Life for Marita Damson and her five children was normal and full of promise. Her dream was that the children would grow into healthy teens and attain higher education.
With the help of her husband, her granary was filled and the dream for her family and kids was taking shape. That is until one afternoon when her husband, while working in the family garden, got a fatal snake bite.
That single strike shattered her dreams and reduced her to a mere beggar surviving on nyika and baobab seeds, locally known as malambe.
"Since my husband died, we are suffering. We have no food, and the current hunger situation caused by drought and floods in this area has made my life miserable. "As a mother, I feel bad for my children because I have nothing to feed them. In search for food to feed my children I am forced to go the crocodile-infested rivers to dig out nyika.
Sometimes I just prepare the malambe seeds as a meal for my family.
Clutching at a straw
She explained that she fries the seeds, as is the case with maize grains, and seasons them with salt before serving her family.
"Nyika and the malambe seeds do not taste nice and they are not nutritious but I have no choice as that is the only food that I can provide for my children," said Damson, whose five children are all in primary school.
Nyika grows in ponds and along the vast swamps of the Shire River. The tubers are especially important as a food reserve during times of famine or poor harvest, especially in the districts of Chikhwawa and Nsanje.
Nyika can be peeled, cut in small pieces, dried and ground into powder. The powder is then used for cooking nsima.
No subsidy for her
Unfortunately, for the 33-year-old and her children, they will continue eating Nyika and malambe seeds as they will not benefit from government programme of food distribution, her crime being that her late husband built her a
simple low cost iron roofed house.
"How can they say that just because I stay in an iron roofed house, I will not benefit from the government food distribution programme? At least when my husband was alive, things were promising but now it's just the house I can point at, I have nothing," she said.
Traditional Authority Osiyana feels this is not fair on the part of government saying not everybody who leaves in a house is well to do and has food.
"How can they say that anyone living in an iron roofed house will not benefit from the programme because they seem to be doing fine? Here in the village everyone is affected and almost everyone needs help from government and well-wishers.
"Here in my area, we have about 1,627 families and according to government only 126 families are to benefit from this programme. As a chief I have a very big task to make sure that all the families that I feel need to benefit from this programme are getting something.
"So what I am doing is that we have agreed with those families whose names were approved by government to share with other families whose names were not approved. We are sharing a 50 kilogramme bag of maize between four or five families," the traditional leader said.
T/A Osiyana said he has been put in an awkward position because, as a leader he has to make sure that everyone in his area has food, but he was quick to point out that it was not possible because the food that government is distributing is far from being enough.
He pointed out that he has raised the matter with the relevant authorities to look into the issue and come up with a better arrangement.
It is reported that government is not distributing foodstuffs to people living in iron roofed houses, those with cows, goats, at least 10 chickens and even those families with children who are working.
But Principal Secretary in the Department of Disaster Management and Preparedness Geoffrey
Kanyinji pointed out the need to assess the families first if they have food before coming up with a conclusion based on the status of their houses.
Kanyinji said this system could have worked if the country had not been affected with drought which he said has been there for three consecutive years.
"The main purpose of this programme is to reach out to those who are food insecure. As long as they do not have food, they are beneficiaries of this programme.
"I will communicate with those working on the ground in the area and advise them as required. This system cannot work now considering the fact that the country has been experiencing drought for three consecutive years. This means that people have been having no food for the past three years, and this means that even those living in good houses or who were doing better than others, are affected," Kanyinji said.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Sara Tione, in Chikhwawa and Nsanje, about 275,653 and 105,012 people, respectively are expected to benefit from thefood distribution programme.
11 out of 100 Malawians have no food
Tione said these affected population groups are located in 15 districts in the central and southern regions which include: Balaka, Blantyre, Chikhwawa, Dedza, Machinga, Mangochi, Mulanje, Mwanza, Neno, Nsanje, Ntcheu, Phalombe, Salima, Thyolo, and Zomba.
"The affected population represents 11 percent of this year's NSO projected population compared to two percent recorded last year.
"The maize requirement to meet the deficit is estimated at 75,394.32 metric tonnes which is equivalent to K6 million.
However, the form of intervention will vary depending on the situation in the affected areas," she said.
It is projected that a total of 1,630,007 people are to face annual food deficits ranging from three to eight months during the 2012/2013 consumption year.
According to the 2012/2013 Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) Response Programme Update, the wholeoperation of food distribution programme has received US$19.1 million or 39 percent of its requirements. Contributions to date were made by the Malawi Government, USAID/FFP, UKaid from the DFID and Norway.
While the MVAC Annual report released by the Ministry of Agriculture, indicates that the maize production for the 2011/12 agricultural season was estimated at 3.6 million metric tonnes compared to 3.9 million metric tonnes produced the other year.
The current maize national requirement is estimated at 2.8 million metric tonnes, thus translating to a national maize surplus of about 800,000 metric tonnes during the 2012/2013 consumption year.
Despite this surplus, the report says a number of districts experienced unfavourable weather conditions that affected crop development and ultimately localized low production.
Most districts particularly in the southern region experienced late on-set of planting rains coupled with erratic rainfall pattern and prolonged dry spells.