Pedalling past hunger

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Date: 21 April, 2006

Fankesi Zombeya

Fankesi Zombeya on his family's treadle pump.
Photo: Christian Aid/Jodi Bieber



Twelve-year-old Fankesi Zombeya from Malawi is delighted with his family’s treadle pump. 'You work it by pedalling fast and the water sprays out of the end of the pipe,’ he explains, and promptly jumps on to demonstrate. As Fankesi pedals away, his aunt Catherine hoses down the family’s third crop of maize and beans, which is almost ready to be harvested.

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Despite the food shortages that are now crippling Malawi, Fankesi’s family are still eating twice a day.

Like thousands of others, the family’s main harvest failed completely this year, killed by drought after the rains stopped unexpectedly. But Christian Aid’s partner organisations here have been working for months to help more than 100,000 poor farmers survive the crisis.

After their first crop died, our local partner CCAP Blantyre loaned Fankesi’s family a water pump and seeds to sow a second time. A few months later, as Malawi braced itself for the worst hunger season in a decade, Fankesi’s family harvested a dozen 50kg bags of maize, enough to last for several months. They’ve since planted for a third time.

’Before the treadle pump came we were just relying on the rain to do our farming,’ says Fankesi, still pedalling as fast as he can, ’but now we can grow crops all year round.’

Fankesi’s grandfather Asibu is just as happy. ’I wish I’d known about treadle pumps earlier,’ he explains, ’Once I prayed to God to give us maize and now I see the maize growing in my fields, thanks to this pump. It’s God’s gift. Maize and water are the source of life.’

With seeds and water pumps provided on loan by partners, hundreds of families like Fankesi’s have been able to grow a second or even third crop during the Malawian winter, harvested just in time to see them through the hardest months.

But for some, that lifeline has been cruelly snatched away. In Chikwawa and Nsanje districts, where our partners ELDS and CARD are working, this year’s rains brought floods. Hundreds of families already weakened by hunger lost their homes, animals and the winter crops they’d been growing.

’It’s affected our work in Chikwawa badly,’ explains Alick Kaonda from our partner ELDS. ’The floods took some of the animals we’d given people, and washed away 535 hectares of crops. Hundreds more people will need food aid.’

And the danger isn’t over yet. ’Now the water’s subsiding but there are fears that if the rain keeps pouring there will be more floods‘, explains Alick.

’It’s partly because of deforestation. Families are forced to come down to cultivate land near the river because of drought.

'They cut down trees to grow their crops then when it rains the water is just pouring onto bare land. There’s nothing to hold it in the soil and it washes off straight into the river.’

After a year of drought and floods, many people in Chikwawa and Nsanje are at breaking point. ELDS and CARD are stepping up their feeding activities