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July/August 2011 Issue

Malawi Women Battle Hunger

A woman harvests millet in Captain, a village in southern Malawi hard hit by recent droughts.

By Paul Jeffrey

With little money, many Malawians go hungry despite a corn surplus.

There isn’t supposed to be hunger in Malawi these days. President Bingu wa Mutharika, who took office in 2004 when the country was suffering severe food insecurity, has made producing enough grain a top priority. As a result, Malawi today produces a surplus of corn, the country’s dietary staple. The transformation is often touted as a success story for Africa.

But as Malawians battle climate change and unjust land tenure, the benefits of the grain surplus aren’t evenly shared.

“Although there is food at a national level, it isn’t distributed equally throughout the country. There are places where even in a good year people simply can’t grow enough food to feed their families until the next harvest,” said Kari Oyen, the Malawi representative for Norwegian Church Aid.

“In many communities farmers have assets they can monetize, farm animals or cash crops that they can sell to buy food until the next harvest time. Yet some farmers are so poor that they have no additional resources to sell. So they go hungry, even though 500 meters away there may be a market filled with food.”

A centerpiece of the government’s food security program has been a multi-million dollar subsidy program that provides farmers with coupons for low-cost fertilizer and seeds. Yet the subsidy program is plagued with problems.

“They only choose a few to receive the coupons, and they usually aren’t the poorest. The chiefs are the ones who register the people for the coupons, and sometimes they take a bribe to register someone who’s rich. So most of the poor don’t have a chance to get fertilizer,” said the Rev. Xaviour Chikwatu, the United Methodist pastor in Midisi. He says the lack of meaningful land reform also condemns the poor to chronic hunger.

To fight food insecurity, United Methodist Women in Midisi is cooperatively planting a church-owned field with sweet potatoes, cassava, eggplant, corn and other crops. They’re using some of the harvest to feed hungry families in the community and selling the rest to benefit the church and its mission projects. United Methodist Women in other communities is doing the same.

“It’s our responsibility to care for the old or other members of our community who can’t produce enough food for themselves. And by working together as women, we can do just that,” said Bertha Chikwatu, a United Methodist Women member in Midisi.

The Rev. Paul Jeffrey is senior correspondent for response and a missionary with the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.

Last Updated: 03/21/2014
 
 

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