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Gloomy outlook for maize harvest

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Gracian Lungu

The latest food security snapshot by Food and Agriculture Organisation (Fao) paints a gloomy picture of prospects of bumper yields in the country.

It cites rains triggered by Tropical Storm Ana, which affected Southern and Central Region districts in the country, as the main reason for the less than promising harvest.

The snapshot, which Fao released on Tuesday, also puts into account rain deficits at the onset of the agriculture season as another factor that could sharply affect the cereal production outlook for 2022.

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Apart from the delays, the report notes that the distribution of rains was uneven, with the bulk of rainfall concentrated in just a few weeks.

“The erratic distribution of rains led to a failure of the first plantings in several areas, resulting in the second round of plantings where feasible.

“However, access and availability constraints to seeds limited farmers’ capacity to replant. The estimated acreage of maize, the primary food staple, is, therefore, expected to decline every year to a near-average level in 2022,” the report reads.

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Following heavy rainfall, particularly in the Southern Region, on account of the passing of Tropical Storm Ana, districts such as Chikwawa, Nsanje, Phalombe and Mulanje were heavily affected.

Although crops grown in these districts contribute to less than 10 percent of the total national cereal output, reduced harvests of millet and sorghum are expected to have a significant impact on the food security of local households, according to the report.

According to the latest situation report by the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma), the tropical storm has affected 221,755 farming households who have lost about 77,532 hectares of crops.

These farming households lost their crops such as maize, groundnuts, soybeans, tobacco, rice and cotton through either complete wash away or submersion.

But even prior to the storm, an estimated 160,000 hectares of crops in the Southern Region were reported to have been affected by poor rains during the start of the season and suffered from wilting.

Farmers Union of Malawi President Fryghton Njolomole concurred with finding of the report, saying a lot of farmers in affected districts have been rendered destitute.

“What needs to be done is that farmers should be assisted with crops such as cassava and sweet potatoes so that, when the water recedes, they should be able to plant again. This is our call to the government; otherwise, hunger is looming,” he said.

But Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Gracian Lungu said they were yet to do an assessment of the effects of the storm. The assessment is expected to inform the development of an action plan.

“On the delay of rains, we were also supposed to, by the end of this week, produce second round crop estimates.

“Of course, we know there is a report by Dodma which indicates that over 77,000 hectares of crops have been affected but we have to do our own [assessment]. This will be explicit, in terms of types of crops that have been affected,” he said.

Earlier in January, another report by Famine Early Warning Systems Network indicated that there would be episodes of hunger in the 2021-22 rainfall season

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