Over the past four years as predicted by the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services, there has been normal to slightly above normal rainfall in some cases.
However, there have been challenges related to crop production such as late onset and early cessation of rain, creating challenges for farmers to make decisions.
The variation of rainfall pattern has made life difficult for farmers to come to terms with the decision on when to plant their crops. In Zomba and Machinga districts, some planted in November and December last year, but now their crops have wilted as a result of the recent dry spell that has hit most parts of the country.
In the Lake Chilwa Basin, particularly at Mposa Village in Machinga, some farmers who planted their crops with the early rains say it is hard for them to tell when rains are enough for planting. Agricultural experts say adequate rainfall has to be about 25 to 30 millimetres to consider it as adequate for planting.
Rainfall readings for November and December during 2015/2016 season at Mposa Weather Information Centre were 94.04 and 163.06 mm respectively.
Village Head (VH) Mapila from Traditional Authority Mposa in the district expresses concern about the trend of extreme weather conditions which, he says, have resulted in the wilting of crops.
“The dry spell is worrisome. People planted their maize and rice in the fields, but the water table seems to be very low. As the person responsible for the monitoring of water level in Lake Chilwa, I am really concerned,” he says.
Mapila adds that in January last year, when floods hit the area, rice was submerged in water because people cultivated on the Lake Chilwa wetland due to recession. But the story is different this year.
“The rice fields have almost no water or moisture because there is high rate of evaporation. Some of us are considering uprooting the crops and replanting when the situation improves,” he says.
Mapila explains that the rains have also affected irrigation farming due to the lowering of the water table. Last season, farmers were involved in rationing water for irrigation.
Fishers have also not been spared the ordeal. The village head, a fisher himself, says the dry spell has affected the fish business.
“At this time, the lake is closed for fishing, but we feel fish cannot breed properly due to low water levels,” he adds.
Radio listening clubs in the area are holding sensitisation meetings with the communities to make them resilient to the extreme weather conditions.
Moses Phulusa, chairperson of Chikala Radio Listening Club, says climate change information is vital because communities face many challenges and need to adapt.
“We tell the communities the importance of crop diversification when farming so that they should have something to fall back on when some crops do not do well. We also encourage them to combine scientific and indigenous knowledge when deciding when to plant their crops,” Phulusa says.
Director of Leadership for Environment and Development (Lead), Sosten Chiotha, says climate change data collected from the various weather information centres at community level should be the guiding tool for farmers’ agricultural activity.
He said rainfall of normal to above normal is the total amount of rainfall expected during the growing season between October and April. Chiotha said in the Lake Chilwa Basin, normal rainfall is the one totaling 1 000 millimetres or above.
“Our assessment from 2010 to 2015 is that the rainfall for the seasons was normal to slightly above normal, except for one year. However, the situation on the ground has been different because the onset has been delayed in some cases,” he says.
Chiotha adds that after what farmers thought was the onset, the rains disappeared and there was a prolonged dry spell. He said his organisation, together with the Department of Meteorological Services, has installed rain gauges in weather monitoring stations where communities are fully involved in monitoring rainfall.
“Communities should use the weather information alongside that from the Department of Meteorological Services to make informed decisions on when to plant their crops,” he says.
Nonetheless, Chiotha says in climate change, variations of weather fluctuate to the extremes and intensities that go beyond the expected normal variations.
“What we are experiencing now goes beyond the expected normal variations of weather,” he says. n