What are the Malawian six food groups?

What are the Malawian six food groups?

The tour of facilities at the grand opening ceremony of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative Training and Development Centre in Malawi included a review of Malawi’s Six Food Groups.In the hot sun of midday, cooperative members showed us samples of the six food groups, telling us the benefits of each. The cooperative is more than just a savings and loans financial cooperative. They also train the member families in nutrition and encourage a varieties of foods.

Cooperative members show us samples of the six food groups. Small fish from Lake Malawi are an inexpensive form of protein.

So what are the six groups?

  1. Vegetables (leafy greens, kale, tomato, carrots)
  2. Fruits (apples, oranges, lemons)
  3. Legumes and Nuts (groundnuts/peanuts, beans, peas, cowpeas/black-eyed pea)
  4. Animal Foods (meat, eggs, milk)
  5. Fats (cooking oil, soybeans, groundnuts/peanuts, can also include milk)
  6. Staples (grains, maize, rice, cassava)

Vegetables are a good source of vitamins and minerals. Staples and fats provide the body with energy. Proteins from animal foods and legumes are good for muscles, skin, hair, and bones.

Almost all the cooperative members are also farmers. In addition to their small businesses they have farms and kitchen gardens.

On our tours of several member farms, we saw lots of maize (corn) stalks piled in the middle of fields after harvest. We saw sacks of peanuts (groundnuts). We saw chickens running around yards, and goats, cows, and pigs penned behind houses. Peas are planted in between rows of maize. Cassava fields, dry and dusty, thrive on little rain. Of the six groups, I think it’s only fruits that I didn’t see growing in the village.

A cooperative member in Malawi demonstrates how to dig up the cassava roots.

In a place of low food security, cooperative members are proud when they are able to provide varied diets for their families. In her testimony of SIA business success, Love Vinkhumbo told us that she was able to provide for her son’s university education and that, “I am now eating the six food groups!”

Love Vinkhumbo told us that after receiving her SIA Small Business Fund grant, “I am now eating the six food groups!”

Changing Food Guidelines in North America

Learning about Malawian nutrition guidelines made me realize how little I remember about the US Food Guidelines. After some Googling, it seems there is a new set of US guidelines for 2015-2020 with a plate instead of a food pyramid – one that ignores oils, and has dairy as a distinct category.

The 5 food groups in the US Guidelines.

Just this week, Health Canada released their preliminary new food guide for public comment. It seems they are moving in the direction of the Malawi guidelines, encouraging the consumption of legumes and other plant-based protein and removing the dairy category. The new guidelines also affirm that a wide variety of foods are the foundation of a healthy diet.

What do you know about the food guidelines in your area? Do you eat from the five or six food groups regularly? When was the last time you had black-eyed peas?

A Malawian food not part of the healthy food groups…so tasty though!

“I didn’t even have basic soap”

“I didn’t even have basic soap”

When we met Wilson Nkosi at his shop in the Manyamula Saturday market last month, he started by telling us what his life had been like before 2012. “I used a grain bag as a blanket at night. We didn’t even have basic soap for washing. There was no salt for our food.” Wilson, along with his wife, Joyce, and their two children, Ellen (18) and Mateyo (15), were struggling. They tried to get a loan from the micro-loan bank in the nearby city and they were turned away because they didn’t have enough collateral.

In the narrative of their lives, 2012 marks a turning point. That January was when they attended a Spirit in Action Small Business Fund training workshop and put together their business plan for a grocery shop. They wrote on their plan that they could contribute sacks to the business because this is something they already had at home.

Wilson and Joyce used the $100 initial grant to buy bulk quantities of sugar, soap, and cooking oil. After the first month, they had earned $50 in profit, with high demand for these basic necessities in the small town!

“If you are going to do business, you have to write it down. From there you can calculate the profit and see what to invest. That is why our business is growing.”

Reinvesting for Success

By the end of 2013, the Nkosi family had managed to save $180. They calculated that they had reinvested over $400 in expanding the business over the previous two years. Wilson told us about the value of record-keeping for success, “If you are going to do business, you have to write it down. From there you can calculate the profit and see what to invest. That is why our business is growing.” 

Most Small Business Fund (SBF) recruits have never kept records for any of their informal business activities. One of the primary roles of the local SBF trainer and coordinator is to talk to the new business owners about the importance of tracking sales and expenses.

The Tiyezgenawo Groceries Shop we visited now has much more to offer than just soap, sugar, and salt. They also have cooking oil, hair and skin products, snacks, and other treats. The Manyamula Market was buzzing with people and Wilson had many people wanting to buy from him.

On the road into Manyamula on market day. Women carry baskets full of produce from their farms – tomatoes, kale, peanuts. Men ride bikes with chickens tied to the handlebars.

Sharing the Gift

Without prompting, Wilson also told us about how they’ve Shared the Gift with another family. In addition to their shop, the Nkosis also have a tomato farm. (Everyone has a farm in Manyamula.) As a way of paying it forward, they shared tomato seeds and fertilizer with two families. “Those friends are doing well,” said Wilson, clearly honored to have been able to help them.

Telling us how his own life has changed, Wilson proudly told us, “We now have blankets. We take tea and can add sugar.” These simple indicators mark real change in the quality of life for families in the SBF program. Life is a little more comfortable. They are healthier and they feel better about the future. All this, sparked with a $150 SIA grant!

Wilson and Joyce in their tomato field.

“Within you is the Power”

“Within you is the Power”

Let us not be tempted to think of SIA’s partners and Small Business Fund members as weak or helpless. In the West, we hear many stories of how desperate situations are in some African countries. Del Anderson, SIA Founder, never believed that hopelessness was the whole story.

Meeting people face-to-face, shaking their hands, and hearing theirs amazing stories of struggle and success, I felt and connected with that power – that Divine spark – in each one of them. One of the inspirational reading that Del often sent was, “Within You is the Power,” by L. Stevens Hatfield. Words from this piece popped into my mind frequently throughout the trip.

May you be similarly inspired by the Power of God that is in each one of us, no matter where we are born, or how we organize our family structure, or make a career.

Tanya with Salome Lowole, Small Business Fund leader in Malawi. She is a widow and baker.

Within You is the Power

Excerpt from the work by L. Stevens Hatfield

Within you is the power. Within you is the power to face life and all that lies before you with unshakable assurance that “the Lord your God is in the midst of you” (Deut. 7:21 RSV).

No matter what yesterday’s problem was, within you is the power to live this day in complete at-one-ment with God. As you walk in the understanding of divine love today, you are strengthened, renewed and blessed for within you is the power to meet life triumphantly, radiantly, gloriously.

Is your body in need of healing? Know that the spirit of God within you heals you. Are you frustrated or concerned over some important business or personal decision? Know that the wisdom of God within you illumines and makes the way before you clear. Whenever you surrender any problem to God, all things are made right and you are blessed and guided to paths of peace, freedom, health, and happiness.

Manyamula COMSIP Bookkeeper and all-around entrepreneur and innovator, Mbwenu Chirwa, with his son. (Malawi)

Within you is the power. If you have some need, if you are trying to reach a decision about something, talk to God about it as you would talk to a loving parent or friend. Give your problem to God. God is your unfailing help, your guide, your source, your supply.

Is there a difficulty in your life that seems insurmountable? Turn your attention away from it. Be still and know that within you is the power to solve all problems. Know that God’s wisdom is always available.

Within you is the power. At times your path may seem unfamiliar and strange to you, but God knows the way. You can rely on God. If you meet difficult situations, call on the presence of God within you. God will answer you. God will be with you.

Jesus, the Christ, demonstrated the glorious truth that the power to overcome all difficulties come from within. He drew on this power to heal, to comfort, and to bless. He said, “The Kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Lk. 17:21). In this kingdom is the power that guides, directs, and inspires you.

Within you is the power to live and work each day with a sense of greatness and purpose in your heart. Keeps your mind stayed on the power.

Members of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative and Maize Mill, sharing a song and dance with me.

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