Farmers in southern Malawi in urgent need after intense flooding, UN agency warns

Torrential rains in Malawi have caused dozens of deaths, with hundreds of people still missing. Photo: UNDP/Arjan van de Merwe

28 January 2015 – The United Nations agriculture agency is working closely with Malawi’s Government on a $16 million response plan aimed at protecting farmers from severe flooding that has destroyed fields and homes, washed away animals and crops, and threatens local food security.

“Failure to respond promptly will have lasting consequences,” said Florence Rolle, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Representative to Malawi. “Flood-hit families risk harvesting nothing or very little this year, leaving them food insecure at the very outset of the agricultural season and undermining much of the progress being made in reducing food insecurity in Malawi.” she said.

The Government hopes its plan will help to put affected farmers back on track to plant and harvest food during the agricultural season, and FAO will work closely with them to supply short-cycle varieties of maize, rice, sweet potato, cowpeas, vegetable seeds and cassava cuttings for urgent replanting. The hope is that some fields and crops could be ready by June, mitigating the need to rely on long-term humanitarian programs.

At the same time, local families need new livestock to ensure animal protein intake, and irrigation facilities must be restored before the dry season to ensure food production. Untold numbers of goats and chickens have perished where waters rose with unexpected speed, while remaining livestock is at heightened risk of disease outbreaks.

Malawi is regularly hit by floods and droughts, requiring emergency responses of varying size each year. This year, flooding has caused displacement of over 170,000 people, while an estimated 116,000 households have lost their crops and livestock. In Nsanje district alone, 79 people are confirmed dead with another 153 people still missing.

This year’s rains have come ahead of their usual schedule, repeatedly bursting the banks along the Shire and Ruo rivers, and warnings of flash floods remain in place, with more rain forecast for the country’s North.

The floods come after last year saw a bumper maize harvest, with overall cereal production rising by 8 per cent, reducing core food prices and cutting by more than half the number of people assessed as food insecure.

With 86 per cent of the population living in rural areas and engaged in farming and livestock rearing, long-term watershed management infrastructures are urgently needed so that even intense flooding is less damaging than this year.

The FAO has been working closely with the Government and other partners in Malawi to build more resilient livelihoods and reduce exposure to risks such as floods and dry spells. Last year, working alongside the UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP), the FAO piloted an approach to building resilience, which integrates nutrition education, climate smart agricultural practices and disaster risk reduction.


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