from the last rainy season has been used up. Many families do not have the money to be able to purchase food and, therefore, rely on what they can produce on their own. Last year’s rainy season was late too, but the rains arrived within enough time for people to at least be able to grow food for their families. Without producing extra crops, many families throughout Nkhata Bay North (NBN – the area Temwa works) were not able to generate any income. This income is usually saved for the next hunger season to purchase essentials such as maize or other food stuffs. This has meant that in December 2015 many families had no remaining maize, nor did they have any savings to buy food. For those who did have some savings the price of maize was well beyond their expectations, tripling in price within the last month. We have heard of people walking 6-8hours to local Admarc (maize) shops, arriving at 1am and sleeping outside overnight in the hope of a maize delivery. Many times maize has not arrived.
Reports have informed us that families were so desperate for food they were boiling mangoes to give to their children as porridge, and some of our recently trained potato producers were even feeding their children the potato seed we had distributed. This is something that I have not heard happening within our communities since Temwa started working here in 2003/2004.
The situation is only set to worsen. The World Food Programme has already estimated that this year 14 million people throughout southern Africa will go hungry. They report that Malawi is the worst affected by the droughts, which are a result of El Nino and continued effects of climate change. Reports estimate that 16% of the population here faces starvation. With crops failing, there will be no food or income for many households throughout Nkhata Bay North this year.
This situation is further exacerbated as our community also faces an outbreak of cholera at the moment. In my 20 years of coming to Malawi I have not seen the situation as bad as it is now. No food, increased reports of cholera, and Inflation which is set to spiral out of control. All of this offers little respite for the poorest people in the world (Human Development Report, World Bank, 2014). The situation truly is desperate. I am heartbroken.
We cannot and will not stand back and watch our communities starve. However, as an organization Temwa does not deliver emergency interventions. Our Mission is to ‘help build self-sufficient communities in hard to reach and rural areas’. We are currently researching organisations that we can invite to the region to distribute maize and emergency support. We will of course keep all of our supporters up-to-date on all developments.