In the 2014/15 rainfall season, floods ravaged some parts of 15 of the country’s 28 districts, causing devastation to humans, crops and livestock.
This disaster was followed by drought the next season (2015/16) which worsened the problems people faced in the previous year.
However, most disaster interventions have catered for humanitarian assistance despite the disasters negatively impacting on people’s lives and livestock.
Agriculture extension officers in the country say that apart from livestock, the floods also destroyed livestock infrastructure, including dip tanks and kraals. In addition to this, there was siltation on grazing land and drinking points.
Chikwawa district animal health and livestock department officer Phillip Begue said the floods did more damage and resulted in breeding parasites in the swamps. This affected the animals that survived.
“Humanitarian and relief agencies were saving people’s lives first and leaving livestock without attention,” he complained.
One of the affected farmers, Dorothy Wanje of Samson Village, group village head (GVH) Machilika in Traditional Authority (T/A) Ngabu, Chikwawa bemoaned delayed response to disasters affecting livestock.
“In the 2014/15 season, I lost 15 goats and 35 chickens to the floods, but assistance delayed for a year. The relief agencies were interested in saving humans and crops first, neglecting livestock,” she said.
Her plight is shared by Aefe Alfred from Masanduko Village in T/A Ngowe in the district of Chikwawa who lost eight goats, family utensils and 10 chickens.
These losses affected the economic well-being of communities as they depend on livestock for cash.
“My life was hard after losing my livestock. I use the money I earn from livestock farming to pay school fees for my children and orphans I keep as well as to buy food, soap and other domestic things,” Wanje said.
According to Begue, there are six extension planning areas (EPAs) in Chikwawa. All these were affected in 2014/15. The EPAs are, Mitole, Livunzu, Mbewe, Kalambo, Mikalongo and Dolo.
“As extension workers, we rushed to the affected areas and advised people to evacuate the animals to upland areas and instructed them to construct new kholas [kraals],” said Begue.
Last year, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a United Nations agency, came to the rescue of people in some communities that lost livestock to the floods.
Wanje and Alfred received goats from FAO in a pass-on programme. Under this programme, FAO gives goats to individuals who will pass them on to others until everyone in the communities will have goats.
Wanje and Alfred received five goats each and they are expected to give to their colleagues after the goats breed. This is one way of mitigating the impact of the disaster by FAO.
“The interventions that came last year were restocking of animals into the communities. They came from donors and other well-wishers like FAO. Five goats—four female and one male—were given to individuals. Three EPAs in Chikwawa received a total of 450 goats,” said Begue.
Shared good news
In Nsanje, the story was the same, acting district animal health and livestock development officer Laston Zammimba says five EPAs that were affected received assistance of goats last year. These EPAs are, Makhanga, Magoti, Mpatsa, Zunde and Nyachilenda.
In Nsanje, 1 300 goats were donated to communities by FAO. However, all these goats went into Zunde EPA, according to Zammimba.
To build livestock resilient communities, FAO organised a three-day training for agricultural officers in the Animal Department in Blantyre.
It was a Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards (Legs) training. Officers were drilled in livestock management during disasters.
Aubrey Sidik, national director of FAO, said that the aim of the training was to protect livestock in areas affected by floods.
“After this training, government and participants will recommend interventions to be adopted in future to provide resilience to livestock communities,” he said.
Acting director of animal health and livestock in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Patrick Chikungwa, said this was a new approach in Malawi. It was a systematic way of assessing and handling emergency.
“This training is important for policy makers, donors, community workers, funding agencies and government,” he said.
Equipped with knowledge
Until this training, agricultural officers did not know how to approach such a situation when disasters struck.
“We had no knowledge of what to do during floods. Now this training will give us guidelines on protecting livestock during floods and other natural disasters. Most importantly, we will help build resilient communities with this knowledge,” Zammimba said.
On the part of government, Chikungwa said these officers and field workers will first know how to handle such events when they come. Then there will be an interface with the community to impart this knowledge to them also.
“Livestock is important to Malawians because it provides animal protein [source of nutrition], contributes to income in rural areas and contributes about 11 percent of the nation’s GDP [Gross Domestic Product],” he said.
Meanwhile, communities from the areas that were affected by floods, continue to grapple with the loss of their livestock to the 2014/15 floods.