CHIRADZULU, MALAWI - Malawi is facing its worst food shortages in years, after flooding and drought during the past growing season. The U.N. World Food Program is planning emergency food aid, but the crisis affecting nearly all of Malawi is straining resources and could threaten the school feeding program.
Tisungane Lawrence goes to school on an empty stomach.
His family's maize harvest was poor this year.
His grandmother Alina Paulo searches her field for any remaining salvageable crops.
“Here," she said, "we do not have enough to eat and children go to school with no breakfast. There were floods followed by a dry spell and that affected the crops.”
The U.N. World Food Program introduced school feeding in Malawi 15 years ago. Nearly a million primary school students currently benefit.
At Tisungane's school, women prepare food for the students, including morning porridge.
Eating with his friends, Tisungane says "once I take porridge here I regain strength, and I am able to concentrate on what the teacher is teaching us in class.”
Even in good years, the WFP says school feeding is a safety net for families during the lean season. Now with the crisis, it is essential, says Coco Ushiyama, the WFP country representative for Malawi.
“We should be scaling up the feeding program this time. Unfortunately funding is also a great constraint. So we have a very difficult situation," said Ushiyama.
Ushiyama says school feeding keeps parents from pulling kids out of school when food and money are tight.
"They not only learn. They get nutritious meals and they also can be avoided from some of the negative coping strategies which we know unfortunately take place through early marriages, pregnancies," said Ushiyama.
For now, Tisungane and his seven cousins stay in school while his grandmother tries to make ends meet at home.