Arecent World Food Programme survey has said the current El Niño-induced drought has put scores of millions of people in southern Africa, including Malawi, at risk of being affected by drought which has devastated agricultural production in the region.
But there is hope for Malawian farmers following introduction of drought-tolerant maize varities, courtesy of International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMY).
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), the agency is currently assisting nearly three million people in Malawi.
“The current drought situation in Malawi came on the back of a bad crop last year, due to flooding which affected parts of the country,” WFP’s southern Africa spokesperson David Orr said.
WFP warned on February 15 that about 49 million people were at risk of being affected by drought in southern Africa, with 14 million already facing hunger in the region.
The alarming drought and floods situation brought together Malawi’s Parliamentary Committee for Agriculture and Food Security at an International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) field day on April 6 to promote drought-tolerant maize at Minyanga Village in Mangochi District. The parliamentarians learnt about CIMMYT’s work on addressing climate change with breeding, and climate-smart agriculture interventions.
Under the USAid Feed the Future-Malawi Improved Seed Systems and Technologies (MISST) project, CIMMYT is implementing this project in a consortium of three other agricultural research centres. Feed the Future is the US government’s global food security initiative.
To popularise drought-tolerant maize varieties, the project is supporting pre-basic and basic seed production, field days and demonstration plots for smallholder farmers. It is also supporting capacity building of private-sector seed companies, agro-dealers and government seed inspectors to improve quality and seed marketing. The project also uses other technologies, such as conservation agriculture, a cropping systems based on the principles of reduced tillage systems, keeping crop residues on the soil, and diversification through rotation or intercropping maize with other crops.
Besides the members of Parliament, the smallholder farmers in the area appreciated the drought-tolerant maize varieties in comparison to the local maize varieties.
“In spite of the erratic and low rainfall received, we are surprised that the drought-tolerant maize varieties managed to produce large cobs,” said Mangochi South parliamentarian, Lilian Patel.
Added Patel: “As an MP of this area, I am aware and scared by the scale, magnitude and impact of the drought in Malawi, but drought-tolerant maize varieties, alongside other technologies, are effective in coping with drought and climate change.”
On the attributes of drought- tolerant maize varieties, Hannas Matola, the host farmer for the demonstration field, was equally excited by the performance of drought-tolerant maize varieties.
“The different maize varieities showcased here are unique in the way they cope with, and withstand the drought experienced this year compared to the other maize varieities in the neighbouring field,” said Matola.
Field day guest of honour, Senior Traditional Authority Jalasi appealed to members of the parliamentary committee to use the information collected to advocate for drought-tolerant maize varieties in debates in Parliament.
Chairperson of the parliamentary committee, Felix Jumbe, said: “The MISST project is a huge stepping stone for smallholder farmers in Malawi because the farmers have an opportunity to use improved and drought-tolerant varieities of different crop varieities like maize and legumes.”
Malawi relies heavily on agriculture for economic growth, with 80 percent of the country’s population engaged full-time in this activity. n