Malawi’s prolonged dry spell

Published: 07-MAR-05

Malawi is expected to face its worst ever-dry season this year. By Tione Andsen

Environmental experts in Malawi have warned of a prolonged dry season this year that could spell disaster to the country’s vibrant agricultural sector.

Farmers have not seen rain for the past 26 days since the beginning of February, this year and signs of poor harvesting are to be expected. Crops like maize, cotton and rice are drying up and the government has increased the price of fertilizers. The Malawi Meteorological Department (MET) has warned that the dry spell could be the beginning of a prolonged draught yet to come.

Donald Kadonyo, the director of MET was quoted in a Malawian newspaper saying that a prolonged dry spell during the month of February could be disastrous. Dr Andrew Daudi the Secretary for Agriculture, said in a local daily newspaper, “We are expecting a very poor harvesting season since the maize crop is really under stress and some of it are at wilting stage. We are not expecting much,”

Initially the MET department had predicted that rainfall patterns for the cropping season in most parts of the country would be positive with normal rains in the months of January and February. This has been proven wrong.

Already more than 200,000 people are starving due to lack of food in the southern district of Chikwawa. Lawrence Makonokaya, the district commissioner for Chikwawa, says the district’s 400,000 inhabitants heavily rely on rain for food and agriculture.

The Ministry of agriculture estimates that maize harvest this season will be at 1.73 million metric tonnes, while cassava will be at 2.6million metric tonnes and 1.6 million metric for sweet potatoes.

The evangelical Lutheran development programmee (ELDP) has launched a K46.5 million Relief Famine and Recovery Mitigating Programme to ease the worsening food crisis in the country but this has not helped much.

Meanwhile the government will import 40,000 metric tones of maize to beef up its stocks in the strategic reserve currently standing at 50,000 metric tonnes. The District Agriculture Development Officer (DADO) for Salima Shila Kang_mbe said the crop situation in the district was not promising.

She said added that the dry spell had a negative impact on the agricultural sector. “We are now trying to encourage winter cropping as a means to cope with the situation,” she said.

Kang_ombe hinted that over 42,000 people will be affected by the dry spell this season alone, “We are encouraging farmers to grow drought restitant crops such as cassava and sweet potatoes to offset the effects of the dry spell.”

She added that more than 2 million farming families were earmarked for the Targeted Input Programme (TIP) where they will be supplied with free farm inputs.

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