The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development estimates that 1.9 million families face food shortage as dry spells and fall army worm attacks in the country may destroy 645 000 hectares of crops.
The ministry estimates that this will trim the national maize yield to 283 000 metric tonnes (MT).
Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Joseph Mwanamvekha told Parliament yesterday that by mid-January, about 270 180 hectares of crops were affected by the dry spells, rendering 707 389 Malawians vulnerable to food insecurity.
The minister also said during the same period, fall armyworms affected 375 580 hectares of maize, affecting 1.2 million Malawians.
“It is truly devastating, but the government, together with development partners, are distributing 37 000 litres of pesticides and 5 000 pheromone traps. The ministry, together with the Food and Agriculture Organisation [FAO], have also undertaken a rapid assessment to quantify the extent of the damage,” he said.
Mwanamvekha further said it was that assessment which found that the government should anticipate a deficit of 210 740 MT of maize lost to the dry spells and 73 201MT lost due to the fall armyworms.
He then outlined immediate and short-term measures to mitigate food shortages which included a restriction on maize exports and a plan to buy additional maize through National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA).
“Government will also be distributing seeds and seedlings for cassava, banana plantains, sweet potatoes as well as investing in winter irrigated farming and enhancing capacity of irrigated schemes,” he said.
Reacting to the ministerial statement, Parliamentary Agriculture Committee chairperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga advised government to give the correct numbers of those affected to avoid the 2015/16 situation when the government overestimated the figures.
The overestimation led to Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) incurring loans to buy more maize to avert hunger.
Malunga also faulted the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp), arguing that billions of kwacha have gone into the programme with little impact while more billions are also invested in bailing out the same people in times of crises.
“We need to talk about where we put our resources. Otherwise, we keep putting ourselves at the mercy of nature,” he said.
In her remarks, Mzimba North member of Parliament (MP) Agnes Nyalonje commended government for reviewing land use, saying billions of kwacha have been spent on Fisp in areas which did not have the capacity to grow maize.
Other MPs sought government’s assurance that the country has enough maize to cater for the affected population.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, the country’s Strategic Grain Reserves have 171 000MT in stock out of which 67 000MT was transferred from Admarc while the produce trader has 100 000MT.
Despite a good rainfall during the 2016/17 rain season, about 138 000 hectares of maize were destroyed by fall armyworms. n