Malawi: Maize farmers suffer from drought

| April 13, 2015

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Abelo Mtsitsa stands dejectedly in his maize field. He cannot believe the state of his crop. The soil in his small plot is bone dry – and his maize has wilted.

Mr. Mtsitsa says: “There has been no rainfall in my area for about four weeks now … Even if the rains start again, I will not harvest anything … My family will face severe hunger.”

Maize is Malawi’s staple food. But farmers in most rural areas around the capital, Lilongwe, have lost hope of harvesting anything this year.

Mr. Mtsitsa is from Mtambila, a village west of Lilongwe. He planted his maize in the first week of January. The rains were promising at first, but stopped at the beginning of March.

His family is already hungry. He explains: “At this time of year, we usually rely on [fresh] maize which we dry and mill for food because the previous harvest starts to run out. This year I have nothing … in my house.”

Lukasi Maliko is another farmer affected by the dry spell. He says farmers who applied fertilizer or manure and those who did not will suffer equally this year. Even those who planted early-maturing maize have been affected.

Mr. Maliko says the shortfall in maize will cause major problems in the near future, and he is urging the government, NGOs, and other agencies to offer help to the many farmers who will need it. Mr. Maliko fears there may even be a famine.

He predicts that the price of a bag of maize will double to $30 U.S. by September. Mr. Maliko says everyone in the area has accepted that food insecurity is likely this year. He explains: “We really need support because maize is going to be [so] expensive … that small-scale farmers like me will not [be able to] afford to buy [it] on the market. If nothing is … done, some people in my area are likely to die of hunger.”

Mr. Maliko usually grows vegetables after harvesting his maize. But his well is almost dry. He says, “If the rains do not come, it will dry quickly and I will have no water to irrigate vegetables. I pray that the rains will resume.”

For his part, Mr. Mtsitsa hopes to find paid work to help his family cope during the coming months. He has started making burnt bricks to sell for cash to buy food. He says, “It is going to be an uphill battle … until the next season. I have no option but to do any job I can find. I have no hope that my maize will recover from this dry spell.”

Photo: Dried maize field. Credit: Zilani Khonje/Oxfam