- It is official: for the first time in five years, drought-stricken Malawi will have a bumper maize harvest, according to a final crop estimate by the Lilongwe Ministry of Agriculture.
Good rain and a successful government-sponsored fertiliser and seed distribution programme boosted farmers' yields, said Patrick Kabambe, Malawi's Secretary for agriculture and food security. The country is forecast to produce about 2.35 million metric tonnes of maize, just over the annual requirement of 2 million tonnes.
Last season Malawi experienced one of its worst droughts in a decade and struggled to harvest just 1.3 million metric tonnes. The last bumper crop was 2.3 million tonnes in 1999/2000.
Malawi's food shortage, which left more than five million people in need last year, was compounded by the late delivery of fertilisers and seed. Around 80 percent of the country's workforce are subsistence farmers who depend on fertilisers to grow crops on their exhausted soils.
"This time we were able to provide the fertilisers and seed well in time in December 2005 [when the farmers were planting]," said Mr Kabambe.
The Malawian government introduced a coupon system giving small-scale farmers access to 147,000 metric tonnes of fertiliser at half the commercial price. "We have been able to distribute 95 percent of the [147,000 tonnes of] fertiliser and 6,000 tonnes of seeds," noted Mr Kabambe.
The imminent harvest could have been larger if southern Malawi, which faced the brunt of last year's drought, had not been lashed with heavy rain towards the end of the year, added Mr Kabambe. The subsequent flooding destroyed standing crop in parts of the impoverished southern region.
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has lauded the Malawian government's fertiliser and seed distribution programme. Alick Nkoma, FAO's assistant representative in Malawi, told the UN media 'IRIN' that the government also plans to provide subsidised fertiliser this year. "This will help farmers build their reserves of fertiliser considerably," Mr Nkoma noted.
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