Food Security

Hunger robs villagers of their dignity, their since of self worth. It takes away initiative and focus. When villagers are chronically hungry, their only focus is on enough food to eat.

An orphan in a household is another mouth to feed. Food security has been an issue since the Malawi Children’s Village was first formed. It has been a tough issue to tackle. Attempts by both the Malawi Government and MCV have been made. A number of initiatives have been tried. None have been completely successful. These past efforts have included a fertilizer and seed packet program for all households who have orphans, supplemental maize and a nutritional supplement when famine is predicted, and the introduction of simple, African made treadle pumps.

This summer the reintroduction of treadle pumps for village use will again be done.

Traditionally the villagers have depended on the once a year rains to produce mainly maize in sufficient quantities, dried and stored in the village, to last to the end of the next growing season.

Unfortunately Malawi has unreliable rains. One year they start for several weeks and stop. The maize is planted a second time. Some years they come in torrential downpours and the fields are flooded and seed is washed away. Some years they do not come at all.

The growing season of 2004 was one such year. By December 2005 famine was widespread in the country. The impact of famine that year is documented in the recently published book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

The December, January, February and early March time period is known as the Njala (hunger) time. It happens to a greater or lesser extent every year. In the rural areas, the villagers live a subsistence life. They live in a non cash society. If you do not grow it, raise it or catch it yourself, you do not eat. The government has only modest resources to help. In the rural areas, obesity is non existent.

The irony of this story is one third of the country contains the 10th largest fresh water lake in the world, 365 miles long. Despite this there is almost no irrigation. There are no PVC pipes, no pumps, and no diesel to run them. There is no money to buy them.

The gardens on the MCV compound have demonstrated that crops can be successfully grown throughout the year. An earlier attempt at selling (or loaning with a promise to pay) subsidized treadle pumps were very successful in several villages. One village treadle pump committee was so successful that they were able to sell excess tomatoes in the local market and generate income. However their success did not convince other villages to follow their lead. Another attempt will be made this summer.

On the MCV campus fish ponds have been developed to demonstrate their usefulness and teach villages how to develop them. In addition the experimental gardens are being used to show the utility of other less water dependent crops that can be grown extending the growing season and add variety to the diet.

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