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Mangochi in climate change scare

Written by  Kondwani Magombo
Dry spell in Makanjira as of Mid January - Pic. Courtesy of Mangochi DADO Dry spell in Makanjira as of Mid January - Pic. Courtesy of Mangochi DADO

Mangochi, February 12: She has three children and six grandchildren to look after – ten mouths to feed altogether, including her own.

 

Despite being in her late 50s, Lalichiledye Disi of Nsanyira Village, Group Village Headman Chisambanopa in Traditional Authority Mponda in Mangochi has always managed to feed herself, her three children and the six grandchildren.

 

Her maize garden of 0.4 hectares has always given her at least 20 bags of grain every year - enough food to take the family to the other season.

 

However, this year the story is different. It would require extraordinary magic for Abiti Disi, as she is popularly known in the village, to realise even five bags of maize yield since her crop is highly infested with fall army worm.

 

“The growing season started well and I was optimistic of having a bumper harvest this year,” explained dejected Disi. “The maize crop grew well after applying fertilizer until when fall army worms attacked it, lacing all the leaves right from the top.”

 

Her maize’ field is highly infested that although she had just applied some chemicals, there was little hope of her getting any meaningful yield from the field.

 

Disi is among 640 households in Nansenga whose fields have been heavily infested by the fall army worm, according to Chimwemwe Nkhoma, agriculture extension development officer (AEDO) for Nansenga Section, which falls under Nansenga Extension Planning Area (EPA).

 

“Close to 18 hectares of maize and sorghum are under fall army worm’ attack in Nansenga section alone,” Nkhoma said.

 

Although efforts are being made to eliminate the worm, it seems there is little improvement.

 

“We have managed to supply farmers with some chemicals from our district office while some farmers are buying on their own recommended chemicals, but still the damage is so enormous,” she added.

 

In the current growing season, the worm infestation in Mangochi has been so rampant, leaving the agriculture sector and the district council confused.

 

District agriculture development officer (DADO) for Mangochi Owen Kumwenda observed that the situation in the district is worse this growing season than the previous one.

 

“Nearly 80 percent of the maize grown is under worm infestation. This year, all the TAs have been affected while last season it was only Senior Chief Nankumba’s area that was affected,” Kumwenda pointed out.

 

Figures from the district’s agriculture office show that 240, 000 households have been affected after the worm attacked 71, 240 hectares out of the total of 89, 676 hectares of crop field.

 

So far, the district has managed to control the worm in 37, 024 hectares of land.

 

According to Kumwenda, chemicals for controlling the worm were sourced from the Ministry of Agriculture headquarters and COOPI, an international nongovernmental organization from Italy working in the agriculture sector.

 

While the worm infestation is doing its damage on one hand, a prolonged dry spell has had its fair share of contribution to farmers’ misery on the other hand.

 

Such a twin attack is rumoured to have forced some farmers in Mpilipili EPA in Makanjira, Mangochi to abandon their agriculture practices for this season.

 

By January 30, Makanjira had received rains only once and that was on Christmas Day; most crops were too dry that any spark of fire would turn their fields into a sea of ashes.

 

Kumwenda said that Mpilipili EPA had only 10 rainy days with a total of 138.3mm of rains received by end of January. This is unlike last season when the area had 26 rainy days with total amount of 431mm within the same period.

 

“The situation in Makanjira is very pathetic and even if the rains came today, no crop would survive,” Kumwenda lamented.

 

He further said at least 4,774 hectares of maize belonging to 9,150 farm households have been affected in Mpilipili EPA.

 

Apart from the staple grain, other crops have equally been affected by the dry spell in Mangochi. They include, rice, groundnuts, cow peas, pigeon peas, finger millet, sorghum, and sesame, according to the DADO.

 

District Commissioner (DC) for Mangochi Reverend Moses Chimphepo described the situation as a disaster requiring urgent response.

 

“There is need for immediate support to the affected households and we appeal to NGOs to support government in providing help through necessary humanitarian aid,” Chimphepo said recently during a District Executive Committee when the agriculture office presented a crop situation report in the wake of the dry spell and the fall army worm.

 

He told the gathering that government has pledged to do all it can to come to the rescue of the people in Mangochi and that the district council is also working on strategies to save the lives of the affected households.

 

Although it would be too late for farmers in Makanjira to replant as a result of the dry spell, there is a glimmer of hope that early maturing crops such as cow peas and potato could save the situation given weather experts’ forecast that the rains could pick up between February and March.

 

This ray of hope flickers in the hearts of many considering that the looming hunger in Mangochi has not eluded the attention of the country’s higher authority.

 

Following the report released mid-January by the DADO, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Joseph Mwanamvekha visited the sites badly affected by the dry spell in Makanjira.

 

Seemingly touched by what he saw, Mwanamvekha made a hearty pledge that left the affected households hopeful.

 

“From the look of things, it is impossible to give the farmers seeds for replanting and it’s unfortunate that there is no irrigation scheme around,” said Mwanamvekha.

 

“But we are going to sit down with the Department of Disaster to see what kind of immediate humanitarian assistance can be provided.”

 

The minister further made a commitment that through the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA), government would swiftly assess the damage caused by the dry spell and the fall army worm at national level to determine a meaningful response.

 

“People don’t have to panic,” assured Mwanamvekha. “We have enough maize for everyone in the country and nobody is going to die of hunger,” Mwanamvekha said.

 

Perhaps this is the news that should bring hope to Abiti Disi in Nansenga Section as well as the 240, 000 desperate households affected by the fall army worm across Mangochi.

 

It is also the same news that should obviously bring joy to the 9,150 households affected by the dry spell in Mpilipili EPA in Makanjira, too – only if their situation would be treated as an emergency as pleaded by Mangochi DC, Reverend Chimphepo.

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