Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Allan Chiyembekeza on Thursday described the dry spell that has hit the twin Shire Valley districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje as dire and requiring immediate intervention.
The minister said this in an interview in Nsanje after visiting the Shire Valley Agricultural Development Division (ADD) where he met farmers in several irrigation schemes, clusters, catchment areas and Makhanga Extension Planning Area (EPA).
Said Chiyembekeza: “I came here to assess the situation and probably try to determine the impact of this dry spell. The assessment is that the situation is indeed dire because there is literally nothing growing both in Nsanje and Chikwawa.
“Worse still, even in places where we have an irrigation scheme where farmers try to grow maize, that maize has not performed because there is not enough water flowing from the river.”
The minister said at the end of the day, as government, they will assess the national picture of the crop situation as it is not only Nsanje and Chikwawa that have been affected by the dry spell.
However, Chiyembekeza said the situation being in the Shire Valley is not unusual for the Shire Valley ADD because they face the same problems almost every year.
Speaking on an armyworm outbreak that has affected maize crops in some districts, Chiyembekeza said chemicals were available as well as maximum sprayers to contain the outbreak.
Briefing the minister on the crop situation, Black Masakha, a lead farmer from Mpembamoyo cluster in Makhanga EPA, said farmers in the area do not have hope at the moment because they planted early when the first rains had just happened and since then, rains have not fallen again.
He said, as of now, they are waiting to uproot the maize crops in their gardens and wait until when rain comes so that they should plant drought-resistant crops such as cassava, sweet potatoes, pigeon peas and chitowe.
According to a report on effects of dry spells on food security in Shire Valley ADD given to the minister, the food situation this season is worse compared to same time last year as the last fortnight, the number of farming households without food of their own was 43 462 out of 215 216, representing 20.1 percent while at the same time last season, there were 31 798 farming households without food of their own out of 170 851, representing 19 percent.
The report said the situation is worse in Nsanje than in Chikwawa District and the problem has been attributed to dry spells, too much rainfall and floods that were experienced during the growing season that resulted in low production for both rain-fed and irrigated crops.
On Wednesday, the minister and his team toured Machinga, Mangochi and Balaka districts where they assessed the crop situation. During the tour, the team saw largely wilted crops due to a prolonged dry spell. n