Ethel Chalamanda, 68, sits on her veranda in Ndogola Village, T/A Kapeni in Chigumula, pain and hopelessness written all over her face.
She says she fears for tomorrowÃ¢â‚¬â€what is she going to feed her nine-member family given the poor rains that have affected her crop.
Like most farmers, Chalamanda planted maize with the first rains in October.
But alas! The glory was short-lived. The rain only fell for a few days, followed by the scorching sun which dried up the sprouting maize.
Chalamanda was forced to uproot the wilting maize form her garden.
“Traditionally, we plant with the first rains. I wish I had known there would be a dry spell because I would not have wasted the only good seed that I had. The rains only fell in October and early November, but the whole December to early January was dry. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know what to do,” said Chalamanda.
Chalamanda says she has never had to worry about maize all her life. She has been a beneficiary of the subsidy programme since it was introduced, back in the days when it was called Ã¢â‚¬Ëœstarter packÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. In a normal growing season, Chalamanda says she harvests over 40 bags of maize, enough to feed her family for over a year.
“I am over 65 years old and doing nothing. I rely on my children, but one passed away last June and the other is now busy looking after the children of his deceased sibling and trying to earn a living. I cannot afford to buy additional seed,” she said.
From the few bags left from her last harvest, Chalamanda took some maize and replanted the local seed, but the maize is has not fared well either. She gambles with the idea of selling some of the bags she has left to buy fertiliser, but worries that she may not yield enough.
“I know this year there is going to be famine because I am not the only one experiencing this problem. Other than the maize problem, I have to think of two houses which have fallen because of the rains that were persistent this past week. I will just leave everything in the hands of God,” she lamented.
Chalamanda is right to say she is not the only person who has no hope for a good harvest. Many Malawians have fallen victim to the poor rains this growing season. Whereas some can afford to buy more seed, others cannot afford it.
Maize is a staple food in the country and its growth relies heavily on good rains.
Acting director of the Department of Climate Change and Metrological Services, Gray Munthali says before each growing season, the department shares its seasonal forecasts with the Ministry of Agriculture and it expects farmers to consult agricultural extension workers close to them on what crops to grow that particular year.
“Rains in Malawi are expected to fall between October and March in most parts of the Central and Southern regions and it extends to April in the Northern Region. There is still time. From the agricultural point of view, we cannot say much because we communicate with the ministry,” he says.
Munthali adds that his office is part of the Crop Estimates Committee and it is important for people to follow that information.
“We work with the Ministry of Agriculture in more ways because we understand the importance of rains and weather forecasts in agriculture.
“We are also part of the crop estimates committee that looks into how crops are expected to fair in relation to other factors including the rains. People must have an interest in that information and I cannot emphasise more the importance of talking with extension workers closest to the farmers,” he explains.
The Ministry of Agriculture says it is oblivious of the fact that there are some families that do not have seed for replanting. Principal Secretary in the ministry Erica Maganga said government distributed enough subsidy seed and those that needed additional seed contacted their extension workers.
“I doubt that [the problem] cuts across the country. It could just be one or two families because we gave out seed and we had cases where others communicated with their extension workers on needing more seed. In fact, the ministry has excess maize in its offices and we will discuss on what to do with the excess.
“These people that you are talking about should go and see extension workers that are close to them. That is all I can say,” said Maganga.
But the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) reveals that 201 854 people in 10 districts are food insecure.
In view of this, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fewsnet) shows people in Nsanje, Zomba, Ntcheu, Mwanza, Blantyre, Neno, Chikhwawa, Phalombe, Balaka and Chiradzulu will need relief food by March this year.