Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Climate Change in Malawi

Malawi has in the past six years enjoyed maize surpluses yet food production has been on the decline, a climate change study has indicated.

Rainfall distribution in Malawi has become more unpredictable to the extent that it has reduced crop production, Malawi’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development hydrologist Henrie Manford Njoloma has disclosed in his research study of over 60 years of rainfall data in the sub Saharan country. “Rainfall distribution is no longer uniform and predictable as it used to be in the past,” he says noting that maize, the country’s staple diet has been drastically affected by the erratic rainfall patterns.

Maize is a highly politicized crop in Malawi because of its nature as a main food crop. As such, government interferes either directly or indirectly in its production and trade at all levels. The private sector also responds sharply whenever there is a maize shortage. Malawi faces food insecurity problems despite having a lot of water resources in sub-Saharan region. It has Lake Malawi, Africa’s third largest lake, which takes up 20% of its land mass and is mostly in the central and northern parts of the country. There are smaller lakes of Chilwa and Malombe in the south and many rivers across the country.

Njoloma observes that despite maize output increasing by 1.8% per annum between 1961 and 1991, the yields have been lower than the 5-year annual average of 2,192,634 metric tons in the first three years, albeit increasing to above the 5-year average in the later years. The hydrologist says that the rainfall pattern in these rainfall seasons were some of the worst, punctuated with many longer than normal dry spells. He also notes that the production of maize per unit area also had increased. Government documents suggest that about 75% of the estimated increase in total production resulted from the expansion in maize area but does not indicate the role of favorable climatic conditions. “Overall, yields appear to have increased at a small but significant rate of 0.4% per year,” says Njoloma adding, “The per capita maize production, however, declined over the past half century as production lagged behind an exponential annual population growth rate of over 3.0%”.

He observes that various water schemes gather dust on the drawing board while less than 1% of the country is irrigated. According to a 2004-2005 Integrated Household Survey (IHS) report, modern methods of irrigation are almost nonexistent in most households in Malawi. “There has been low priority in irrigation agricultural production despite the increased publicity the sector has been given over the past 15 years,” notes the hydrologist urging government to initiate efforts that would ensure that rainfalls into the country’s catchments are looked at to recharge water resources such as wetlands, rivers, dams and lakes. “With the right infrastructure and proper institutions in place, erratic rainfall trends could easily be mitigated and maize grain shortages would be avoided,”


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