Arts, Culture & Media

Corn in Africa

In this Malawian town, these two teenage boys say they eat food made from cornmeal three times a day. This is the case for many in Malawi, and over 90% of Malawi's cultivated land is devoted to corn. But it wasn't always this way. Maize is native to the Americas. Maize first came to Africa in the 16th century and it became a key crop grown during the slave trade. But as recently as the 1950s, subsistence farmers didn't rely on maize for the main crop. But in 1960s, corn production really took off in Africa. This researcher says international aid agencies thought maize could be the key to food security for Africa, and a hybrid maize crop was introduced to Africa. In Asia, special varieties of rice transformed famine stricken countries and people talk about this period as Asia's green period. But it didn't turn out that way in Africa because many farmers couldn't afford the hybrid maize and fertilizer and droughts left the crops withered. The researcher says it all fell apart in places like Malawi. Because corn displaced other formerly reliable crops, the switch to corn left people hungrier than before. Malawi's dependence on corn has also made for meals that often lack complete protein and malnutrition and stunting. Malnutrition and HIV also make for a dangerous combination. A poor diet weakens the immune system, which makes fighting the AIDS virus even more difficult. There are, however, sharp differences as to how to tackle this problem. The Malawian government remains committed to the corn crop and government officials are trying to provide fertilizer to grow more corn, but this researcher is trying to get Malawians to grow a wider variety of crops. But he's had only limited success because people are reluctant to giving up corn. The researcher says the outside world did too good a job of convincing people that maize is a better crop. But a few are changing their attitudes.

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