In her late 50s, Lalichiledye Disi has three children and six grandchildren to feed.
The woman in Nsanyira Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mponda in Mangochi owns a maize field which used to produce about 20 bags-enough to take her family to the next harvest, she says.
But Abiti Disi may not even harvest five bags this year as fall armyworms have ravaged her crop.
“The crop looked promising when I applied fertiliser, but armyworms have wiped all the leaves and tops,” says the dejected woman.
The pest attack has left Malawians with a looming food crisis.
According to Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Joseph Mwanamvekha, 1.9 million families face hunger due to armyworms and drought.
Chemicals did little to save Disi’s crop. Hers is among 640 households in Nansenga whose fields have been ravaged.
“Almost 18 hectares of maize and sorghum are under attack in Nansenga. We supplied farmers with some chemicals while some bought from shops, but damage is enormous,” says agricultural extension development officer Chimwemwe Nkhoma.
The destruction in Mangochi is rampant.
District agriculture development officer Owen Kumwenda says the situation is worse than the previous growing season.
“In all T/As, nearly 80 percent of the maize grown is affected. Last season, only Senior Chief Nankumba’s area was affected,” he explains.
According to Kumwenda, 240 000 households in Mangochi have been affected.
The armyworms have destroyed almost 71 240 out of 89 676 hectares of leafy crops.
The district controlled the infestation on 37 024 hectares using pesticides sourced from government and Coopi, an Italian nongovernmental organisation.
Fall armyworms are destroying crops at a time maize fields are wilting due to prolonged dry spells.
The minister told Parliament last week that the twin tragedy will erode maize harvest by 280 metric tonnes countrywide.
In Mpilipili Extension Planning Area (EPA), some farmers have abandoned their fields in futility. Last month, Makanjira and surrounding areas received rains only once-and that was on Christmas Day. Most crops have dried up.
“Mpilipili received 138.3mm of rains in 10 days. Last year, it rained for 26 days, totalling 431mm,” said Kumwenda.
He added: “Even if it rains today, no crop would survive.”
Apart from the staple grain, the dry spells have affected rice, groundnuts, cow peas, pigeon peas, finger millet, sorghum, and sesame.
Mangochi district commissioner Moses Chimphepo said this is “a disaster requiring urgent response”.
“There is need for immediate support to the affected households and we appeal to NGOs to support government in providing humanitarian aid,” he said when Kumwenda presented the figures to the district executive committee.
He said the district council will work hand in hand with government and NGOs to ensure no one dies of hunger.
Mwanamvekha visited the worst hit parts of Makanjira.
Touched by the gloomy picture, the minister told the devastated families not to panic.
“We have enough maize for everyone in the country and nobody is going to die of hunger,” he said.
This will likely bring hope to Abiti Disi and 240 000 desperate farmers in Nansenga and other devastated areas.
For them, hunger was not looming. It looked certain.