Salima district is one of Malawi’s disaster prone districts, if it’s not drought haunting it, then its hail storms or floods, the lakeshore district harbours some of Malawi’s best holiday destinations but beyond the hotels and the beaches, in the intense heat and sandy and dry villages, life is not as rosy.
One such dusty village is Odalla village in the area under traditional authority Khombeza along Limpimpi River. The so called Limpimpi River is just a name for the cartographers; there is no water in the river, just a stretch of sand and reeds growing where water should be passing.
Where fish should be swimming, goats browse.
Group Village Headman (GVH) Odalla whose house sits atop a cliff of the Limpopo ‘river’ concedes that times have changed. He said the river used to have perennial running watering the 80s but nowadays, water dries up by June, soon after the rainy season.
“People struggle here, there is usually a dry spell in February when the maize is at its critical stage, the result is low yields and people have to survive on doing manual labour to get by. There is no chance for irrigation because the only river we have dries up too quickly,” said Odalla.
The chief said when drought hits; some children from families that are unlucky face serious malnutrition challenges including death. Some men abandon their families and bolt to neighbouring districts to look for employment in tobacco estates, leaving women and children to bear the full wrath of nature-gone-wrong.
Twenty four year old Patricia Gift is one of the women of Odalla village; her husband is unemployed and jumps from one piece work opening to another. She dropped out of Primary school after only three years.
At the time of the interview, Patricia was drawing water for someone constructing a house in the village, she was under bond to supply water from 6 am till sunset and get K300 (about US$.93) as her daily pay.
“It is the poverty at home that forces me, there is nothing else we can do here and when drought hits and yields fail I have to double my efforts to look for piece work because it’s tough living here,” she said, clasping her baby to her bosom.
She says her husband is supportive of her efforts because he knows it will bring food to the table, but is aware of the threat that she is under if the husband decides to bolt.
“Some men run and leave you with kids and if he runs from you when drought hits and no aid organisation come to distribute food, it can be very tough for some people,” said Patricia.
Odalla said his village has widows from the HIV scourge who have to face each day without support from anyone.
The high population density in the area means that land is highly fragmented among the households; Patricia says he has about four acres of land where she has to plant cotton, maize and groundnuts.
“Without fertilizer, you know we share one fertilizer bag from the fertilizer subsidy among four households, without fertilizer, the yield is low; I only get about four bags of maize from it. In my family of five, we use two bags of maize per month and that means for the rest of the year up to the next harvest I have to toil,” said Patricia.
The little cotton she grows ropes in about K20, 000 ($62) per with buyers getting a kilogramme of cotton at K80. The groundnuts are also boiled and sold to commuters at the nearby bus stop. It is a tough life but sadly the only one for Patricia.
In view of the almost constant droughts, a river that cannot bring water when it is needed most, why are the people of Khombeza not migrating to crops that can stand the heat such as cassava?
“We cannot grow cassava here, we have a big security threat and people steal it forcing people to abandon growing it,” said Odalla.
Godfrey Chingo’ma, director of crop development in the Ministry of Agriculture in the Malawian Ministry of Agriculture and when presented with the cassava claims, rubbished the chief’s claims and said issues of security cannot be the excuse for not diversifying.
Patricia alongside the people of Khombeza are the true face of climate change victims, and they did not cause their problems at all, the whole of Africa combined only contributed 3.6 of carbon emission as of 2006, the rest came from the developed nations.
If climate change is indeed real, could this mean that all the adverse climate change effects that are hitting people like Patricia the making of someone in Europe or Japan.
Norway’s Minister of International Development, Heikki Holmås on his tour of Malawi admitted that one Norwegian emits 100 times more carbon than a Malawian.
Norway granted National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (NASFAM) US$20 million to fund its activities over the next five years especially to strengthen climate smart agriculture which is farming that looks to beat the harsh climate.
I asked the minister if he thinks $20 million in five years is enough and if it is some pay out to justify Norway’s continued pollution.
Holmås said the grant is not a payout for Norway to continue polluting and he urged African governments to confront Western governments to reduce their pollution.
“We [Norway] have developed a strategy to reduce our carbon emission but at the same time we are obliged to support the countries that are feeling the strongest effects of climate change that is why we are in Malawi and that is why we are backing smallholder farmers that are working together,” said Holmås.
He said Norway is supporting many sectors but said it is the smallholders that are feeling the effects of climate change the most making Norway double its investment in their climate robust farming efforts.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :