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DoDMA relief food: a stitch in time

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The excitement on the people’s faces could be seen a mile off as they thronged Chawantha ADMARC located in Chawantha Village, Traditional Authority (TA) Kalolo, in Lilongwe on that Wednesday.

These were hundreds of men, women, and youth, from surrounding villages under Chawantha Extension Planning Area (EPA) who had come to receive relief maize from the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA).

The members of the community had awaited this day for a long thus their jubilation was, in every sense, called for.

“We cannot believe that after a long period, we are now going to have proper and regular meals,” Elesi John, mother of seven children, told this reporter while dancing and singing in praise of the support. “The situation had become so critical that we had been surviving on mangoes which are now out of season.”

According to John, who hails from Manjawira Village, TA Kalolo, lately, the trending ‘meal’ in the villages had been boiled unripe mangoes which they could either boil as a whole, or they could peel and cut into small chips and boil for a change.

An old man gets his share of the relief maize Pic. By Kondwani Magombo-Mana

With such kind of food, malnutrition became a common sight among the people, old and young alike, according to her.

A total of 1,377 people from the area are targeted in the Lean Period Food Security Response exercise, according to DoDMA Commissioner, Charles Kalemba.

On this day, January 25, 2023, every beneficiary went home with two 50kg bags of maize to take them through February.

Regarding the relief maize distribution exercise, Kalemba said his Department was on course and that everything was going according to plan.

“We started with five councils in the south last week, then we went to all the councils in the southern region where the exercise is in progress,” explained Kalemba, adding: “We are now going into the second phase where we have now started with the centre and the north, distributing maize and cash transfers according to respective needs.”

Kalemba (R). flanked by LL DC, Dr. Lawford Palani (C), during the food distribution exercise Pic. By Kondwani Magombo-Mana

According to the commissioner, councils in the country are classified into three categories depending on their deficit periods which are three months, four months, and five months.

As of Jan 25, 2023, DoDMA had already covered seven TAs in Lilongwe, which falls under the three-month deficit category.

“For councils which had Five-month and Four month deficit periods, the first two months were covered and we are now going into the councils which have three-month deficit period, giving them food for two months so that we remain with March ration.”

Elesi John (L) dances as fellow women join her, singing in praise for the much-awaited relief food Pic. By Kondwani Magombo-Mana

The Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) projected that a total of 3.8 million people in Malawi would be food insecure between November 2022 and March 2023.

Malawi government, through DoDMA rolled out MK74billion 2022-23 lean season response programme to respond to the MVAC projections through humanitarian support in the form of cash and in-kind transfers to the affected Malawians.

But while agreeing that food insecurity in the country remains inevitable every year due to catastrophes caused by climate change, and the country’s dependence on rain-fed agriculture, Kalemba observed loafing and non-productivity as main contributors to the situation.

“As a country we are not supposed to be hungry: If you look at our terrain, those who did some research found that over 60 percent of this country is arable land and we have a lot of water deposit every season.

“We have a big population with only 10-15 percent productive while the majority of the population loaf a lot,” observed Kalemba.

The Commissioner said there’s no mathematical nor economic model that would support people’s tendency of working for three months only and expect to just be eating for the rest of the nine months in a year.

Kalemba also cited abuse of the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) where he said the aim of the initiative is frustrated by those who sell the inputs instead of using them in their gardens.

The tendency, observed by the DoDMA Commissioner, leaves the government going in circles in terms of food security, instead of moving forward.

“The aim of AIP is to ensure that those who get it should not be hungry the next year,” explained Kalemba. “But you’ll see that some of those who get the AIP are also among those in need of humanitarian food the next year because they sold the inputs: that type of equation doesn’t work for the good of the progress of the country.”

He also urged chiefs in the country to institute strict measures against loafing and loitering so that people should be busy in their fields to realize enough food to feed their families.

On the relief maize that is being distributed, Kalemba emphasized that whoever would be found selling it would be arrested and prosecuted accordingly.

But as if responding to Kalemba’s caution, Elesi John, the mother of seven, said one would need to have their head examined to sell the maize after what they have gone through in the village over the past months.

“Only a mad person would sell this free maize,” explained John. “We lived on mangoes and now the mangoes are gone and we were literary surviving on denje, bonongwe and nkhwani (vegetables that come with the rainy season).

“Once detected, we’ll all rise up as a community and we’ll, immediately, report to the authorities such uncalled for and unappreciative behavior.”

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