By Naomi Kalemba, UNICEF Malawi
Kitty Yobe used to struggle to make ends meet. The mother of six grew maize and pigeon peas on her small plot of land in Balaka, in Malawi’s south. But unpredictable rains meant she could never grow enough to last out the year and her family would sometimes go for days without food.
To survive, Yobe says she worked as a labourer on other people’s farms and had to rely on handouts from neighbors.
“I was struggling a lot all along, but in 2015 things fell apart for me. Heavy rains washed away my maize and strong winds blew off my roof,” says Yobe.
Yobe’s story is not uncommon. UNICEF says unpredictable weather, chronic poverty and high population growth negatively impact the food security of millions of Malawian households leaving them in need of seasonal food assistance.
Each year, around 1 million people here are unable to consistently grow or buy enough food to meet their needs all year round. The Malawi Vulnerability Committee 2018 report says about 3.3 million people across the country will require humanitarian assistance, for periods ranging from two to six months, during the 2018-2019 consumption year.
But the good news is that some of that humanitarian assistance is coming in the form of the government’s Social Cash Transfer Programme.
This is a shock-responsive programme meant to mitigate the effects of hunger and poverty among vulnerable families. The monthly cash transfers help poor families like Yobe’s to survive the difficult months before the annual harvest, commonly referred to as “lean season.”
The cash transfers vary between MK 2,600 and MK 5,600, depending on household size. Some households receive bonuses for each child enrolled in primary school and secondary school.
In the case of Yobe, she says in 2015 just when she “lost hope” due to floods that washed away part of her crops and strong winds that blew away her roof, a social welfare officer came to assess her situation and subsequently registered her with the monthly cash transfers programme.
She now receives MK 5200 (US$7.30) a month. It is enough for a food basket that lasts her family for a month.
Balaka district social welfare officer, Steve Silika, said from December 2017 until March 2018, cash transfer beneficiaries have been receiving additional money to help them deal with the added hardships during the lean months. This helps people like Yobe to remain resilient.
With support from the Irish Aid and UNICEF, the Government of Malawi is committed to breaking the cycle of poverty and hunger. Malawi wants to ensure the transfer programme covers as many people as possible, provides support for a variety of needs of vulnerable populations, and is implemented alongside other humanitarian activities.
UNICEF Malawi chief of social policy, Beatrice Targa, said UNICEF provides technical support to the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, which implements the cash transfer programme.
“The transfers are provided to ultra-poor and labour-constrained households across Malawi,” said Targa. “The programme has helped these families take their first step toward escaping the cycle of poverty and hunger.”
Targa says the practice of using established government-led programmes to respond to emergencies rather than setting up parallel distribution systems has helped to reach more vulnerable people in a cost-efficient and effective manner.
For Kitty Yobe, life has changed a lot during the past four years. She now has a small vegetable business that allows her to buy enough food to get her family through the lean months.
“I now have five goats and this year I plan to sell one and will buy iron sheets to replace our grass roof that blows away every time there is heavy rains and winds,” she added.