Women in Mulanje rising from cyclone disaster
Promoting good nutrition during emergencies
Women in Group Village Head Waluma in Traditional Authority Chikumbu in Mulanje will not forget the traumatic experience of Cyclone Freddy.
Their crops were washed away, their houses and other home infrastructure, such as kitchens and toilets, collapsed or were partially destroyed, and they lost their food and the animals they were rearing.
The Afikepo Nutrition Programme, funded by the European Union and implemented by UNICEF and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, has been active in Mulanje for years. However, the destruction brought by Cyclone Freddy threatened to set back the gains made over the period, explains Misheck Mwambakulu, FAO District Manager for Mulanje.
“The little food that remained in their houses was washed away. Crops in their fields got washed away. The infrastructure that supports good sanitation and hygiene, such as toilets, were completely demolished with rising water levels,” Mwambakulu says.
Janet Bisani, a promoter in GVH Waluma, explains that the disaster left them in a pickle and disrupted the promotion of nutrition and hygiene, which are central to Afikepo, in the village through Tapatsidwa and Takonzeka care groups which she oversees.
“Before Cyclone Freddy, we would meet in groups and teach each other how to prepare the six food groups from locally available sources. We taught our members about integrated farming, kitchen gardens, toilets, tippy-taps, and personal hygiene. You may eat six food groups, but if the household fails to follow hygienic practices, children could contract cholera,” Bisani says.
Stella Tebulo, a mother of three, and Sheila Juma, a mother of one, fondly recall the pre-cyclone days when they learned about cooking and modern farming practices through their respective care groups.
“I learnt about the one-pot dish that has all food groups. We learnt the importance of feeding nutritious food to our children,” Tebulo says.
Juma, too, recalls the time when they practiced integrated farming and they would grow crops such as cowpeas, soya, groundnuts, maize, and orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (OFSP) on small parcels of land to maximize land use while rearing small animals such as chickens and rabbits on the side.
“In normal times, we lacked for nothing. On one piece of land, we would grow maize, potatoes, soya, pigeon peas, and cowpeas. If one crop doesn’t work out, we would rely on another crop that did well," Tebulo adds.
In the aftermath of the cyclone, Afikepo moved in swiftly, Mwambakulu explains.
“We normally implement our activities under the care group model, which has community structures such as promoters, village nutrition coordination committees, and area nutrition coordination committees. We were alerted about how Mulanje has been affected through these structures,” he says.
They immediately commenced activities through promoters to continue providing key messages on how households can live, considering that most of their sanitation structure were destroyed.
A cooking demonstration in April was one of the earliest activities the women under Takonzeka and Tapatsdwa care groups organised.
“Since most of the maize and other crops got washed away. We are now dependent on OFSP, which survived,” Bisani says.
During the cooking demonstration, Tebulo says she learnt about the many uses of OFSP, such as porridge, chips, and juice.
Years of involvement with Afikepo have given the women plenty of resilience tactics, such as growing different crops under winter cropping.
“We do winter cropping and hope to get our salvation from there. I also rear chickens which are keeping me going,” she says
The group also has a solar dryer which allows members to dry vegetables found in plenty during the rainy season for later use.
“Because of the solar dryer, we could use the food stored in the house soon after the cyclone. It is very helpful,” Bisani says.