Food Assistance Helps Drought-hit Families in Malawi

Thanks to the Government of Malawi and support from the governments around the world, millions of hungry and food-insecure people in Malawi can get through the lean season and nurture some optimism about the future.

Even before we begin talking, Elena Yezani beckons me to join her in her grass-thatched kitchen where, at 2:30 pm, she is preparing the family’s sole meal of the day.

As we start talking about the impact of the El Niño-induced drought in Chidokowe village in the central region district of Ntcheu district, Elena has tears in her eyes.

“Two bags, two bags of maize is all we were able to harvest when usually we get 30 to 40 bags,” says the mother of five.

Prior to receiving food assistance, the family has had to sell most of its livestock. All that remains is a baby pig which looks frail due to lack of food.

Elena’s children are hoping that if the piglet grows, then the family can sell it and use the money for other household needs. But they can’t even feed the piglet.

“What would you feed a pig when humans are eating maize husks usually fed to the animals…?” Elena asks. "Before receiving food assistance from WFP in September, I had to borrow food from a neighbouring village so we could at least feed the kids."

The family’s troubles started with a devastating agricultural season in 2014-15, and then an El Niño-induced drought during the 2015-16 growing season. According to the Malawi Vulnerability assessment Committee, some 6.7 million people will need food assistance during the peak of the lean season.

Elena complains that her youngest child, 18-month-old Fiona, is still breastfeeding although there is little milk due to the mother’s poor diet.

"If there was no food support, people would start dying,” she says.

Families receive a monthly household food ration of maize, pulses and vegetable oil or its cash equivalent.  Families with pregnant and breastfeeding women and children under the age of two, also receive a fortified blended flour (Likuni Phala) to prevent malnutrition.

“It takes us the whole morning to gather firewood for several meals,” she says. “The land is bare, people have cut down the trees to make charcoal which they sell by the roadside so they can buy food.”

To help struggling families recover, WFP and its partners are working with communities to create and rehabilitate productive assets. Elena is making fuel-efficient stoves for her own use and also to sell.

Thanks to the Government of Malawi and support from the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, the European Union, the Netherlands, Australia, Norway and others, millions of food-insecure people like Elena can get through this season and remain hopeful for what is to come.