Nutrition for All: Food Security in Malawi
Every year World Food Day is celebrated to promote global awareness and action for those who suffer from hunger and to highlight the need to ensure good nutrition for all.
2022 finds us with many issues affecting global food security: conflicts, climate change, rising prices, and international tensions. Despite this, we need to build a sustainable world where everyone, everywhere has regular access to enough nutritious food – no one should be left behind.
The job of supplying food to families falls, in most cases, in the lap of women. However, women remain widely underrepresented and disproportionately negatively affected by decisions made on their behalf and are too frequently the victims of multiple expressions of discrimination and violence.
In Malawi, this situation represents itself in persistent food insecurity, even during years of high food productivity. Generally, Malawians make their food choices based on culture, faith, and local traditions. It is thus important that any research about food and nutrition security needs to consider indigenous and religious practices.
Dr Dorothy Tembo, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Malawi, studies Faith and food in rural Malawi. She is comparing the situation in two rural villages of Machinga District, selected as representative of the country in aspects such as poverty levels, food security status and adherence to traditional culture.
The study takes place in Chimkwenzule village, predominantly Ngoni and Christian; and in Mlelemba village: Yao and predominantly Muslim - to provide a good contrast regarding the availability of food and utilisation based on culture and religion.
Both Christians and Muslims in Malawi are constrained by traditional prescriptions regarding what should be consumed and, more importantly, how food should be produced and processed. In addition, both groups deal with indigenous tribal beliefs and preferences which sometimes makes for food being available but not utilized, leading to food insecurity and malnutrition. This influence extends from the production of food to its accessibility, diet, preferences, and stability.
Food insecurity is a multifaceted problem that can adversely affect human well-being, including child and maternal health, the quality of children’s education, and family participation in productive work.
“Theological and religious studies are not done in a vacuum; rather, the studies aim to improve the lives of indigenous people in their communities. Food insecurity is a multifaceted problem that can adversely affect human well-being, including child and maternal health, the quality of children’s education, and family participation in productive work. This situation threatens the attainment of sustainable development goals,” says Dr Tembo.
The multidimensional nature of culture and religion means that plans for achieving household food and nutrition security will be futile if these underlying causes are not properly understood and included in national policies.
As part of her Future Africa Research Fellowship, she will evaluate the similarities and differences in food and nutrition security between Islam, Christian and indigenous beliefs, and practices. She will investigate how local diets can prevent malnutrition.
“We will also be able to understand how the beliefs govern critical phases of human life such as pregnancy and infancy. My approach draws from cultural studies, religion, and human ecology to understand the intersection between religion and culture and food systems as sites for negotiations instead of competing forces.”
Heidi Sonnekus | FAR-LeaF Program
The Future Africa Research Leader Fellowship (FAR-LeaF) is a fellowship programme, focussed on developing transdisciplinary research and leadership skills, to address the complex, inter-linked challenges of health, well-being, and environmental risks in Africa.