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Malawi – a country hungry for change

Millions continue to starve in world where there is enough food for everyone.

Global hunger is accepted as a sad fact of life but, according to a new campaign, the solutions are within our reach. Ahead of Christian Aid Week, MARY GRIFFIN visits Malawi to find out why millions continue to go hungry in a world where there is enough food for everyone.

“It feels like a very heavy pain in the stomach,” says Zakaria Wilson.

“It’s as if you’re bloated and you don’t know what you’re going to do to find food because you are so weak and completely helpless.”

The father-of three is remembering how it feels to go hungry.

When his village in Mwanza, south Malawi, was recently in the grip of a relentless drought Zakaria had to watch his children go without food for days on end.

“I don’t have the words to say what that’s like, seeing your children go to sleep on empty stomachs.

“As the head of the family it felt very bad that I couldn’t provide for them.”

Zakaria’s is not an unusual story.

Here in Malawi almost two million people have run out of the country’s staple food, maize.

Around the world 870 million people do not have enough to eat – that’s one in eight of us – and hunger is the planet’s number one killer, killing more people each year than AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis combined.

But according to the UN’s World Food Programme there is enough food available to feed the entire global population of seven billion people.

It is estimated that every 15 seconds a child dies from hunger, while here in the UK a third of the food we buy is destined to go in the bin before it ever reaches our lips.

As well as wasting food and resources that are desperately needed elsewhere, we are unknowingly filling our cars with food crops grown in the world’s poorest countries.

All these things have led the UK’s biggest charities to conclude that our food system is broken.

And earlier this year, in a bid to even the balance, more than 150 of them (including Christian Aid, Oxfam, Comic Relief, Islamic Relief and the Salvation Army) teamed up to launch a new campaign: ‘Enough food for everyone IF…’

Far from being inevitable, they say hunger is political – a result of the choices we make each day and the political and financial systems we support.

Their campaign is based on addressing four key points – tax, aid, land and transparency – which they say get to the root causes of hunger.

And next month, thousands of campaigners are set to take these points to Belfast to lobby the leaders of the world’s eight wealthiest countries at the G8 summit.

In Malawi, a country where 90 per cent of people depend on growing their own food to survive, changing climate and weather patterns are wreaking havoc.

The last 20 years have seen 12 of the country’s hottest years since records began, and a once predictable rainy season, signalling the best time to sow seeds, has become erratic, with flash floods washing away crops and long droughts shortening the season and stunting plants.

In Europe, in a bid to tackle climate change and reduce our use of fossil fuels, the EU ruled that 10 per cent of road transport fuel must come from renewable sources by 2020.

In turn, the UK government ruled that petrol and diesel must contain at least five per cent biofuel (food crops mostly grown in Sub-Saharan Africa which can be used as energy).

But last month, a study by ActionAid found that food burned as biofuels in Birmingham’s petrol tanks would feed 132,000 people for a year, and that the total amount that G8 countries burn in their petrol tanks would feed half the world’s 870 million hungry.

Between 2001 and 2010 Malawi lost a staggering £3 billion because companies and individuals were able to avoid paying taxes.

And the situation is set to get worse as more international mining companies are granted rights to explore and extract Malawi’s resources.

At February’s international mining conference in Cape Town, Alvin Mosioma of Tax Justice Network Africa asked: “How is it possible that you have 3,000 employees in Malawi and three in the Cayman Islands and you can attribute 70 per cent of your profit to the operation in the Cayman Islands?”

Dennis Chiunjiza, director of a Christian Aid supported HIV/AIDS programme in Malawi, sees how people’s daily lives are defined by food security.

“We need to look at what drives poverty,” he says, “it’s an issue of power dynamics and how power is used in communities.

“I think our governments have not been serious enough to invest in areas that will really turn the situation around.
“The poor remain poor sometimes because the rich deliberately want to keep them poor.”

But back in Mwanza, Zakaria has found new hope. The Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi has given him training in agricultural techniques to make the best possible use of the little land and water he has.

Instead of chopping down trees – a cottage industry that has degraded Malawi’s farmland – he now earns a living turning bananas, limes and sugar into a sweet banana wine, selling each bottle for 400 Malawian Kwacha – as much as he used to get for a bag of charcoal.

“I’ve seen a big change in my life,” he says. “I’m able to buy fertiliser for my crops and that’s improved my food security at home.

“I can now provide for my family.”


The campaign is focused on four key points – tax, aid, land and transparency.

It wants:

– governments to close international tax loopholes so that unscrupulous businesses and individuals aren’t allowed to dodge paying millions of pounds owed in tax to developing countries.

– the UK government to keep its promise to spend 0.7 per cent of our national income on aid to invest in food security programmes in the poorest countries in the world.

– giant corporations to be stopped from forcing poor farmers off their land and to make sure that the crops grown are used to feed people, not to fuel cars.

– governments and big corporations to be transparent and accountable so that the world can see how their actions are stopping people from getting enough food.


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