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Experts project good maize harvest

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Malawi should anticipate a good harvest during the 2020/21 agricultural season, a January Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fewsnet) report indicates.

The projections have been attributed to increased access to inputs through the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP), which targeted 3.6 million farming families, and average rainfall amounts across the country.

However, the report paints a gloomy picture of Nsanje and Chikwawa districts, where it indicates that poorly distributed rainfall and a delayed start to the season would conspire to result in below-average production.

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“As of January 25 2021, cumulative rainfall for the 2020/21 season has been average to above average across the country. This rainfall and increased access to inputs from the Affordable Inputs Programme have facilitated a very good crop stand, with most crops currently in vegetative stages and some in southern Malawi in flowering stages.

“Overall, average cumulative rainfall from October 2020 to March 2021 is expected across the country, with localised areas of above-average and below-average rainfall possible. At the national level, average to slightly above average production is expected,” the report reads.

In 2018, the country produced 3.4 million metric tonnes (MT) of maize; 3.3 million MT in 2019 and about 3.8 million MT in 2020. Malawi’s annual maize requirement is estimated at around 3.1 million MT.

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The development comes at a time the 2020/21 rain-fed agriculture season faces reduced harvest as armyworms have attacked over 342,000 hectares of food crops—especially in the Southern Region— impacting close to 669,000 smallholder farm families.

However, Agriculture Ministry spokesperson Gracian Lungu downplayed fears that the armyworms may result in reduced maize output.

“Although the estimates for the first round have not been officially released by management, there are indications that maize production has increased. This is due to high uptake of inputs such as fertilisers and quality maize seed (hybrids and composites). If we will continue to receive good rains, as it is, we are likely to have surplus maize. The fall army worm effect on yield and production is insignificant, taking into account the level of infestation and total hectarage under maize,” Lungu said.

The ministry is expected to release first-round crop estimates this month.

Concurring with the report, Farmers Union of Malawi President Frighton Njolomole said bumper yields were expected as rains had been favourable this far.

“The Affordable Input Programme has stimulated most farmers to work hard in the fields and it is not surprising that the maize looks promising. And, if the rains continue the way they are falling, we are really sure that maize output will be good this year,” he said.

In a departure from typical seasonal trends, maize grain prices remained stable at the national level in November and December 2020, the report further notes.

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