Showing posts from February, 2016

Kaote: A community that poisoned itself to avoid starvation


AFTER a jolting drive down a winding sandy road, with tree branches whipping against our 4x4 vehicle, we finally arrive at Kaote village, about 60 kilometres south-east of Mongu, Western Province.
Soon we are surrounded by poverty-stricken faces of men, women and children, who emerge from behind mud-and-straw houses. The scene gets even gloomier with the appearance of a small boy in a wheelchair, his feet hanging listless. Across the drab homestead, a young woman hobbles towards us, her body supported by crutches. Another boy follows in similar fashion.
These are the victims of konzo, a paralysing condition caused by cyanide poisoning. Cyanide occurs naturally in cassava, and a monotonous diet of inadequately processed cassava damages the nervous system, causing permanent paralysis.
For generations, cassava has been the staple food for people in this region, which has poor soils to support other crops such as maize.
And the method for processing the cassava has been handed down …