Mary Muhariwa 38, a widow and subsistence farmer from Katima Village T/A Kapichi,in Thyolo, has seven mouths to feed, besides her own, and she has no idea how she will sustain her family over the next 12 months.
She planted maize and pigeon peas on her family's one hectare land, last November, but erratic rains forced her to replant in January. Dry weather again wilted her crops and like many other farmers in the region, she had a paltry harvest, not to last her family a month.
A January 2012 survey conducted by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC), which comprises several government departments, UN agencies and NGOs, estimated that 1.6 million Malawians were food insecure and would need assistance through the lean season likely to extend into April and May because of the long dry spells.
The hunger situation has escalated further partly due to a steep hike in the price of the staple crop, maize, at the beginning of 2012 caused by, among others, shortages of fuel and foreign exchange.
With a poor harvest, it means Muhariwa will have to sell some of her assets in order to survive the year.
However, Muhariwa has nothing left to sale. She has sold all her livestocks and now depends on occasional casual labour in other people's fields for survival.
This is a way of life for thousands others like Muhariwa.
Many children are becoming malnourished and dropping out of school in many parts of the Southern region which had erratic rains last season.
With no money in their pockets, it most of them will not to buy any farm inputs for the next growing season.
"For us to be able to harvest enough, we need fertilisers but unfortunately we can't manage to buy a bag of fertilizer," laments Village Headman Katima.
In order to mitigate the levels of hunger among those affected, Gift of the Givers Foundation, a humanitarian relief organisation, felt the affected households needed both short and long term solutions to avert the effects of the food shortages.
As a short term solution, the Foundation through the Presidential Initiative for Hunger Reduction donated 10,000 bags of Maize Flour, which the government is distributing to the needy families and individuals affected by the drought.
However, Katima says the food distributed is not enough. He stresses that nearly 500 households (almost the entire village) needs food assistance, until the next harvest season in March-April 2013.
"We have hunger in this area. We need the government and cooperating partners to move in quickly, and not just give food to a few people, but the entire village." appeals the village head.
This is the third consecutive year that this drought-prone region has experienced insufficient rains, although Muhariwa said that in previous years they had managed to harvest a little.
Muhariwa's four-year-old kid, appears lethargic and Muhariwa says she is often sick. When there is no food at home, the older children skip school so they can help their mother work in other people's fields in return for a basinful of maize.
"We ate twice a day when we received the maize flour distributed through the government but now we eat once a day, just 'nsima' [hard maize-meal porridge] and wild vegetables." she said.
The Malawi Government launched the 2012/2013 Farm Input Subsidy Programme again aimed at increasing food productivity both at household and national levels.
However, not all small scale farmers have benefited from the subsidy.
Grace Baluwa from Tchenga Village in the area of T/A Simon in Neno District is among the many unlucky smallholder farmers who have not received government subsidies.
"I didn't receive any coupon because there are a lot of people this year and the coupons were few", cries Baluwa, a mother of seven.
Baluwa complains that she cannot afford to buy farm inputs from the market and that the money she earns by doing piece works is only enough for feeding her children.
To compliment government's efforts with a long term intervention, Gift of the Givers Foundation has rolled out a pro-poor program, distributing 500 bags of farmers packs meant to uplift the needy farming families.
Each pack contains 10kg bag of NPK, 10kg bag of UREA, 2kg maize seed and 2kg of legume seed.
The program is targeting 500 farmers in the districts of Thyolo, Mulanje, Phalombe, Zomba, Balaka and Neno.
The Chairman of the Gift of the Givers in Malawi, Gaffar Jakhura says this contribution shall boost the incomes of resource poor families.
"We feel our interventions continue to contribute positively to the well-being of the underprivileged people through the distribution of farm inputs enabling them to be food secure as a long term measure in improving the social life of people in Malawi," he says.
He stresss the need for cooperating partners to compliment government's efforts in achieving food sufficiency.
"Our programme is targeting those vulnerable farmers who have not received government subsidies. If many organisations can come in, we can achieve food security and improve the lives of our fellow Malawians who depend on agriculture for their survival," he challenges.
According to Jakhura, the distribution of farm inputs to the vulnerable farmers is aimed at encouraging and improving the living standard of families with a primary intention of making them food secure.
The Foundation is working hand in hand with District Agriculture personnel to ensure proper monitoring of the project as a way of achieving meaningful results at the end of the planting season.
District Agriculture Development Officer [Dado] for Phalombe, Rex Chapotoka observes that if well managed, and coupled with enough rainfall, the beneficiaries are likely to realise not less than 20 bags of maize weighing 50kg each.
"This Gift of the Givers initiative is very welcome. It is going to enhance food sufficiency in the area", he said.