Tag Archives: food insecurity

“Meating” halfway – The growing importance of soy in Malawi

Skewered meat sizzles on kickstand grills along the main M1 highway, a whole pig is slaughtered in an open-air butcher’s market shack, a farmer herds wealth-representative cattle down a maize-sidled byway and a “road runner” free range chicken dodges potholes and traffic – in a culture where cows have long symbolized status, slaughtered to honour guests and in the north traded as a dowry to marry off daughters, making the conscious choice to live a vegetarian lifestyle in Malawi is about as rare as an order of steak tartare.

But a Development Aid from People to People in Malawi (DAPP in Malawi) program is working to change the mindset and the menu.  In 2007, with support from the United States Department of Agriculture, the American Soya Bean Association and the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health, DAPP in Malawi began training Total Control of the Epidemic (TCE) field officers to promote soy in communities affected by HIV/AIDS.  Today over 100 of their HIV/AIDS support groups have been trained to cultivate and cook with soy in the preparation of other local foods.

Recipes promoted through the DAPP – TCE soya program include banana and soy sausage, masamba a soya (soy vegetables), khofi wa soya (soy coffee), and mkaka wa soya (soy milk), and are made available on print paper with easy-to-follow directions; “Boil 3 cups water, wash (1 cup of) soya in cold water, don’t put the soya into the hot water all at once but little by little like you do with rice,” begins the soy milk instructions.

Goliyati Village resident Mary Bilila serves up a selection of newly-mastered soy recipes during a DAPP - TCE HIV/AIDS support group meeting. Photo by Karissa Gall.

Based on the nutritional value of 1 cup of boiled soybeans, the DAPP – TCE soy milk recipe would provide about 300 calories, 28 grams of protein, 10 grams of fiber, and 20 grams of fat.  The soy milk would also provide essential vitamins and minerals, with 1 cup of boiled soybeans providing 50 percent of the recommended daily intake of iron, 40 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D-balancing phosphorus, and 4 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C.

According to DAPP in Malawi Partnership Officer Nozipho Tembo, the nutritional benefits of soy foods could make a substantial difference in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  The disease is known for causing micronutrient deficiencies – vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin D, carotenoids, selenium, and iron in the blood – which in turn speed the progress of the infection, and in 2006 a study conducted by Médecins sans Frontières in Malawi found that patients with mild malnutrition were twice as likely to die in the first three months of treatment, and patients with severe malnutrition were six times as likely to die as patients with a healthy body weight.

“Over the years we have learnt that soya is high in proteins which can be substituted for meat, cheese and fish, of which some people in rural areas can’t afford to have on their daily meal,” said Tembo, adding that 1 kg of soya costs MK200 (CAD0.80) compared to MK800 (CAD3.00) for 1 kg of meat.  “The DAPP – TCE project teaches the communities to adhere to a well-balanced diet and this is one way for people in rural areas to get proteins in their meals.”

To support existing programming and expand into other areas of Malawi, Tembo said DAPP in Malawi and TCE will be engaging seed companies for seed donations.

“The demand is high… the people who are (HIV) positive are living a healthier life whenever they adhere to the information given to them about soya and how to prepare it,” she said.  “Now the challenge will be to provide soya seed for the people to plant in their fields.”

Rationing Out Equality

Dakurah Rubby at Sankana Junior High School

Dakurah Rubby is from Sankana, a small rural community in the Upper West region, where many families(including her own) depend highly on agriculture and small-scale farming as their primary source of income. Dakurah is 14-years-old and the eldest girl in her family. Typically, she would have been withdrawn from school over her brothers to work for the household or the farm. Instead, she will be entering her final year of junior high school (JHS) in September, leading her closer to realizing her hopes of becoming a nurse one day. Dakurah is one of the 10,000 JHS girls from food-insecure communities benefitting from monthly take-home rations (8kg of cereals, 2 litres of oil and 1kg of iodized salt in each package) donated by the World Food Programme (WFP) over the past two years.

The Upper West region is one of the least developed areas in Ghana. Its population, along with the Upper East and Northern region, makes up 70 per cent of the 28.5 national poor living on one dollar US or less a day. Factors such as a low, or “lean”, production season (March- September) and susceptibilities to adverse weather conditions (floods and droughts) prevent abundant year-round harvests in the region, leaving many families unable to access sufficient and nutritious food or meet their other basic needs. For many, education is considered a luxury, and not a necessity when battling these realities. When sacrifices need to be made, it is most often the girls who bare more of the burdens.

Matilda Bannerman Mensah, head of the Girl Education Unit at the Ghana Education Services, adds , “there are also traditional socio-cultural practices that put preference on boys’ education rather than girls’.” According to Mensah, arranged and early marriage, female genital circumcision and bondage are degenerative practices that are still predominant (particularly in the deprived rural areas) and constitute some of the other barriers preventing a girl’s access to education.

Food assistance in the Upper West aims to alleviate the effects of poverty, hunger and malnutrition, and the inequalities such conditions can lead to. Therefore, WFP’s take-home ration programme not only provides an income transfer and food relief to girl recipients and their families, but encourages their equal access and regular participation in school. In order to qualify for the ration package, girls are obligated to attend school 85 per cent of each month. According to the WFP, girls’ retention rates have doubled to reach 99 per cent attendance, with significantly fewer girls dropping out of assisted schools and continuing to higher education. The programme gives many females the chance to receive an education and pursue their dreams; opportunities many of them in the rural areas normally do not have. Even families who maintain very traditional beliefs are beginning to see the importance in formally educating their girls. “Most parents know that they will benefit more by sending a girl to school,” says Rosalia Babai, the Upper West Regional Coordinator of the Girl Education Unit.

Male and Female Students at Sankana Junior High School

As helpful as it is, the programme is unfortunately in its final phase and is supposed to be replaced by the National School Feeding Programme by the end of the year. Vital programs such as school feeding, that help address basic human needs, and that improve people’s access to equal participation and opportunity in society are crucial to the development of the country. As the National Government aims to develop Ghana into a middle-income country (by reducing poverty and accelerating the country’s economy), it (together with development partners) will need to strengthen the systems supporting its people, particularly the youth, who make up 50 per cent of the country’s population- Ghana’s capable workforce and it’s future leaders. For the northern population, further social support is needed to alleviate the burdens of poverty and to allow people (young and old, male and female) to live dignified lives.