Capitalizing on climate change to achieve food security

Blantyre, The 2016-2017 Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development first crop estimate survey indicated that Malawi is expecting to register a higher maize output than the year before with survey results showing that the country’s staple grain will chalk 35.9 percent production gain.

The first crop estimate survey revealed that Malawi will have 3, 220, 712 metric tonnes of maize which is 35.9 percent increase over the figures released last year.

Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development said the first round of 2016-2017 agriculture production estimates give hope to an agro-based economy.

In a statement which Principal Secretary for the Ministry, Erica Maganga signed said, The results show that national maize production is projected at 3,220,712 metric tonnes, which is 35.9 percent higher than the 2015/16 final round estimate of 2,369,493 metric tonnes.

The first round estimates are based on farmers’ intentions on crops to be grown and their related hectarage. The results from the first round may not conclusively inform the ultimate agricultural production as farmers intentions can change in the course of implementing respective farm activities; weather conditions and related parameters may also change in the course of the agricultural season.

Nevertheless, results of the first round provide early warning signals on national food security so that policy makers in the public, private and non state sectors can make informed decisions regarding impending food situation, it stated.

But these figures are just a dream to 40 year old Gilbert Pensulo from Tombondela Village, Traditional Authority (TA) Chapananga in Chikwawa district who has harvested less than 50kg bag of maize.

I have been experiencing food shortages every year since 2015 when the district experienced serious floods. Now it’s three years back to back without food in my house. I have been caught completely unawares by the scale and timing of the situation I am in now.

Every rainy season I try to plant crops but the results are just unsatisfactory hence unable to feed my family as I always experience food insecurity. The problem is we don’t receive good rain here suitable for maize crop since we experienced floods, he said.

For Pensulo and thousands like him, their next move is to look for support from government and other partners.

He added, I know in situations like this government will try as much as it can to get grain from the other parts of the country, but there needs to be money for me to buy. It is not too early for government to step in now.

Pensulo is just among many people in Chikwawa and other districts that are likely to face a food crisis set off by erratic rains.

Chikwawa District Commissioner (DC), Fred Movete said the district is currently facing food shortages since people in the district have not harvested in 2017 and the other two years back to back.

He said in 2017, the district has been experiencing two difficult situations which are dry spells and army worms that have destroyed many crops such as maize.

The DC continues; However, the district has some programmes like public works that is enabling more people to get money and buy food as a short term measure. They receive their money after every 24 days and the program is really making a difference among many. We have irrigation schemes, sanitation activities and afforestation programs. These are short term measures that are assisting communities to get money after working and in turn they are buying food.

Movete said the district has Malawi Floods Emergency Recovery Project of Malawi that is sustainably restoring agricultural livelihoods among communities saying the project has winter cropping component that assists people with fertilizer and seeds.

In Chikwawa, the project is also improving the government of Malawi’s disaster response and recovery capacities since it is providing livelihoods restoration and food security, the DC said, adding that he is extremely impressed with the communities in their efforts to recover fully in terms of their livelihoods.

Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services prospects for the 2016/2017 rainfall season in Malawi stated that overall, the greater part of the country is to experience normal to above normal rainfall amounts during October 2016 to March 2017.

But further the rainfall prospects said this therefore means, while many areas of the country will experience good rainfall, flooding and dry spells are likely to occur in some areas during the 2016-2017 season and Chikwawa district where Pensulo is based is one such place.

The period October to April is the main rainfall season over Malawi. Generally the main rains start from November in the south and progressively spread northwards. During this period, the main rain bearing systems that influence rainfall over Malawi include the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), Congo air mass, Easterly Waves and Tropical Cyclones.

It should be noted that the forecast is relevant for relatively large areas and seasonal time scales and therefore may not fully account for all factors that influence localized climate variability, such as daily, weekly and month to month variations.

This forecast also takes into consideration the fact that tropical cyclones that develop in the South-west Indian Ocean and climate change can have either adverse or favourable effects on Malawi rainfall, reads part of 2016-2017 rainfall prospects.

Speaking in February, 2017 in Salima where 1, 030 households have been affected by floods, President Peter Mutharika said the hunger’s situation had come due to two dry seasons in a row which the country has been experiencing.

The Malawi leader urged Malawians to conserve the environment with the aim of mitigating the effects of climate change that are causing floods.

He told people in the district to be at the forefront of alleviating the challenges of climate change that are causing floods.

But as we go through these sad times, let us remember that it is our responsibility to stop this flooding from happening again. Climate changes are real, and let us do our part to preserve the environment.

Just two years ago, we got devastating floods in most parts of the country. A year later, we had serious drought in most parts of the country. This year we are experiencing floods in areas that are not traditionally known to be flood-prone areas, such as Salima and Lilongwe, Mutharika said.

To save people like Pensulo, currently the Government of Malawi is carrying out Project Preparation Activities for the Shire Valley Irrigation Project (SVIP) under the framework of the Green Belt Initiative. The SVIP and other related GBI projects are being implemented to attain objectives of the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy II (MGDS II). The MGDS II is the country’s overarching operational medium-term strategy to attain the nation’s Vision 2020. The MGDS II recognizes Irrigation as one of the key priority areas.

With assistance from the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the World Bank, the Government of Malawi (GoM), is in the process of preparing a detailed project proposal for the Shire Valley Irrigation Project which is intended to be submitted to prospective donors for consideration for investment funding.

The project is planned to cover 42,500 ha and to benefit 100,000 farm families (or a population of approximately 600,000 people) in Chikwawa and Nsanje. It will be implemented in two phases.

The development objective of the proposed Shire Valley Irrigation Project is to improve agricultural productivity and production in a sustainable manner leading to economic growth and reduction of rural poverty in the Lower Shire Valley, by establishing market-linked smallholder farming ventures and professionally operated irrigation services.

It is possible for Malawi to achieve food security. Back in 2004, President Bingu wa Mutharika, who died in office in early 2012, rose to power on a promise to increase farm subsidies as part of his Farm Input Subsidy Program. Under the plan, the government gave subsidy vouchers to smallholders to buy a small amount of fertilizer and seed so that they could replenish the soil nutrients taking advantage of improved seed varieties and at least achieve a livable crop from their tiny farms.

The results were instant. In 2005, a year after expanded subsidies kicked in, Malawi harvested a grain surplus of half a million tonnes. In subsequent years it exported grain to Lesotho and Swaziland, as well as 400,000 tonnes of maize to Zimbabwe. Food experts and advocacy groups took turns at international forums extolling Malawi as an example of Africa’s green revolution.

Almost 80 percent of the country’s rural populace that include Pensulo are farmers by occupation and if given necessary support the country can achieve its lost status.

The 2006 Multiple Indicative Cluster Survey (MICS) Report indicates that a high percentage of rural communities face a number of challenges paramount of which is food insecurity in the wake of climate change.

These communities suffer the blunt of adverse weather conditions due to disruptions in their socio-economic activities.

A number of Policy Advocates have echoed voices that most obstacles impinging on economic growth of rural African households need ‘African Solutions’.

They have argued that most African countries including Malawi are endowed with abundant natural resources that if well utilized with technical expertise from the donor community, the impact of recurrent economic shocks would be mitigated.

The two year dry spell that has affected Pensulo in Chikwawa district should prompt a wake-up call over the threat of climate change, the vulnerability of Malawi’s rain-fed drought sensitive maize crop, and the rural poverty that undermines resilience.

It is high time irrigation farming should be prioritized countrywide since food security has very big impact to the country’s economy.

Source: Malawi News Agency MANA