A popular snack when food is bountiful, mice have become a vital source of protein in Malawi since the coronavirus outbreak aggravated food shortages and economic hardship.
Vendors waving long skewers of roasted field mice typically stand along Malawi’s main highway, targeting motorists travelling between the two largest cities, Blantyre and Lilongwe.
But these salty roadside bites also come in handy when times get tough.
Malnutrition and food insecurity are perennial issues in the small, landlocked nation, where more than half of the population live below the poverty line.
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The coronavirus, which has infected nearly 5,500 people and killed more than 170, has only exacerbated food shortages as many livelihoods have been curtailed by confinement measures.
For mice hunter Bernard Simeon, from Malawi’s central Ntcheu district, the pandemic has brought new complexities to his poverty-stricken life.
“We were already struggling before the coronavirus,” he told AFP shortly after preparing his daily mice catch.
“But now because of the disease, things have really gone bad.”
The 38-year-old is primarily a peasant farmer but he also hunts and hawks mice to supplement his livelihood. His wife Yankho Chalera and their child depend on his earnings.
“When times are hard we rely on mice to supplement our diet because we cannot afford to buy meat,” said Chalera, washing dishes after lunch.
Malawi’s government has promised a $50 (42-euro) monthly stipend for people who lost income due to anti-coronavirus regulations that restricted movement and business.
The scheme was meant to start in June, but last week the government said roll-out logistics were still being finalised.
Health officials have meantime urged the poorest communities in some rural villages to supplement their diets with free and naturally available resources.
Mice are “one of the sources of proteins,” said Sylvester Kathumba, principal nutritionist in the health ministry.