Malawians find relief in Bonya: Economic hardship hits hard

After taking over government in April, Malawi’s President Joyce Banda devalued the currency to revive the country’s economy and court back donor confidence but her action has, among others, triggered sharp increase in the cost of living for poor Malawians.

Prices of every basic commodity in the country have multiplied driving many Malawians deeper into life-threatening poverty.

Former president Bingu wa Mutharika, who died in April, resisted calls by the country’s major donors to devalue the kwacha arguing it would cause untold anguish to his already impoverished people.

And true to his fears, the devaluation and consequent flotation of the kwacha has corroded people’s revenue forcing them to resign to their fate.

Selling Bonya at Limbe market.- Photo by Jeromy Kadewere/Nyasa Times

“Every day, we steel up for an increase in the cost of living. The devaluation of the kwacha has left us to absorb significant increases in prices of basic household items including transport fares as they go up to new highs everyday,” says 72-year-old Mai Anita Kasope, a farm produce vendor at Zingwangwa market in Blantyre.

She adds that the economic hardships have not spared anyone as some of the people deemed to be upper class have also changed their lifestyles.

“I have been selling assorted items fresh from the garden besides dried fish, beans and other food for over 15 years now,” she recalls.

“Over the years, I have had different levels of customers but I can challenge you that today their buying pattern has completely changed because prices are going up every moment while the money remains the same.”

However, despite the situation Malawians seem to have been blessed with the coming, in an unimaginable quantity, of small fish called Bonya.

‘Yabooka Bonya’

Bonya is a type of Usipa fish from Lake Malawi which is very tiny in size and many families have found it to be cheap and favorite protein provider.

Courtesy of the existing hard economic times, Bonya is graduallybecoming Malawi’s staple food as millions of people have found solace in it for being cheap besides its easy availability in almost every market across the country.

Actually Bonya has now been branded with a market slogan of ‘yabooka or wabooka’ meaning it is very easy to obtain besides being pocket friendly (low-priced).

Nyasa Times understands that lakeshore people from Monkey Bay area in Mangochi, where the fish is caught in abundance, christened it ‘yabooka’.

“I first heard it [yabooka] in Monkey Bay when I went to purchase bonyabecause that’s where it is in great supply,” a fishmonger, Promise Kapito, from Limbe Produce market told Nyasa Times.

The slogan ‘yabooka’ has been borrowed from Airtel’s ‘yabooka’ (K20 airtime scratch card which gives Airtel subscribers one minute talk time and a free text message, both only apply when calling or texting someone who is also using Airtel.)

A snap survey by Nyasa Times to a number of produce markets around the commercial city of Blantyre revealed that Bonya was in great quantity and was the fastest selling relish.

Cost, side-effects of Bonya

However, Nyasa Times investigations revealed that the price differs from one place (market) to the other depending on the area.

For instance, in Zingwangwa and Chilobwe a heap of the commodity starts at K50 while in Chirimba it starts at K70.

In Chilomoni, Ndirande and Mbayani locations the cost of a heap starts atK50, K40 and K30 respectively.

While Bonya has apparently come as a “liberator” to majority of Malawians, unconfirmed reports indicate it also has side effects once consumed excessively.

Although not medically proven, a number of people have claimed to have developed rash after eating the “savior” bonya for a couple of days.

There was, however, no immediate reaction from medical experts on the matter but a nurse at Adventist Private Hospital could not rule out the possibility of side effects.

“I would not rule it out. Why the abrupt occurrence of these minute fish and yet we have had them over the years? Is it that the eco-system of these aquatic habitats has been messed up or what?,” she observed warning “There is need to be careful before the entire nation is wiped out.”

The sudden outbreak of Bonya has made this usipa fish the most popular so far after the Chambo and perhaps mcheni which are both found in Lake Malawi.

Bonya at Limbe market

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