George Mhango, Blantyre, Malawi
April 13, 2012
This year, Stelia Likisi and his family from village headman Alfazema, Traditional Authority Mulolo in Malawi’s lower-shire district of Nsanje District will have no food, money to pay for school fees and afford a decent life.
Likisi complains that the crops they planted during the dry planting season as per their custom did not germinate at all due to delayed downpour and dry spells contrary to past rainfall patterns that brought about bumper yields.
She states that the dry spell also affected her fellow villagers until January, this year, when there was heavy and stormy rains which caused havoc on houses, property and animal production.
“Most of us have learnt the bitter way of not taking heed of weather reports. Imagine, we have lost money which was invested in farming,” laments Likisi, a mother of six children.
A visit to Mbwazi EPA showed that although most communities replanted maize after the failed dry planting, floods swept away their crops on the night of January 25. Nsanje District Commissioner Rodney Simwaka said 6 000 flood victims had their various crops washed away.
It was also proved that villagers in Osiyana, Khambadza, Sambani, Makhapa and Lalonga villages will have nothing to eat because the dry spell has already affected their replanted crops.
This therefore means that Likisi and a thousand others are now victims of irreversible damages to crop and livestock production due to what a 2010 Malawi report to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) says harsh effects of climate change in the district.
For Rex Chapota an agricultural expert who specializes in communication and also executive director of Farm Radio such experience where people plant crops without adhering to weather forecasts means lack of enough awareness on weather forecasts.
“Climate change affects the way the farming calendar and season have to be looked at and how dynamic farming has become hence the need to increase efforts of raising awareness. For example, gone are the days when they believed in dry planting using past experience,” he states.
Chapota then thinks some farmers are still used that come Mid October every year planting rains would come yet these days it even reaches January before planting rains come in other parts.
Nsanje North legislator in Malawi’s government dominated parliament Frank Viyazhi said recently farmers rely on field officers however, he said government should intensify awareness for them to understand climate change and weather.
“Forecasting is quite helpful and farmers should not take things for granted that they should plant based on the ancient calendar. This is what I also advise people in my area so we escape from annual devastating floods,” Viyazhi said.
Malawi’s acting director of Climate Change and Meteorological Services Gray Munthali says the department is not to blame saying when the weather forecast is issued, users like farmers are encouraged to get advice from their line ministries, using existing communication channels.
He explains that seasonal, forecasts cover the period October to March for planning purposes and the interpretation for farmers is through the Ministry responsible for Agriculture.
“For operational purposes, the department issues ten-day and daily forecasts which help farmers to make meaningful decisions,” Munthali notes.
But press officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Sarah Tione says information on rainfall pattern from the Ministry aims to assist farmers to know when to expect the first rain, rainfall pattern and distribution across Malawi.
She said in the face of climate change this helps farmers to decide when to plant apart from their farming experience because weather conditions and reports have changed this time around.
Tione also blamed some farmers who she said prefer to use their experience rather than getting rainfall distribution data from the extension workers placed in their localities.
“It is not a big problem but as a Ministry, we just have to encourage our farmers to combine their farming experience and issues of climate change. We have now begun promoting Climate Smart Agriculture or conservation farming,” she said.
But Farm Radio Malawi officials think all stakeholders in the farming systems have enough knowledge and should share the knowledge appropriately and using various channels.
“That is why now, as an organization we are exploring ways of ensuring that farm radio programs can interpret the weather forecasts in line with issues of agriculture since the weather forecasts normally are general and not only for farmers,” Chapota says.
The climate change and meteorological acting director, Munthali says for farmers to utilise weather reports for good planting key stakeholders should have brainstorming sessions in view of the advances in technology so as to improve communication between authorities and farmers.
“The model of using extension workers to pass on information has been there for quite a long time. Perhaps it is high time it was reviewed. Once reviewed farmers would devise resourceful ways to cope with and adapt to adverse impacts of extreme weather events,” Munthali states.
The Department is also implementing a project, on pilot basis, to improve the dissemination of weather and climate information and products to the grassroot level and currently the selected districts are Karonga, Kasungu, Salima, Zomba, Mulanje, Chikhwawa and Nsanje.
Nsanje and Chikhwawa are part of the pilot phase in line with a September 2009 study by Bunda College of the University of Malawi which shows that communities are vulnerable to different climate risks, including flooding, shorter rains, dry spells, late rains, drought and strong winds.
“Floods and drought were mentioned by all vulnerable communities as being the most climate change risks affecting adaptation efforts,” noted Dr. David Mkwambisi, one of the researchers.
Agriculture experts, Farm Radio Malawi and the Ministry of Agriculture have stepped up efforts to provide civic education.