Monday, January 03, 2011
Malawi is basking in an unprecedent maize green revolution. Even in normally lean months like January, maize which is the staple food is readily found in common markets at the unusually average price of 2000 Malawi Kwacha (about 12 US dollars) per 50 kg bag. Normally at this time of the year maize becomes relatively scarce and prices double.
This success is attributed to mainly two factors: the fertilizer subsidy programme championed by the Malawi government under the leadership of Prof. Bingu wa Mutharika and the promotion of irrigation under the Malawi Green Belt initiative which has seen Malawians harvesting maize twice (ie from the normal rain dependent farming season and irrigation based dry season harvest). As a Malawian, I am very proud that the days of hunger in the country are gone. God gave Malawians so many perennial rivers and we Malawians have realised that the rivers we have can be put to optimal use to combat hunger in the country, thanks to President Mutharika's vision of Malawi Green Belt Initiative.
Others have talked about the sustainability of the maize subsidies but for me my major concern is the nutrition value of maize. I am not a nutrition expert but based on my readings in literature, it is well documented that maize is lower in nutritive value than other foods like bananas, cowpeas (nandolo in Malawian vernacular), etc. Malawians traditionally believe that they have eaten when they have eaten a maize flour based food known as nsima. Unfortunately this food is just starch which just provides calories. It therefore my prayer that the government of Malawi to embark on maize nutrition fortification initiative to improve the nutrition status of our highly valued staple, maize. It should be a requirement that all the maize flour sold on the markets should be fortified with right amounts of minerals and vitamins. It is already being enforced that all salt sold on the market is fortified with iodine. So we can also adopt a similar approach to maize flour.
The following excerpt from the Food and Agricultural Organization website regarding maize diets caught my attention:
"In nutritive value maize is quite similar to other cereal grains. In fact, it is somewhat superior to wheat flour and only to a small extent below rice. These are the three cereal grains most consumed by people throughout the world. The problem with maize lies in the diet of which it is a component, a diet mostly deficient in the kind of supplementary foods necessary to upgrade the nutrients ingested in relatively large amounts of maize. Maize-consuming populations would be nutritionally better off if the maize consumed had the lysine and tryptophan genes of QPM or if it were consumed with a sufficient amount of protein foods such as legumes, milk, soybeans and amaranth seeds and leaves. This, however, will not occur in the near future, and therefore other measures should be taken. In this section, a number of possibilities, the results of studies to improve the nutritional quality of maize-based diets, are presented."
More at http://www.fao.org/docrep/t0395e/T0395E0c.htm