Not spared with effects of the prolonged dry spell, smallholder farmers in Balaka, Mangochi and Machinga on Wednesday asked government to provide them with additional and early maturing seeds.
But Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Allan Chiyembekeza, who led a team from his ministry on a crop assessment tour, encouraged the farmers to diversify, saying it would be a waste of time and resources to plant maize now.
He said: “Please, don’t plant those seeds because they will not germinate. You are wasting time and energy. It is better you plant something else like cassava or sweet potatoes.”
Speaking during the field visit, one farmer, Isaac Kachomo, who planted maize in his four-acre garden, said all his maize has wilted beyond redemption.
Said the farmer: “I planted maize on 1st December  when Mangochi first received rains and applied fertiliser as per instructions, but the rains never came [again]. They came on 28th December and again on 29th [December] I planted, but as you can see, I have lost all that.
“Now I am trying to rescue my tobacco seedlings by trying to plant again. I know I might not get anything, but what can I do? I have already lost so much. Even the cotton that I planted is all gone.”
During the Balaka leg of the field trip, district agriculture development officer (Dado) Palichi Munyenyembe said crops on about 35 000 hectares (ha) of the 110 000ha of arable land in the district have been destroyed.
He said farmers need to move quickly in crop diversification to salvage the situation.
Laisani Saini, a farmer in Balaka, said he had already started planting cassava as one way of diversifying.
According to a report from Machinga Agriculture Development Division (ADD), an outbreak of armyworms has destroyed maize crop for 809 families.
Reads the report: “Armyworms have also been reported in Zomba District and Machinga and also Balaka.”
In an interview during the tour, Chiyembekeza said he was aware that most fields were negatively affected in light of the dry spell, hence the field visit.
He said: “I came to see for myself the magnitude of the impact of the dry spell. Government is surely working on how best we can help you. This is not your problem alone, neither is it government’s problem. But we will see how we can help each other.”
Meanwhile, government has already started distributing cassava and sweet potato tubers for planting. This will at least help some farmers. What has happened is not good. But I believe that in all this, God has a purpose. Therefore, let us continue praying.”
The Nation observations and interviews with some ADDs in the past two weeks in districts such as Chikwawa and Chiradzulu showed that the country should brace for another sharp agriculture output in 2016 after the 30 percent slump in the 2015 season largely due to combined effects of drought and floods.
The crop underperformance has left more than 2.8 million people starving, and a K23 billion to feed them for three to six months from last October.
The food crisis has further destablilised an already troubled macroeconomic environment characterised by high inflation and interest rates, a depreciating kwacha and a widening budget gap. n