Thursday, April 30, 2009

Women feed themselves last, if ever

60 percent of thew world's malnourished are women. When food is hard to find or afford, most mothers give what they can to their children first, then eat whatever is left over, if there is any at all. But doing this could have dire consequences for their children in the long run. The lack of food could make their mother's ill and unable to provide for their families.

From The Monterey Herald we find this Associated Press story that profiles one such woman, writer Donna Bryson introduces us.

Phetsile Ndwandwe, short, skinny and 23 years old, accepts an apple from a development worker and nibbles at it, stripping the peel with her teeth before handing the fruit to Siphokazi, her baby daughter.

Siphokazi manages a bite of the apple, the first fruit she has had in months, then thanks her mother with a kiss.

Ndwandwe allows herself only the peel.

The mother's sacrifice, say health authorities, is typical, and creates a problem across the developing world. In hard times, these women tend to think of themselves last. This puts their families at risk, experts say, because malnourished mothers become malfunctioning mothers.

Ndandwe lost her sugar cane plot after falling behind in payments to a village cooperative. So she supports 15-month-old Siphokazi and her 4-year-old daughter, Setsebile, by working in a neighbor's garden in this village in southern Swaziland, taking her payments in vegetables.

Ancient traditions and modern circumstances often combine to place the burden on women to feed their poor families. Researchers say women do as much as 80 percent of the farm work in poor countries. And, with food and fertilizer prices rising, and AIDS and the global financial meltdown taking their toll, women like Ndwandwe are straining under growing responsibilities.

"We eat whatever we can get," said Ndwandwe, after describing a breakfast of corn meal porridge. She said her husband had gotten sick and died but wouldn't say what illness he had. When asked what the family would have for lunch, she said she had no idea.

She has seen the price of an apple rise 50 percent in recent months to the equivalent of about 15 cents. She used to take the bus to town to buy a bag of apples to sell to her neighbors, the small profits supplementing her garden work.

Now, she can't afford the bus fare — and few of her neighbors can afford fruit.
But in the face of adversity, solemn-faced Ndwandwe shows resilience.

A development group recently offered her a small plot of land, and she plans to grow vegetables that she hopes to sell to a hotel being built for visitors at a nearby game reserve.

"The vegetables will bring money," said Ndwandwe, who learned simple farming techniques during her elementary school education. "I am a good farmer."

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