There is a glimmer of hope for subsistence farmers in most parts of the country as this year’s crop outlook is showing signs of positive output despite hitches experienced at the onset of the growing season, according to agriculture experts.
Principal Secretary for Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Gray Nyandule-Phiri, said on Thursday in an interview that the officers are right now in the field conducting the first round crop assessments for 2018/19 and results might be out in the first week of February.
The results of the first round crop estimates provide early warning signals on national food security for policy makers to make informed decisions regarding impending food situation.
But out of the country’s eight agricultural development divisions (ADDs) we talked to over the week, five painted a brighter picture of the crop situation, saying unless something weird happens, there is potential for a bumper harvest.
“So far so good,” saidShire Valley ADD programmes manager Taurayi Mlewa. “At least, there is hope for farmers in the Lower Shire because the crop situation is really promising compared to last year this same period. Lower Shire is known for floods disaster but the situation as of now remains tolerable,” he explained.
Kasungu ADD (George Kapelemera), Karonga ADD (Aggrey Kamanga), Lilongwe ADD (Sheila Kang’ombe) and Benati Banda of Machinga ADD painted the same picture.
Said Kang’ombe: “Although we have been experiencing floods, they have not been devastating. So comparing to same time last year, there is big hope but we don’t know about the coming days.”
Kapelemera said a number of farmers under Kasungu ADD accessed coupons and applied fertiliser in good time; hence, “the crops’ tone is very good and there is very big hope.”
On his part, Kamanga said they would be conducting first round crop estimates next week but in general terms “the crop situation in Chitipa is very promising but in Karonga it is still young because we plant late due to raining patterns.
“We hope we will not have the long dry spells which normally come late January and early February but as it is we might have a bumper crop this year.”
Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) president Alfred Kapichira Banda also expressed optimism that “all things being equal” farmers will smile.
“The other satisfying aspect is that most farmers now use certified seeds and also follow rainfall patterns in their respective areas. So farmers have great anticipation,” he said.
National director of Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet) national director Pamela Kuwali observed that from the information they have, the maize fields were promising because the weather conditions have been favourable and if the rainfall pattern continues “indeed we must expect good harvest.”
“Our advice to farmers is that they must do their best to take care of their crops for maximum harvest. Beyond that, farmers must begin to prepare for managing their harvest to avoid any post-harvest losses,” she said.
The 2018/19 farming season has been characterised by serious hitches in some areas ranging from farmers’ delays to access seed and fertiliser coupons after government suspended the exercise, floods and emergence of a viral disease called maize lethal necrosis which is said to have originated from Peru in 1973.
The promising crop outlook so far comes against the background of a reported 28.4 percent plunge in production last year against the national consumption requirement of 3.1 million tonnes. The country last year only produced 2 697 959 MT of maize against 3 464 139 MT during the 2016/17 farming season.
Last year, the survey’s first round assessment results of the national maize production gave a projection of 3 820 712 MT which was slightly higher than the country’s maize requirements for human consumption but the final output dropped by 28.4 percent.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, last year’s maize output declined because of combined effects of prolonged dry spells and the invasion of fall army worms that rendered about 3.3 million Malawians food insecure.
Nyandule-Phiri however urged farmers to continue taking care of their crop and ensure they visit their fields regularly because of the fall army worms, which he said, have so far been detected in all the districts across the country.
“The earlier they are detected the better and the regular checks in their fields will assist us to control them easily. As of now, fall army worms are almost in all the districts across the country but the levels are on the lower side.
“Actually, we have pesticides distributed across the country in all our extension planning areas (EPAs) and for those that have money can buy them in agro-dealers such as Agriculture Trading Company, Farmers Organisation Limited and Farmers World,” he said.
A consensus forecast produced by the 22nd Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum (Sarcof) in Zambia in September 2018 indicates that Malawi, just like other Southern African Development Community (Sadc) region countries will receive erratic rainfall in the 2018/19 agricultural season.
And commenting on the issue, an agriculture expert and former Cisanet national director Tamani Nkhono-Mvula observed that the crop is really good and if the rains continue the maize harvests will be very good. However, he noted that the challenge is that the drought we have experienced in the past four years has been the dry spells that come early or mid February.
“That is the most important period in maize production because that is when maize starts tasselling ussling and requires continuous supply of water and that period is when we have dry spells, so let us wait and see,” he said.
Last year, the survey’s first round results of the national maize production gave a projection of 3 820 712 metric tonnes which was slightly higher than the country’s maize requirement, but the final output dropped by 28.4 percent. na