Rapid-Response Biofortified Food Project Delivers Urgent Support to Malawi Women and Girls
April 28, 2021

HarvestPlus is implementing a rapid-response biofortification project in six countries across Africa and Asia to help address the immediate malnutrition threats from the COVID-19 pandemic. In Malawi, the project’s beneficiaries include two particularly high-risk groups: women with HIV/AIDS, and pregnant teens. 

These two humanitarian interventions in Malawi, taking place in April and May 2021, are expected to meet the needs of around 6900 girls, women, and their family members with biofortified maize, and 12,000 households in total with biofortified maize seeds. 

Meals to women with HIV/AIDS

The project has been working with the Ekwendeni Hospital AIDS program (EHAP) at the Ekwendeni Hospital, a community-based organization in northern Malawi, to provide people with HIV/AIDS with about 100 metric tons  of emergency vitamin A Maize (VAM) grain, flour, and seed. About 80 percent of the beneficiaries are women. 

During the distribution drive in mid-April, the guest of honor, the Reverend Timothy TK Nyirenda, said: "The maize and seeds donated will go a long way in sustaining beneficiaries’ diets and livelihoods, for they have no money and cannot afford to eat nutritious meals. So, this donation has come at the right time, and we are grateful to HarvestPlus and the Government of Canada.”

The hospital’s Medical Officer, Dr. Donatten Twizelimana said: “We are lucky that we got the donation of this nutritious maize for the beneficiaries and also seeds that would be grown for healthy diets. When you have health, you face fewer problems.” 

Pregnant teens get meals via schools

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the closure of schools in Malawi for seven months in 2020, and during this period, over 12,000 cases of teenage pregnancies were recorded. Most of these girls are now suffering from destitution and severe malnutrition. The girls’ families are mostly low-income; they have difficulty providing for the girls and are not ready to meet the challenge of pregnancy. 

In collaboration with Malawi’s Ministry of Education, HarvestPlus’ implementing partner Nascent Solutions is working to ease the burden on Malawi’s public health system by providing food assistance to school pupils, including these pregnant teens. Nascent Solutions will deliver food supplies to the schools and ensure that each pupil receives a 50 kilogram (kg) bag of grain. The pregnant girls can take their bags home to meet their dietary needs.  The program will support  940 pregnant teenage girls and their families (in total around  4,700 people) under the school feeding initiative. This intervention through Nascent helps ensure these women receive essential food and nutrition during this important prenatal period, and are supported to return to school after breastfeeding.

The project is also reaching women-headed households (around 4,000 people in total) under other humanitarian food and seed distribution programs. These beneficiary women are selected based on government records showing that they are among the most vulnerable segments affected by the pandemic and the precarious economic conditions that it has caused. 

The project in Malawi will also seek to address social constraints faced by female family members in Malawi by creating awareness about the high levels of malnourishment among women, especially pregnant women. The school feeding programs aimed at young expectant mothers will also encourage teenage women to continue their education post-pregnancy and incentivize the teens’ families to send them back to schools.

Humanitarian Seed Distribution Program

The HarvestPlus-run project, “An Integrated Food Systems Approach to Build Nutrition Security,” focuses primarily on smallholder farming families by enabling them to grow nutrient-rich biofortified staple crops and improving these families’ linkages to markets where they can sell surplus harvest. The project, funded by the Government of Canada, aims to benefit 7.8 million people in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and the Democratic Republic of Congo over an 18-month period.

In Malawi, the assistance for teen mothers and women and men with HIV/AIDS is only one element of the work under way.  Also planned in 2021 is a campaign to distribute free vitamin A maize seed to 12,000 farming families, benefiting about 60,000 family members. 

For more information about the Integrated Food Systems project, contact: harvestplus@cgiar.org.

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