Medison Phiri, a father of six from Chiwayu Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Chigalu’s area, had a rude awakening when armyworms invaded his maize field and destroyed his crops in February this year.
Phiri says though months have passed since the tragedy, his family is still bearing the effects till date.
“I cultivate maize on a sizeable piece of land which gives me up to four full ox-carts of maize during harvest time, but when armyworms destroyed my crops during the 2013/2014 farming season, I only harvested an ox-cart which was not even full,” he says.
He adds that harvest was not enough to cater for his family of eight and he had to do some piece work to get funds to buy maize from Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc).
In fact, Phiri even failed to keep some maize to use as seeds during the 2014/2015 farming season.
Luckily, Phiri is one of the beneficiaries of Catholic Development Commission of Malawi (Cadecom) Archdiocese of Blantyre donation of K5 800 worth seed items to households which were affected by armyworms and weather-related shocks in Blantyre Rural.
Being on the list of benefitting households has brought back a ray of hope and a sigh of relief to Phiri as he says he can now face the rains signalling the 2014/2015 planting season with anticipation as he now has seeds to plant.
Phiri, together with other members from 3 000 households from TAs Kapeni, Lundu, Kuntaja and Chigalu, were given a voucher which allowed them to buy maize, sorghum, pigeon peas and vegetable seeds from several agro-dealers that came during Diversity and Nutrition for Enhanced Resilience (DiNER) fairs that Cadecom organised in the four T/As.
Cadecom organised the DiNER fairs in collaboration with the Catholic Relief Services (CSR) under a project known as Livelihoods and Enhanced Agricultural Productivity (LEAP 2) that the two organisations are implementing in Blantyre.
Sharing Phiri’s sentiments is Emma Thekera, a mother of a five-year-old girl from the same village as Phiri.
Thekera, living in a village where most of the people were affected by armyworms and prolonged droughts, believes Cadecom saw her worries and came when she started thinking there was no way.
Just like Phiri, Thekera cultivates on a sizeable piece of land that gives her enough food for her family till the next planting season, but she failed to harvest enough in the 2013/2014 harvest season.
“My whole field was destroyed by armyworms and the dry spells made it even worse because the crops that survived could not stand the drought. I was hopeless. I did not even have maize to plant during the next planting season, but now I can see light at the end of the tunnel,” says Thekera.
While it is the first time for Thekera to be in such a devastating situation, she says she feels happy and relieved that Cadecom came in to assist her and other households that were in the same predicament.
T/A Chigalu recalls how village heads in his area came to him to report about the armyworms’ outbreak.
Chigalu says he did not waste time as he went to see the affected fields right away so that when he goes to Blantyre Agricultural Development Division (ADD) he should be reporting something he had seen.
“When I reported what had befallen my people living in villages along the Shire River, employees from the ADD came to spray chemicals to control the infestation in the affected fields but it was already too late as most crops were heavily damaged,” says Chigalu.
Chigalu says because he is witnessing how hunger is affecting people as a result of the armyworm outbreak and the persistent droughts, he just hopes the beneficiaries will use the seeds for its rightful purposes instead of selling.
Just as Phiri and Thekera, other households from Chikwawa and Karonga are also receiving the voucher cards that are allowing them to buy seeds to plant in the 2014/2015 farming season.
Father Boniface Tamani, vicar general of Catholic Church Blantyre Archdiocese said during the 2013/2014 farming season, the diocese heard reports that crop fields in Blantyre rural were attacked by armyworms, others were washed away while other crops were hit hard by dry spells and as a church, they decided to come in.
“As a church, we believe it is not God’s wish to see a human being suffering and when we heard of the devastating situations people were forced to live in, the church sourced funds from United States International Development (Usaid) through the Catholic Relief Services in Malawi in order to allow us reach out to the affected households,” says Tamani.
Tamani adds that the church, with the help of local leaders, targeted only those that cannot afford to buy seeds for the coming farming season as well as those who were highly affected by the armyworms and weather-related shocks.
According to a Malawi food insecurity overview for 2012-2014 by United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, armyworms outbreaks affected 16 districts and 10 903 hectares, as of 11 February 2014.
The overview also indicated that the 2013/14 rain season has affected 10 856 households (54 280 people) as at 24 Feb 2014, mainly due to torrential rains and floods.
Central Karonga and Middle Shire, where Phiri and Thekera’s village is located, experienced prolonged dryness and early cessation of rains, resulting in production shortfalls in localised areas.
“Acute food insecurity in these livelihood zones will be stressed in June. Food security conditions are likely to deteriorate further and will result in crisis between July and September,” reads the overview.