Photo by Sam Biddle – Oxfam –Mums in Malawi meet their children’s nutritional needs

Mums in Malawi meet nutritional needs in a new way

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This is a sweet story of how mums in Malawi are helping to meet their children’s nutritional needs while earning money through something many Australian mums have as an easy go-to in their cupboards; peanut butter!

This picture above was taken in rural Lilongwe, Malawi: Sofereti (42, left) and Daisi Besamu (right) sort through a tray of peanuts before roasting them outside the solar powered Mwayi Wathu Peanut Butter processing plant in Lilongwe. Photo by Aurelie Marrier d’Unienville, Oxfam.

Meeting the challenges of malnutrition

Malnutrition is a challenge in Malawi. Families are still recovering from a terrible drought a few years ago that led to food shortages for 6.7 million people in the country. Access to food is difficult at the best of times. Chronically undernourished children and mothers suffer with diets low in calories and nutrients.

It’s a problem made worse by extreme weather, which has seen crops fail from long spells of drought and torrential flooding and even cyclones, like the destructive Cyclone Idai recently.

Torrential flooding in 2015, was followed by prolonged drought in 2016 — the worst in history. Successive maize (staple food) crops have failed, leaving communities desperate for food. While there was rain in some areas in 2017, others such as Balaka and Phalombe had continued dry spells and pest infestations. Some areas where rain has fallen then had it severe pest infestations and water-logging/inundation. As a result of this, many areas experienced more poor harvests, further affecting availability of food.

Oxfam is helping

To try and help those struggling with the food shortages, Oxfam has been running nutrition programs aimed at improving the diversity of food in households, particularly those with young children under age five. They’ve been teaching mothers and pregnant women valuable gardening and food processing skills.

One such program is the Mwai Wathu Peanut Butter Making Project. This is a cooperative that Oxfam has helped to set up with the Catholic Development Commission of Malawi with funding from the Scottish Government. The nutritional benefits of peanut butter are becoming better known in Malawi. It is now used in hospitals, and given to chronically undernourished mothers and children.

Solar panels and tools

Oxfam’s project, located in the Lilongwe district, has supplied locals with solar panels. They’ve also given batteries and the machine for turning groundnuts – grown by the community – into peanut butter. The project makes about 50 jars of peanut butter a day. Some women operate the machine and make the peanut butter. Others sell the finished product to the community including schools, the market and the hospital.

Mother of three, Sofereti Chikulu, 42, operates a peanut butter processing machine. She told Oxfam Australia on a recent trip to the project that the work had given her skills and confidence. “We used to think that technical jobs are men’s jobs only. But now we are doing the same jobs as men,” she says. “Once a woman is trained, they are empowered and the challenges that would have been affecting them fall away with time because they now can take care of themselves. I have also helped share the knowledge that I have on how the machine is operated with two other women in the group and that has helped them a lot.”

Rural Lilongwe, Malawi: Sofereti (42) collects the final product from the solar powered processing machine in the Mwayi Wathu Peanut Butter factory in Lilongwe. The project is funded by Oxfam Australia and partners. Photo by Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville

Sofereti collects the final product from the solar powered processing machine in the Mwayi Wathu Peanut Butter factory in Lilongwe. Photo by Aurelie Marrier d’Unienville, Oxfam.

Increasing self-esteem

Sofereti also says; “I am happy and thankful to God because I never knew I had this hidden talent in me up until I went through the course. I never thought that one day I would be in the position that I am now. Most people would dismiss us when we first started this project. They then realised later that this was serious business. There were visible developments. I am now able to pay school fees for my three children. I now have enough money to buy soap and other items. All this through the skill within me.”

Ongoing benefits

For 26-year-old Mkulila, a mother of four and also a member of the Mwai Wathu Peanut Butter Processing Group, the peanut butter has had multiple benefits. “There is a huge difference between now and before I joined the group, particularly on the financial side. I can now afford to buy things that I need at home. That is something that I was not able to do before I became a member of this group. My life has been transformed ever since becoming a member of the group. Now I can afford to improve my home as well as buy some of the necessities for the family like clothes and other items.”

Rural Lilongwe, Malawi: Daisi Besamu tosses a cooling tray of roasted peanuts outside the solar powered Mwayi Wathu Peanut Butter processing plant in Lilongwe. Photo by Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville, Oxfam.

Daisi Besamu tosses a cooling tray of roasted peanuts outside the solar powered Mwayi Wathu Peanut Butter processing plant in Lilongwe. Photo by Aurelie Marrier d’Unienville, Oxfam.

“I feel very happy inside. Apart from selling the peanut butter to others, we also buy it for use at home. We like adding it into a porridge that we give to our children. That has improved the lives of our small children. Seeing the health of our children improve makes us happy! I am not happy as a mother when I know that the child is malnourished. When I take my child for a health check now, I feel happy because there has been improvement in the way the child is growing and gaining weight. All due to the peanut butter project.”

Thanks to peanut butter these women are helping to improve their lives. They’re also enriching the lives of their children and others in their community. Quite an accomplishment for the humble spread!

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