Preventing Famine

FAMINE: For 2 years the rains have failed and the consequent drought induced famine is worsening daily.  It has been estimated that about 7 million people, 39% of Malawi’s population, are at risk of starvation as a result.  The worst of this famine is just about to start and will not let up until the next maize (corn) crop can be harvested in late February, assuming that the rains don’t fail again. We at BTM are committed to continue our battle to help keep people from starving by raising money for direct food distribution in the Kasungu East District.  Moreover, these famines are recurrent cyclic problems caused by drought, yes; but also by excessive dependence on rain-needing low nutritional value maize as the main crop for consumption and tobacco as the main crop for making money.  We at BTM are also committed, therefore, to helping break the cycle of starvation and subsistence poverty due to drought and over dependence on these two crops.  For this reason we have undertaken our very successful goat pass-on project, our irrigation projects, and our microloan project.  This month we will also be instituting a new project, “Land Lease.”

(see below for more details about the status of all these projects).

“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind and BTM: If you haven’t read “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” and you’re interested in learning more about Malawi, please do so.  It so happens that the author, William Kamkwamba, who gave a TED talk in 2009 about his experiences, grew up in Wimbe, a village where BTM has held rural clinics.  In fact, the entire area of rural Malawi that William depicts in his book is the area where we work.  In this work, William describes what it was like to live through an earlier terrible famine in Malawi.  The description of people so desperate that they ate sawdust off the floor of the mill where maize is ground into flour in the hopes of getting even the slightest bit of nutrition is particularly moving.  William has graciously agreed to work with us to help raise awareness about the famine in Malawi and to raise money for our various projects dedicated to keep people from starving to death now while also trying to prevent future similar catastrophes.  To this end, we hope to fly William up to Massachusetts in January to give a series of talks about his life, Malawi, and famine.  If you have a venue in mind suitable for fundraising, we are open to suggestion. In addition, William has also graciously agreed to let us sell autographed copies of his book, which will now be available through this website, for $50 apiece

GOAT PASS-ON PROJECT UPDATE:  As of this date, 146 goats have been purchased and given to poor farmers.  The remaining 101 should be purchased and given away soon.  This week we will be sending money to purchase an additional 30 goats.

IRRIGATION PROJECT:  We have now successfully placed 4 treadle pump irrigation projects and thus helped farmers keep their crops alive and plant new crops despite the drought.  We will be sending money for 4 more similar irrigation projects this week.

MICROCREDIT BANK:  We have loaned money to 11 different women’s groups to help them start small businesses.  Most of the money loaned has been paid back with a small amount of interest (which will ultimately be used to administer the bank as well as add to principal available for lending).

“LAND LEASE”:  One of the underlying causes of the recurrent famines in Malawi is the dependence of the poorest farmers on two main crops, maize (corn) for eating and tobacco for making money.  The food staple of Malawi is a dish called Nsima (pronounced “seema”) which fills the belly but has little nutritional value.  According to William Kamkwamba’s book, this has been part of Malawi agricultural/cultural practice for only about 60 years.  If the poor farmers of Malawi could be persuaded to grow and consume more drought resistant, higher nutritional value crops, then perhaps the vicious cycle of famine/starvation could be broken.  Moreover, a better nourished populace is healthier and more disease resistant.  To this end, we at BTM are instituting a program in which we pay the poorest farm family $10 per month to set aside  a portion of their land large enough to grow drought resistant soybeans and other high nutrition drought resistant crops and plant 2 food-producing trees instead of planting maize or tobacco.  We will provide enough seed and “lease” enough land sufficient for the farmer to feed his family and hopefully have some left over for sale to the neighbors. The farm family will provide the labor, planting, tending, and harvesting the crops.

It is our hope that the $10 per month will help keep these farmers on their land and sustain them through the famine while changing both their behavior and that of their neighbors by convincing them to become reliant on soybeans and similar high nutritional value more drought resistant crops as the source of the flour used to make Nsima rather than maize.

We plan to support 30 farm families in this way for at least a year, as a place to start.  You cna help by donating $50 to help support 5 farm families for a month or $120 to support a single farm family for a year.  Thanks so much!