For the first time in his life, Joffrey Mwanga is making bricks and is getting paid in food. "There are no alternatives; it's either food-for-work or hunger," he explains.
In a normal year, Mwanga harvests enough maize and groundnuts for his family plus some to sell. But in 1992, when the maize was knee-high and looking promising, drought hit southern Zambia. The farmer has eight children to feed, the oldest of whom is aged ten years, and his four-hectare farm yielded nothing because of the drought.
For days and days, Mwanga watched the cloudless sky in anguish; then he watched the maize wither and die. The family ate all its reserves, and then they ate the seeds. Of their four cows, three died of tick-borne corridor disease, and the remaining cow was sold when the grazing finished. Wild roots, fruits and leaves appeared in the only meal of the day. Both adults and children began to lose weight.
The Mwanga family survived, though, thanks to a food-for-work scheme implemented by the nearby mission at Macha, to enlarge the hospital. The food was provided by the UN World Food Programme (WFP). In previous years, the mission had trouble recruiting the 30 or so workers needed for the scheme, and those who volunteered were mostly women. But in 1992, more than 100 people, men and women alike, showed up every day asking to join.
At the height of the drought, in August 1992, 3,000 people were working for food near Macha Mission. Some walked 30 kilometres to get to the work site. Many were so hungry that they would pick up precious grains left on the ground after the trucks unloaded the relief food.
Among them was Joffrey Mwanga, who worked for five hours a day making bricks out of the rich red clay.
WFP-assisted food-for-work schemes were organised by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) all over drought-stricken Zambia. Each worker with five dependants received 75 kilogrammes per month, or one and a half bags...