Thursday, August 4, 2016

Crop diversification for Zero Hunger (first published in Malawi's Nation newspaper on Aug 1, 2016)

Anaphiri and Kalulu in their village - Photo by Agnes Mizere
In Juma locality in Mulanje, Anaphiri is a revered elderly person like any other.  

The villagers scarcely call her by the first name -and some have christened her Anachanza.

The aged woman was sitting outside her humble home, shaking her head, deep in thought.  She was admittedly puzzled by effects of low maize yield as prolonged dry spells scorched most crop fields across the country.

Anaphiri has seen it all - the devastating famines of 1949, 2002 and last year.

"We will perish.  As was the case before independence in 1964, we will have nothing to chew," she sighed.

This echoes the cry of millions of Malawians as 40 in 100 will need emergency food assistance to survive.  Dwindling harvests have become common as rural farmers in Mulanje wait for reliable rains their ancestors once associated with hot winds.

This year, almost 6.4 million Malawians have been hit hard by the worsening food shortages caused by a severe drought.  To her, chronic food shortage confirms Malawians cannot survive on maize alone.  Not anymore!

Even youthful McDonald Kalulu knows this is not the first or last time Malawians are facing a food crisis.

Zero hunger by 2030

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), El-Nino has caused the worst drought in 35 years in Southern Africa.

“Malawi is one of the countries worst affected by El-Nino-related drought.  Its food security crisis is not only due to this year’s unprecedented drought but to the impact of severe flooding and prolonged dry spells last year,” the United Nations (UN) food agency reports.

The wrath of El-Nino threatens strides towards zero hunger by 2030, one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) world leaders adopted last year.

Last year I saw  Mulanje village maize mills destroyed by floods
Interestingly, empowered women, such as Victoria Msowoya of Karonga, are playing a greater role to rally their communities to stop relying on just maize to curb malnutrition and other food-related crises.

Through Homes Nutrition community-based organisation, Msowoya is living by example by promoting the growing drought-resistant crops such as cassava and sorghum.

She is more into preparation, preservation and actually growing the food for both home use and sale. Her emphasis is on value-addition.

 “It doesn't make sense to be malnourished when we can have plenty of food.  I want to invest in cassava flour. I did not know it was as good as wheat flour,” she says. 
Internet Cassava photo

Karonga citizens and their neighbours along Lake Malawi often soak, dry and pound cassava into flour for making nsima called kondowole.

Others grind unsoaked tubers into fine flour which they mix with wheat flour for making fritters and baking scones that are said to be more profitable to the traders and tastier and more nutritous to the consumers.

Msowoya also grows mapira (sorghum), which is becoming common in Chitipa.  Her role in crop diversification was under discussion when five journalists invited by the US Mission to the United Nations Agencies in Rome, Italy met with specialists from WFP and the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

WFP’s Food Systems Coordinator and Deputy Director for Policy and Programme Division, Steven Were Omamo says cassava and sorghum are essential to ending hunger.

“Crop diversification is a critical component of the growth of agricultural productivity and broader rural and economy-wide transformation,” he says.

According to him, cassava is worth scaling up because it is resilient to different geographical and weather conditions – notwithstanding the demand and multiple uses.
Saw a lot of sorghum (mapira) in Mulanje

Cassava is also used as a food sweetener, fuel, feed and fabric. 

He reckons value-addition is necessary to overcome its perishable nature and increase profits for rural farmers and entrepreneurs.

“Nevertheless, crop diversification is critical to food security at both household and national levels,” he says.

Relief operation

As hunger worsens, WFP is using food-for-work and cash-for-work initiatives as a short-term strategy for providing food assistance and ensuring progress in agriculture.

Water storage, soil management and planting more trees are also vital as poor farmers are hit hard by climate change, breaching soil fertility and land shortage.

The WFP initiative involves community members in conservation activities, reforestation, sustainable land management, small-scale irrigation, road construction and maintenance, income generation and livelihood diversification.

The locals prioritize their problems and identify solutions for them.

Omo explained:  “The community implements watershed activities using its own labour and management, with external support and trainings where necessary.

“This promotes community awareness and ownership of environmental rehabilitation, which is good for maintenance and sustainability.  Investments such as these are critical for communities to cope with the impacts of climate change.

WFP_Africa (@WFP_Africa) | Twitter 

Meanwhile, WFP has embarked on one of the largest emergency food distribution operation in the country as nearly 40 in 100 Malawians may require emergency assistance in coming months.

Nearly 80 percent of the hit population are smallholder farmers, the UN agency estimates.

“This is a dire situation, one that the world needs to take notice of right now before it’s too late”, said WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin in an interview during a three-day tour alongside US second lady Dr Jill Biden.

Cousin spoke with rural women who confessed having just enough food for a few more weeks before they start starving.

“We must urgently assist the people of Malawi and those affected by the drought in neighbouring countries, before food insecurity spirals into hunger and starvation.”

Biden, whose tour highlighted the gravity of the food shortage, announced that the US has donated $20 million (about K14 billion) through WFP to support the worst hit communities.

Feel free to like the Home Industries in Karonga Facebook page

Took this picture of children in Milange, Mozambique admiring visiting Malawian children

Tracing footsteps to lead me home

Greetings from the Warm Heart Africa, Malawi.

I'm a Malawian journalist who grew up in many countries including South Africa, Belgium, then West Germany, UK, Washington DC and New York in the US and I love New York.

Trying to come up with the production of my life and by compiling some of my 1000 poems into a book called ‘Tracing Footsteps’ to lead me Home with excellent photography.

I also plan to film award winning documentaries based on the history of this ancient land called Malawi and the mysteries of the Sirius star. this space.