- Warn against too much reliance on maize imports
- Encourage agriculture remedies to end hunger
Agriculture experts have challenged government to promote winter cropping, describing it as the most viable solution to food shortage that has hit Malawi for two years running.
The call comes on the heel of a presidential declaration of the State of National Disaster on Tuesday meant to mobilise local and international help in the wake of poor maize harvest due to prolonged drought this year, especially in the South and Centre.
Last year, President Peter Mutharika also declared the State of National Disaster when it was established that 2.8 million people were in danger of starving due to combined effects of drought and floods that hit many parts of the country.
The cost of relief and recovery was put at K500 billion, most of which was expected to come from donors. Crop estimates this year indicate a lesser yield than last year.
Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) associate professor of irrigation, Kenneth Wiyo said in an interview winter cropping-additional farming conducted after the regular farming season-can alleviate the food shortage but it has to be done while the soil has adequate moisture.
Said Wiyo: “The MoA [Ministry of Agriculture] has to act fast to mobilise resources such as seeds and fertilisers that should reach farmers as soon as possible before the moisture levels drop.
“At the moment, the window for winter cropping is between April and August. Beyond September, there is not much that can be achieved because most of the rivers, dams and wells will have dried up by then. But the challenge is always the bureaucracy which I think must be cut under our present circumstances.’’
Wiyo suggested the President could either call Parliament to pass a provisional budget for response or use his executive powers to push for allocation to the winter cropping activities.
He said apart from planting tubers which do not require high moisture content, short season maize varieties could also be planted.
‘‘The rainfall patterns show that the North has received more rain than the other two regions. The government should put politics aside and channel more resources where there is a lot of potential,” Wiyo said.
Cisanet executive director Tamani Nkhono-Mvula said on Tuesday government should find means of getting resources for winter cropping.
“With the current challenges, investment into winter cropping is a must and we believe that the MoA will look for resources either from Treasury or maybe through the Disaster Management vote to promote winter cropping,” Nhkono-Mvula said.
“With the declaration of the State of National Disaster by the President, there should be resources coming in that should be used for that purpose either from the donor community or from the civil society,” he added.
He also cautioned against too much reliance on importing maize from neighbouring countries, saying hunger has stretched over a large part of the southern African region this year.
“The hunger crisis that has hit Malawi has also affected almost all the countries in the region, so we must not be banking on food imports because the food will either be very expensive or may not be available at all, hence the need to produce our own,” Nkhon-Mvula said.
When declaring the State of National Disaster, Mutharika appealed for humanitarian relief assistance from the international community, relevant United Nations (UN) agencies, non-governmental organisations, the private sector as well as citizens of goodwill to alleviate suffering among those adversely affected by the food shortage.
‘‘With the increased maize deficit more people will need food aid for the whole 2016/17 consumption year,’’ Mutharika said.
The second round Agricultural Production Estimates Survey which the Ministry of Agriculture undertook between February and March this year estimates maize production for the season at 2 431 313 metric tonnes (MT), representing a 12.4 percent drop, from last year’s final round estimates of 2 776 277 MT.
The country’s maize requirements for human consumption, seed, stock feed and industrial use is 3 205 135 MT. A third round estimates will ascertain actual deficit in June this year.
Farmers Union of Malawi president Kapichira Banda this week implored government to do a soul-searching on its overall response to the hunger crisis.
He said if there is a time that Malawi needed winter cropping than any time before, then it is now.
Said Banda: ‘‘At a time like this, we should have had agricultural advisers deep into the village settings bringing fast maturing maize varieties and methods to farmers.
‘There is a big need to ensure that winter cropping is done using the moisture still present in the soil before it evaporates in the coming months. Much focus should have been put on this as relief aid is unpredictable.’’
Principal Secretary for Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Erica Maganga said on Wednesday the ministry will soon announce its response to the food shortage calamity in the country.
But the ministry’s revised estimates in the mid-year budget review do not show any significant investment in irrigation or winter cropping.
In the revised budget of K908 billion, the ministry’s initial budget of K133.7 billion received a minimal increase of K582 million which it shared with the Office of the President and Cabinet (for Democracy Consolidation) and Ministry of Education (Tertiary Education).
Of the initial K133.7 billion, K64 billion was for the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp).
In his address to the nation on Tuesday President Mutharika did not mention winter cropping either.
But Maganga said the new minister will next week unveil a plan on how to salvage something out of this growing season, President Mutharika last week reshuffled the Cabinet, and among other changes, dropped Allan Chiyembekeza as minister of Agriculture and replaced him with Goerge Chaponda who was heading Foreign Affairs.
‘‘I would, not want to pre-empt what the minister will to say but I can assure you that we have prepared something,” Maganga said. n