Desperate families risk croc-infested waters in search of food

Desperate families risk croc-infested waters in search of food

Bamusi and his grandson Daniel standing in the family maize field.

Food sources in Nyachipele are disappearing after four cyclones in the last five years.

In disaster-ravaged Nyachipele, families are so hungry that people are diving into a crocodile-infested river to collect water lily bulbs to eat.

Many families here depend on farming to feed their children and earn an income. But a series of natural disasters, dry spells, pests, and disease outbreaks has destroyed their crops and farmland. It means families no longer have a source of food or income to buy food.

Bamusi is a farmer with five children and one grandchild. He understands the land well and is a model farmer in the community. But after four cyclones in the past five years and then an outbreak of army worms, Bamusi is struggling to feed his family.

“Our area is constantly affected by natural disasters,” he says. “It is so difficult to farm and expect a good harvest from the money we put in. I am a lead farmer, meaning I know what to do with my land, but even then, it is very difficult.”

Maize, sweet potatoes and beans are staple foods in the region and during a year of good rain, harvests are abundant. Families have enough food to eat and sell. But a cyclone can change everything. And they’re becoming more frequent.

“We lose our crops to the floods, and some livestock are also washed away,” says Bamusi. “The floods bring sand to our farmland, rendering it is useless for farming. Just this year, Cyclone Freddy caused siltation, and we had to dig 60 centimetres deep just to find fertile soil to salvage our food crops."

“I gave one of my pieces of land to my brother because he too lost everything during the cyclone. But our maize has done poorly. To make things worse, army worms are eating away at the crops.” Some families are so hungry, they’re risking their lives to collect bitter water lily bulbs to eat. People dive to the bottom of the Shire River, the longest river in Malawi, risking attacks by deadly crocodiles and hippopotamuses. At least two people are killed by crocodiles every month. Sometimes they are children.

But for mothers like Bayela, there is now no other option if they want to feed their families.

“We dive into the water carrying a small bag made of sackcloth tied around our waist,” she explains. “You have to go underwater and feel the river floor with your hands for the bulbs. Then you pluck them and throw them into your sack until it is filled. The water is so cold, and dangerous of course.”

“This is our food now that we can’t afford anything else. We wash them, add a pinch of salt for taste, then boil, but not for long, because if you boil it for too long, it becomes too bitter to eat."

“Sometimes, we add sugar or juice to lessen the bitter taste, but also so that we can be filled. These things hurt your stomach. Your tummy can ache for two days. But we have no choice, this is the only food we can find for free.”

Families in Nyachipele are facing desperate food shortages. But with your compassion, the community is working to change that.

Your kindness will train community members on climate-smart farming, conservation, and how to mitigate the risks of disasters like cyclones. Your love and care will help families like Bamusi’s and Bayela’s to grow more crops, earn more income, so they can provide for their children.

Thank you for helping children and families in Nyachipele to build brighter futures.