MALAWI – A recent trend analysis has revealed that maize production in Malawi is stagnating, leading to supply shortages that could exacerbate food insecurity and poverty levels as prices continue to rise.

With maize being a staple food in Malawi, the stagnating production poses a significant threat to food security and the economic well-being of millions.

The situation has become so dire that President Lazarus Chakwera recently declared a State of Disaster in 23 of Malawi’s 28 districts due to the maize production slump caused by El Niño-induced dry spells.

According to official crop production estimates spanning from 2019 to 2023, the country’s average annual maize production stands at 3.7 million metric tonnes (MT).

Except for the year 2021 when the country recorded a record-high production of 4.6 million MT, official data shows that production levels have hovered at 3.7 million MT or lower in the other four years.

Experts from the Mwapata Institute, an agricultural think tank, attribute this trend partly to inefficient fertilizer use as much as the dry spell is wreaking havoc in the country.

William Chadza, the institute’s executive director, emphasized that blanket application of fertilizer is contributing to soil acidity, thereby reducing its efficacy.

He stressed the need for soil-specific fertilizer blending, a capability currently lacking in the country.

According to Cadza, the government’s heavy reliance on the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) is to blame for diverting resources away from crucial areas like research and extension services. This, he believes, is inhibiting Malawi’s ability to meet agricultural challenges.

Speaking on weather-related challenges, Chadza called for increased investment in irrigation infrastructure to mitigate climate risks.

He highlighted the importance of government-led efforts in irrigation, which currently relies heavily on donor funding.

“Government needs to allocate more resources for irrigation. If you look at the current investment [on irrigation], most of it is from donors but the country needs to put its resources to increase irrigation farming to the level of impact on the national production capacity,” he noted.

In response, Agriculture Minister Sam Kawale acknowledged the “declining maize production” and outlined a series of short, medium, and long-term initiatives to address the issue.

Kawale emphasized the ministry’s focus on de-risking production investments, particularly through large-scale irrigation projects like the Shire Valley Transformation.

The government estimates that four million Malawians will require food assistance in the 2024/25 National Budget, underlining the urgency of the agricultural crisis.

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