Our dearest leader of delegation, the indefatigable, impeccable and unimpeachable, Genuine Professor Dr Joyce Befu, MG 66 and MEGA-1, is so angry this week that she has decided to go on an indefinite hunger strike.
She is angry, she says, because she is tired of singing the same song. Malawi is singing an old song. A song of sadness. A song of despair. A song of cyclicals hunger, poverty and irresponsibility. A song that has been sung over and over ad nauseam.
You see, we used to have three weather-related seasons in Malawi: the rain season (November-April); cold season (May-July), and the hot season (August-October). Today, we pride in a fourth season: The lean season.
The lean season is a season of despair; a season of sadness; a season of maize shortages. Maize shortage equals hunger. Hunger in Malawi means absence of maize. Maize = food. Even though other food stuffs may be plentiful, Malawi is hungry. That elsewhere people eat plantains, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, coco yams, yams, and rice does not make sense to us in Malawi. These are not food in Malawi.
They are not food today because our ancestors were forced to abandon crops that formed part of this land’s food security basket. Rarely do people talk about millet and sorghum today because of maize colonialism.
Food historians and economists tell us that maize was introduced into this part of Africa by foreigners who preceded the colonialists and they literally forced it on the locals. How? No spoon-feeding.
Agriculture experts, economists, journalists, and, of course clever chiefs, have warned over the years that maize is a delicate unreliable crop because it is shallow-rooted and therefore prone to wilting in the absence of good soils and water during its critical development period.
They have called on the government of Malawi to compose a new song, called food diversification and let it be sung repeatedly until it becomes the new reality. But the call has been embraced unwillingly and with trepidation.
The government knows that reliance on maize alone is like carrying snake eggs in one pocket. Yet for years, if not for decades, the government has spent billions of Kwacha subsiding maize production. Nothing else. Maize has become a political tool.
Districts such Nkhotakota, Nkhata Bay, Rumphi and Mulanje, whose staple is not necessarily maize, have been forced to abandon their traditional foods.
It is sad that even in Nkhata Bay, where food meant cassava, people have been forced to adopt maize cultivation because the government refuses to subsidise cassava production. When the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee assessments are done, areas with cassava are said to be food-sufficient.
So, the people have stopped cultivating cassava so that they, too, should benefit from the food aid that other areas, mostly maize-cultivating districts, enjoy during the lean season.
What we are going through is the result of government not listening to voices of reason.
Government always calls on Malawians to change their mindset towards food, but we hereby say, government needs to be the first to change its mindset change.
A drunk captain should not blame passengers when the boat capsizes.