Floods set to wipe out bumper harvest

Hopes for a bumper harvest as projected in the first round of crop estimates hang by a thread after last week’s floods in 14 of the country’s 28 districts threaten to reduce maize production.

Interviews with four affected agricultural development divisions (ADDs) of Shire Valley, Blantyre, Machinga and Salima yesterday revealed that crops, particularly the staple grain maize, have either been washed away or been buried in the mud.

A maize field in Nsanje submerged in water

While the ADDs indicated that they were assessing the extent of the damage to quantify the loss, the situation will potentially eat into the projected 25 percent rise in maize production from 2.6 million metric tonnes (MT) in 2017/18 to 3.3 million MT in the current 2018/19 season announced by Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Joseph Mwanamvekha on February 26 this year.

In an interview yesterday, Shire Valley ADD programme manager Taurai Mlewah mentioned maize, sorghum and millet as the worst affected crops.

He said some crops, including maize, were washed away by flood waters while some got buried in the mud.

During the first round of crop production estimates, Shire Valley ADD was projected to harvest 134 597 MT of maize, a 99 percent rise from the 67 360 MT produced in 2017/18 season.

In Blantyre ADD which covers Blantyre, Mwanza, Thyolo, Mulanje, Phalombe and Chiradzulu districts, programme manager Erick Haraman also said they anticipate a drop in maize production, particularly in fields along rivers and areas where farmers were yet to harvest their maize.

But he was quick to point out that the most affected extension planning areas (EPAs) of Phinda, Kasongo and Tamani in Phalombe District were still not accessible; hence, an assessment is yet to be undertaken.

Blantyre ADD was projected to produce 705 133MT of maize in the first round of crop production estimates compared to 445 038MT in the final round of 2017/18 season.

But Machinga ADD programme manager Bernard Banda, while not ruling out the possibility of crop production being negatively affected by the floods, opted not to comment until the assessment is completed.

Machinga ADD maize production was set at 337 716MT in the first round, a 32 percent rise from last year’s final harvest. The ADD covers Machinga, Balaka, Mangochi and part of Zomba.

In Salima, areas under traditional authorities (T/As) Makanjira and Pemba have also been affected with maize fields flooded.

Since 2014/15 season, crop production estimates have continued to dwindle in the final round largely due to prolonged dry spells, floods and in recent years, the infestation of fall armyworms.

Agriculture is the backbone of the country’s economy and vital for the livelihoods of most Malawians, including national and household food security.

The sector generates around a third of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), accounts for 65 percent of employment and wires in around 60 percent of export earnings.

Its criticality to the country gets more pronounced when forward and backward linkages are factored in. Thus, when linkages of agricultural production and processing with input supply, trade and transport service are brought into the equation, the broader agri-food system contributes 44 percent to GDP and generates 74 percent of employment.

While crops dominate the agricultural sector accounting for 17 percent of GDP followed by forestry at nine percent, production is concentrated on one food crop (maize) and one main cash crop (tobacco).

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