Hunger Takes Toll in Salima

Hacktivate has been following the famine situation here in Malawi for months now. Check out my famine tag for a list of all of the stories. One of the things I have been trying to stress is that it is a very complicated situation. Well the next two posts aim to make things even more complicated. First off, consider the following article from the Malawi Nation from a few weeks ago (I am posting it in full, because they don't seem to have it on their website):

For the past five months people from Mvululu and Njati villages in T/A Kalonga’s area in Salima have been living on bamboo seeds, mangoes and termites and some of them have developed malnutrition signs.
“We are eating bamboo seeds and termites out of desperation,� said group village headman Mvululu when officials from Action Aid, one of the international non-governmental organisations working in the country, visited the area on Wednesday. “Some people will die if we do not receive assistance from the government or well-wishers,� he added.
A majority of the villagers in the area harvested barely enough maize to last them three months because of the dry spell that hit most parts of the country at the end of the last rainy season.
Currently groups of women, some of them with babies strapped on their backs, leave their homes every morning for Thuma Forest, where they scramble for the bamboo seeds. The seeds drop off from the bamboos every day and the women broom them and pack them in pails or reed baskets.
“We don’t use bags because we get pricked because the bamboo seeds have sharp ends,� said Felia Chiunda, showing the wounds in her palms from the exercise.
It takes the women about two hours to prepare a meal from the seeds. The seeds are first separated from stones and other unnecessary objects, the same way rice is separated from husks, then pound in a mortar. The grain is then poured in hot water and then pound again.
“We dry it in the sun to remove the final bran before cooking it for about one hour,� explained Lazalo Motibeki, a widow in her mid 60s and looking after four children.
Many people prefer eating it in porridge form, without sugar.
“Sometimes we grind the granules into flour to prepare nsima. But it’s not easy to make the flour because you need a lot of bamboo seeds,� said Nasitoya Nomele who could not remember when she last had a nsima or porridge from maize.
Termites caught from the many ant-hills available in the villages have become a delicacy for those who prepare nsima from the bamboo seed flour, people said.
Most villagers said they are too poor to buy maize for daily meals. Since the beginning of this year Nomele’s family only bought a portion of sugar once, for K15, to add to the bamboo seed porridge.
Mvululu and Njati villages lie a few kilometres from Thuma Forest, probably the main source of bamboos in the Central Region. Surprisingly, the bamboos have produced more seeds this seasons than ever before. This is the first time that people in the area have turned to bamboo seeds for their living.
“I don’t know what would have happened to us if we did not have the bamboo seeds in abundance,� said Chiunda, who is married with four children and only managed to harvest about 90 kilogrammes of maize this year.
“We didn’t know that bamboo seeds are edible until early this year when a woman from Chikumba in Linthipe told us people in her area lived on them during the 2001 hunger period,� reported Chiunda.
The villagers saw the writing on the wall when their crops failed. They knew they were in for trouble but there was very little they could do to avert the suffering. They could not go into winter cropping because the stream nearest to them dried up when the rains stopped.
They could not grow drought tolerant crops such as cassava, either. “Every time we grow cassava it is destroyed by elephants and wild pigs from the forest,� said 31 year-old Bandras Moses who is married with two children. He is among the few men who sell charcoal to residents at the district headquarters.
Although some households sell charcoal, bamboos and wood, their income is so low they cannot afford maize whose price has been rising over the months. The commodity is scarce at Admarc depot, a situation that has created a fertile ground for private traders to raise prices at will.
There about 250 school-going children in Mvululu Village but only an average of 10 attend classes on a daily basis. Some older ones accompany their mothers to look for bamboo seeds while others simply loiter around. Parents said it would not make sense for them to force the children to go to school when they had nothing to eat.
“They can’t concentrate in class when they are hungry,� said Jambuleni Chimpweteka.
Action Aid acting programme coordinator in Salima Harry Chikandira said the organisation plans to distribute free seeds for maize and legumes and fertilizer to households that are unable to buy the commodities on their own. Each household is expected to receive 10kg of seeds and a total of 50kg of fertilizer.
Village headman Njati said very few people in Mvululu and Njati villages have benefited from the Public Works Programme the government has been implementing to help people in rural areas raise money for fertilizer and seeds.
“If the government does not give us free seed we are not going to grow maize this year because we cannot afford seed when we don’t have food,� he said.
Meanwhile, Action Aid has submitted the bamboo seeds to Malawi Bureau of Standards for nutrient and toxin analysis.
“The key to overcoming this famine is appropriate and effective policies,� says a statement from Action Aid’s head of emergencies Roger Yates.
According to the statement, Action Aid has already initiated an emergency response by implementing a school feeding programme in Nsanje and Machinga, districts that have also been hard hit by the food shortage.
Chikandira said a feeding programme for school-going children in Mvululu and Njati villages is expected to start in January, when schools open for the second term.
But people in the two villages cannot wait any longer for relief food. Unless the government and other humanitarian aid agencies bring in free food now, some villagers may not live for the next two months.

3 Response to Hunger Takes Toll in Salima

  1. [...] tivate has been following the famine situation here in Malawi for months now. Check out my famine tag for a list of all of the stories. One of the things I have been trying to stress is that it is a [...]

  2. [...] ima alone

    November 17, 2005 at 5:25 am

    After reading The Nation’s article about how people are coping with the famine a frien [...]

  3. Claire Rainville says:

    Since 2 months, Malawians from the Uk, friends from Canada and the US have provided Maize to 700 families in villages around Senga Bay. Take a look at what a small group are doing to help the hunger crises

Post a Comment