For Stephano Elesani, a meal is not complete if there is no nsima in it. He ate cooked cassava before he left for a meeting for lead farmers at Mangochi Extension Planning Area (EPA). But when asked if he had taken his lunch, Elesani said a straight “No”.
“You came all the way on an empty stomach?” asks one of the facilitators.
“I just ate cooked cassava,” Elesani answered.
That is the view of Malawians when it comes to food. All other foods are considered a snack, with nsima (a meal prepared from maize flour) being the main meal.
His fellow lead farmers Chrissy Davison and Dorothy Nanthulu admitted sharing Elesani’s ’s line of thought, saying lunch or supper is incomplete for them if it does not include nsima.
This is not surprising. A report of the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the right to food dated July 22 2013 on right to food in Malawi revealed the same, adding that maize cultivation has accelerated land degradation in the country.
“Agricultural and economic policies putting emphasis on maize have led farmers to gradually depend on single annual staple for bulk of their food: maize. The monoculture of maize year after year on the same land has led to the erosion of soil nutrients, causing a dire soil fertility problem.
“In addition, the pressure on land has gradually limited livestock ownership. Most farming households consequently do not have access to sufficient quantities of animal manure to maintain the fertility of their soils,” reads the Report in part.
The Catholic Development Commission in Malawi (Cadecom), one of the civil society organisations helping the country achieve right to food and food security through its project ‘Increasing Food Security and resilience to climate shocks for 1 250 households in Malawi,’ indicates there is a need to have a law that enforces right to food by promoting food diversification.
“We need law to coordinates all efforts to achieve food security in the country. The countries that have right to food law established council that provide advice to government on matters of food and nutrition security, they have a national fund on food security and politics does not interfere with food programmes,” says Yusuf Mkungula, Cadecom national programmes coordinator.
He added: “But now we are lobbying and advocating for several activities to ensure climate change and right to food related policies are formulated.”
So far, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRM) policy was approved in February this year and DRM Bill is being developed, National Climate Change Policy was developed about three years ago but government is yet approve it and Right to Food Bill is lying idle without being enacted.
The 2013 UN report said with a clear right to food framework, Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) could be given mandate to receive complaints regarding the right to food, including cases concerning the arbitrary exclusion from specific food and nutrition security programmes.
It added that the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) needs reformation to be a component that accelerates food security in Malawi, saying the risks associated with ‘Fisp-as-usual’ programme are too great to be taken.
Similarly, chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture Felix Jumbe said it is high time for Fisp to be a credit facility to those who are not poor.
“It is a good initiative, but the current packages can only give the maximum of 25 bags of maize. That means a family of six cannot be food secure. At least we give the vulnerable farmers about eight packs of maize seeds and others [get it on credit] to maximise production,” said Jumbe.
He said Malawi can achieve “food security” if every household has food from their production enough to cover their food entailment and pay other households expense”.
To achieve food security, Cadecom’s interventions in its project include agro-forestry, irrigation farming, crop diversification, animal pass on initiative and conservation agriculture.
The UN Special Report also notes that agricultural diversification is required in Malawi if right to food is to be achieved.
“It is not possible to sustainably improve children’s health without improving soil fertility of their parents’ land plots. Water conservation and scale up sustainable irrigation methods in Malawi have to be done,” says the report.
Secretary general for Cadecom’s Episcopal Conference in Malawi Father Henry Sainda says Malawi’s economy remains agrarian-based and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), especially those affiliated to churches such as Cadecom, should partner government on food security.
“The agricultural sector continues to grapple numerous challenges leading to low agricultural productivity. This perennial deficit is largely due to lack of access to financial capital, agricultural technologies, markets, and effective extension services and supportive policies for smallholder farmers, therefore, as churches we need to build resilient communities,” he explains.