When hunger has a face…

Village children in Zambia with a full cob of Maize

Village children in Zambia with a full cob of Maize

“Are we to starve???” Vivienne writes me in a Facebook message. She’s relating to the worries of Zambian small-scale farmers who are facing a massive reduction of their maize (corn) harvest due to a rainy season that has ended far too early. While Vivienne grows the food for her family on a small farm outside the city, her family isn’t likely to be one of those really hungry. She has a regular job in the city, so will make it through. But I know families who aren’t so lucky. We’ve visited those families on our field tours; they’re part of the farm project we’ve worked with. When Jessy tells me that half of his maize crop hasn’t filled out the cobs, I know that there are families whose whole field won’t have filled out. Families who will be going hungry. We’re used to reading about hunger in Africa, but when the news has a face I know, it really affects me. Another friend told me of planting 10,000 tree seedlings, which have all died because of lack of rain. My friends are suffering.

I’m leaving for Zambia myself on Easter Monday for a four-week visit. There is a women’s project in Kitwe I am working with that I want to follow up on. I want to bring the women who gave me their stories for my book, “Laughter in the Shadows”, their personal copies. Now I worry what else I will find. I will keep you posted.

Maize is the staple crop in Zambia, from which most people derive their food. It’s planted at the beginning of the rainy season and harvested somewhere in May/June. The rainy season is supposed to start beginning of November and go to end of March, into April. The rains were late this year, in some areas not arriving until mid December, and ended far too early. Many maize cobs have not filled out, meaning there is not going to be an adequate harvest for its owners. Zambia has 1.4 million small farmers. Most of these depend on their maize crop for food security. There will be a good amount of rural families that will be going hungry this year. Hungry doesn’t mean missing a meal once in a while. A friend told me that many families regularly only eat every two days during the normal hunger period between crops, generally between January and March. What is going to happen when there is no or very little new crop?

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