Hunger crippling Malawi

Last week the child of my housekeeper's cousin died. The family is very poor and live in a village less than 30 minutes away from us. The child had been in the hospital twice already in the past couple of months, but there wasn't enough food for the child so its stomach swelled up and the child died of malnutrition on Friday. The family has nothing, so Georgina had to go and get the body from the hospital and pay for it to be transported back to the village. Georgina and her husband don't seem to be very surprised or worried by the coming hungry season. "Many children will die" - and that is just a part of life here.

People are asking me how this could be happening and there is no simple answer, just a lot of complex issues. Here is a list of some of them:

* There is a drought that caused the rain to stop 2 months early last year.
* The soil is worn out from 2 centuries of intensive and exclusive maize cultivation.
* 200 years ago colonizers introduced maize to Malawi and forced them to stop growing local crops adapted to the local environment and switch to 100% maize.
* Despite having one of the largest lakes in Africa there is virtually no irrigation. In Malawi irrigation is having a woman carry a water-filled bucket on her head from the nearest water source. This means farms just a few miles from the lake dried up this year.
* "Only nsima satisfies". Most Malawians eat nsima exclusively - a sort of maize (corn) dumpling for every meal. It is low on nutrients, but sits like a rock in your stomach. If there is no maize they don't eat.
* Developed countries subsidize their own farmers effectively locking Africans out of the world food market.
* Malawi exports more tobacco than any other country. Farmers grow tobacco instead of food. This year the tobacco prices were half of what they were last year.
* Last year the government promised subsidized fertilizer but delivered it 3 months after it needed to be applied.
* The government is almost 100% focused on political infighting. Efforts to impeach the president have been continuing for 6 months now.
* Malawi has the highest import costs of any country in the world. This is mostly the result of transportation monopolies owned by the same people that run the government. Controlling the army, the roadblocks, and the customs officials is a definite competitive advantage. It doesn't make it easy to import food.

I could go on, but I want to underline that hunger in Malawi is a complex issue. It couldn't be fully explained by a 30 second CNN blurb or a newspaper article. Perhaps this is why there is such little coverage in the mainstream news. Once there are pictures of children with bloated stomachs and flys covering their faces it will be a "good" story. It is easier to care about a tragedy than to care about avoiding one - even an imminent one.

In the past two weeks the price of a 50kg bag of maize (almost enough to feed a small family for a month) has doubled from about $6 to $12. The price will continue to increase for the next 4-5 months. Of course one can only get that price if they can find it for sale. A friend's housekeeper walked 10 miles through Lilongwe last week after hearing a rumour that maize was for sale on the other end of town. Upon arrival he was disappointed and thanked by being robbed and beaten as he was returning home. People are already desperate and it will only get worse.

More than 5 million people (half the population) are expected to face food shortages. When maize does arrive it requires hours if not days of waiting in line to receive a 5kg ration. The economy is already slowing as people leave work to find food, and the country and its slow march to development is sliding further backward.

OIBM is trying to preempt some of this, and has bought more than 50 tons of maize, which will be sold at cost to its own 100 employees. But the 30,000 clients OIBM depends on will have no such option. How OIBM is effected remains to be seen.

Perhaps you can call your local politician, or write an editorial for your newspaper. Your senator or MP or even you could become the person that gets the millions of dollars needed to carry Malawi through this disaster. Put them in contact with me. If you have a blog write about what is happening here. An average individual in the developed world has tremendous power and influence, more now than at any other time in the history of the world. Use it to save a life and give hope to Malawi.

Previous posts about the famine in Malawi:
Blood On Our Hands/
Hunger Hits George's Family
Bad News From Malawi

6 Response to Hunger crippling Malawi

  1. [...] · Filed under family/friends, websites/blogs A very moving post on Mike’s blog about the current maise crisis/famine in Malawi. Mike gives reas [...]

  2. rjjm says:

    Hey, Mike. Thanks for the comment on my blog about your blog! Amazing to hear about the crisis out in Malawi from someone close. Great post. ~Robin

  3. Nathan says:

    I want to help. I had Malawi on my mind this morning for no known reason. I began searching the internet for information and news on the country. I was led here and could not believe what I was reading. E-mail me please and let me know how I can help fight the hunger.

    Experiencing God

  4. You pointed me to the actual blog today which I never read-- I only read the RSS because you have the full article there. I am beginning to think it is a bad practice for me because I miss stuff. Stuff like this:

    Seeing as how I don't have my own blog running right now, could I convince you to post something on this-- it seems like the ad sense could have more sense in this case.

  5. [...] on the edge of starvation in southern Africa. Here is an interesting reason to add to my list explaining the famine in Malawi: A deal for the country of Malawi to buy fer [...]

  6. Toni Cuss says:

    Yes there are complex reasons for the situation here in Malawi. However I am encouraged to read how people are moved to act and pray for improvement. Please keep acting and praying because if you do, surely this country will get to the place where the balance starts to shift and life improves for the "little" people here.

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