Food shortages are worsening in Malawi as the yield from this year’s disappointing harvest runs out for many small farmers. Across southern Africa, El-Nino-induced drought and flooding since last year have left more than 30 million people in need of food aid.
In Balaka, 47 percent of residents are facing food shortages. That is the highest figure of all the affected districts across the country. Many people here are down to one meal a day.
Anne Matebule, a single mother of four children, said she only managed to harvest only one 50-kilogram bag of maize this year because of the drought. She usually harvests 25 bags.
Matebule relies on gardening and other odd jobs to feed her children.
"My children are suffering," she said. "We usually only eat once a day. We can eat twice a day only when I am given sweet potatoes as payment for doing some day labor."
The number of malnourished children has quadrupled, according to Thomas Biseck, a health officer in the district.
“The levels of malnutrition in Balaka are a bit alarming compared to last year," he said. "The very same period last year, we had about 12 per cent. But this year, it’s about 52 per cent, which means that as were are scaling up towards March next year, the situation will be a bit out of our control.”
The effects of child malnutrition can last a lifetime, potentially leading to stunting and developmental delays, impacting a child’s future earning potential.
The U.N. World Food Program is funding supplemental feeding programs at all 13 health centers in the Balaka district. The beneficiaries receive 4.5 kilograms of corn soya blend every two weeks.
Chrissy Mkwamba said she started getting soya flour for her two-year-old daughter because the child was underweight.
"Now I can see some improvements," she said, adding that her daughter has gained one kilo and now weighs six kilograms.
The agency is also encouraging farmers in Balaka to diversify their crops.
“If they can get the message across that it’s not only maize that’s food and that there is other nutritious food that people can eat, these are areas that we have a big momentum to move forward,” said WFP country director Coco Ushiyama.
Malawi declared a national disaster in April. The price of maize and other foods has since tripled at the market.
Malawi’s government says 8.4 million people, about half the population, need food aid.