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3.4 million people already affected by dry spell, armyworms

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With only three months to go before harvest, Malawi is facing a looming hunger which could potentially affect millions of people whose crops have been decimated by fall army worms and weeks of dry spells in some parts of the country.

Minister of Agriculture Joseph Mwanamvekha on Thursday admitted that the food situation looks bad as a result of the two natural disasters that have befallen the country and left over three million people in need of food aid to survive in the months ahead.

“As we are talking our people are on the ground conducting field inspections so that we have actual figures of the damage,” Mwanamvekha said in an interview.

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With the crop eating pest still

destroying more crop fields and with little or no rain falling in some parts of the country, the outlook is alarming.

“We are in a disaster. Even before the dry spells government had declared a disaster because of the fall army worms,” said Chinthu Phiri, Commissioner for Disaster Management Affairs.

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The dry spell alone, says the Ministry of Agriculture, has destroyed crops for more than 850,000 households which translates into 3.8 million people in dire straits. According to the 2008 Population and Housing Census, a household consists of 4.5 people.

In December last year when President Peter Mutharika declared a national disaster, the army worms had destroyed half of the country’s planted irrigation maize.

Director of Extension Services in the Agriculture Ministry, Albert Changaya, told a UN Food Agriculture Organisation meeting in South Africa that 35,870 hectares, which is 50 percent, of planted irrigation maize had been destroyed.

“The situation looks bad but all we have now are estimates… by next week we will come up with interventionsto mitigate the hunger,” Mwanamvekha said.

In 2016, an El Nino induced drought left 2.8 million people in need of food, making Malawi the worst hit country in Southern Africa.

But what’s worrying is that there are signs that this year the situation is likely to worsen with the Department of Meteorology and Climate Change Department forecasting torrential rains in the coming weeks bringing with it flash floods.

In some districts officials are already sounding the alarm warnings and preparing for hunger.

District Commissioner for Mangochi, Moses Chimphepo, has asked well-wishers to start planning for humanitarian aid in response to the impendingfood crisis in the district whose maize crop has been decimated by fall armyworms and the ongoing dry spell.

So far, over 90 percent of all the crops in the district has been destroyed.

In Zomba the dry spell alone has affected 76,525 farm households out of a total of 244,146 farming households.

About 24,302 hectares of maize have been affected while 1,047 hectares of beans have been destroyed.

Mulanje District Agriculture Development Office says so far 11,000 hectares out of 57,000 of maize have been affected by the fall army worms.

“While the dry spells have affected another 7,000 hectares of maize 63 percent of which are permanent wilting,” said Enford Kanyimbo, the District Agriculture Development Officer for Mulanje.

The pests alone, he said, have affected 53,340 households while the drought has affected 34,277 households.

The story is the same in Balaka where Member of Parliament for Balaka North Lucius Banda last week warned that government should start preparing for hunger, looking at the disasters which have hit the agriculture sector.

The Chiradzulu Agriculture office says out of 37,000 hectares, over 7,000 has been destroyed by the dry spell with over 70 percent in complete wilting while over 2,000 hectares has been destroyed by the pests.

Our efforts this week to establish the amount of maize in reserves, proved futile.

The National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) boss Nasinuku Saukira asked for a questionaire when asked whether Malawi has enough maize in stock.

Worried about the impending crisis, government is contemplating imposing a maize export ban so that it keeps enough maize for the population.

Mwanamvekha did not dismiss the maize export as one of the strategies government is putting on the table to help feed those who may need food aid.

“Let me reserve my comment on that one for now but it is on the table,” he said

As a ministry, he added, we will discuss what we should do to address the problem once we have the actual figures of the damage.

“But by now I think people can see that President Peter Mutharika had a point in that maize export ban so that we have enough food in the country,” he said.

Chinthu Phiri was optimistic that the country’s cooperating partners will help counter the effects of both the two disasters.

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