El Nino in Malawi: The last meal

By: 
CARE
Rose Katandika goes in search of firewood to cook food for her family

Rose Katandika is one of the many people in Malawi’s southern province of Nsanje who have been affected by the failure of their maize crops, due to the lack of rain and scorching heat caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon.

45-year-old Rose is responsible for the well-being and upkeep of her 7 children and 2 grandchildren after her husband died 20 years ago. Up until now she has just about managed to sustain them all on farming. She says:

Normally now it is harvest time and you would hardly find me at home… now I sit and think what if the food runs out, what will I do for the children?

Rose Katandika in her maize field

Rose pulls up the withered maize crop from her field. In a good year she would be able to harvest around 6-7 bags of 50kg each of maize, which is just about enough to provide regular meals for all the family. This year she has harvested zero.

I have no clue how I am going to survive. This is harvest season and I have nothing. I have no solution what to do.

Rose Katandika walking past a building

After her first round of crops failed Rose now walks three hours a day to a field she rents to try and re-plant crops there for next season. With the help of CARE she has started intercropping, which means growing two or more crops in the same area and increases the chances of them surviving further drought.

A bowl of water lilies

The drought has also forced Rose to risk her life by going to the local river to pick water lilies (above) to cook. The river is infested with crocodiles and people rely on local farmers to warn them of the crocodiles coming. “I get very scared,” says Rose, “but I have no other choice.”

Rose Katandika washing a cooking pot

Rose washes out the cooking pot she will use to prepare lunch for the family. Her dream would be to support the family through a small business initiative like selling beans or second-hand clothing but she lacks the start-up capital.

Rose Katandika sorting a bowl of water lilies

Rose and her family are one of 14 households in her village receiving monthly food aid from CARE as part of the Malawi government’s emergency response programme to support victims of the drought. But even this is not always enough to last them all the way through the month.

Rose Katandika tending her cooking fire

As Rose prepares lunch she tells us that this is the last of the 50kg of maize, 6 kg of pulses and cooking oil she received from CARE and that as of tomorrow the family will have nothing left to eat and she will be forced to go begging to neighbours for food.

Notebook recording rainfall

In a nearby village 55-year-old farmer Ibrahim keeps a careful log of the rainfall they have received this season as part of the records for the green belt committee he is on. It is a short entry for this season. The paragraph on the bottom left hand side shows that it has only rained properly four times this season.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.