Experts have said prospects of having a favourable maize output this year are gloomy due to combined effects of floods, a botched inputs subsidy programme, drought and, now, an outbreak of fall armyworms in some parts of the country.
But Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Gracian Lungu yesterday said the fall armyworms, reported in the Northern Region, and floods, especially in the Shire Valley, will not have any impact on this year’s maize output.
He said: “The Ministry of Agriculture is still compiling its report on crop damage. Yearly, the Lower Shire is subjected to shocks. If it’s not dry spells, then its floods.
“Harvest in the Shire ADD [Agriculture Development Division] is mostly compromised and plays very little impact on the national harvest. Suffice to say, the effects of Tropical Storm Ana will be reflected in our second round of crop estimates.”
On the fall armyworm outbreak, Lungu said currently there is no serious infestation. He said there is moderate infestation and only in a few parts of almost all parts of the Northern Region.
He said the ministry is supporting farmers to plant fast-maturing crops and legumes to counter the challenge.
Lungu said while there is no data for individual crop damage, the Ministry of Agriculture is aware that 77 532 hectares (ha) have so far been affected by floods induced by Tropical Storm Ana as reported by the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) in its preliminary report.
According to the Dodma preliminary report, 221 755 farming households have been affected with 77 532 ha damaged.
But in a separate interview yesterday, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) agriculture economist Horace Phiri argued that the 77 532 ha affected roughly implies a reduction of 140 thousand metric tonnes (MT) of maize.
He said: “If we consider that Blantyre and Shire Valley ADDs were the hardest hit, the reported hectarage represents 22 percent of land put to maize in the previous years in the two ADDs and about five percent of maize cultivated area nationally.
“The recent floods in the Central Region will add to these figures and reduce output further.”
Agriculture policy expert Tamani Nkhono Mvula said since the reduction in maize output will be significant, government agencies should start making contingency measures in regards to buying maize even if it means importing.