More than three million Malawians are likely to face hunger this year so say food security experts. Out of the 28 districts in Malawi, only three are food secure. The floods that hit the country early this year exacerbated the already bad situation—the country experienced months of drought before the heavy downpour that resulted in flooding.
This is a crisis, especially in a country where food security is generally equated to adequate maize production. While I do not have reasons why Ntchisi in the Central Region was said to be food secure, two of the other food secure districts in the region—Nkhata Bay and Likoma—mostly grow cassava on a large scale. Not only is cassava drought-resistant, it is a substitute for maize and nsima.
As a country we have been going in circles in as far as food security is concerned. There has not been a year that Malawi as a whole has been food secure—we still get pockets of hunger here and there and yet it seems government and everyone else is not willing to learn from such experiences—we continue to value maize more than any other food crop that grows on our soil.
One just need to look at initiatives such as the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp),touted as a solution to food security, which mostly focuses on growing of more maize than any other crop.
Then there is the resistance to change our mindset on what constitutes food. We are stuck with the idea that if you haven’t eaten nsima, then you have not eaten. It’s this kind of mentality that is making us starve when we have food abound. Travelling between Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu respectively, you see plenty of sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, cassava, plantains just to mention a few, being sold along the road. Mostly these food crops are sold next to nothing because farmers just want to get ‘something’ before they rot. It is the same people who are going to be hungry because they do not have nsima yet they have food abound. What about millet and sorghum? Millet and sorghum are not just for brewing chikokeyani or thobwa, you can prepare nsima from millet and sorghum flour.
Government needs to come up with deliberate policies to encourage Malawians to value and grow other food crops at a large scale just the way they do with maize. Government has ever done this before with cash crops when it was evident that tobacco was not fetching the much needed forex—farmers were encouraged to grow cotton at a large scale. It was the same with soya beans. Farmers were encouraged to grow more soya beans because it fetches good prices on agriculture market and it is no wonder that most farmers do reserves enough land to grow this cash crop. The same can be done with food crops.
Government should also come up with measures of preserving some of these food crops which can prove difficult for rural farmers.
I believe Fisp and any other initiative can only do so much but if our mindset on food is not changed, we will keep on extending our food bowl to our neighbours not to share with them but to beg for food. There is more to food than just nsima.