- Erratic rains in Malawi are raising fears of another possible drought, especially in the southern regions of the country. Some areas in southern Malawi have only received a quarter of the rains that normally would have come by this time, the end of the rainy season.
Late rains throughout the country are raising concerns. In contrast to normal seasonal patterns, in which the southern and central regions of Malawi receive scattered rains in late October and early November - and planting rains start in earnest in mid-November - this season most parts of the country received planting rains a month late, around mid-December.
Some areas, especially in the lower Shire, have not yet received planting rains. Contrary to expectations, the main rains started in the north and parts of the central region this year, while most parts of the southern region have only received isolated light rains. Also across the border, in Mozambique, rains have failed and another drought is expected.
In the central and northern regions of Malawi, however, rainfall in the October to January period has been below but closer to the normal for the period. While most of the south has received less than 50 percent of the normal, the central and northern parts of Malawi have received between 50 and 100 percent of normal rains.
The poor rains are frustrating farmers, who had hoped to get over years of drought and poverty by another decent harvest. In general, farm inputs, such as fertilizer and seed, are reported to be "readily available" all over the country. In addition to purchasing these inputs with their own cash, some farmers - especially the poor - had obtained them for free and on loan through various aid programmes.
However, farmers in several parts of the drought affected south have had to delay all agricultural activities and for some, there will be no 2004 agricultural season. In the driest parts, planting had to be skipped altogether.
- If the current rainfall pattern continues, national crop production will be well below last year's, adversely affecting the country's food security situation during the next marketing year [April 2004 to March 2005], warns the US agency Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS).
FEWS said it was now important to begin establishing plans to address this possible situation now," FEWS said. "According to some of the experts, a state of disaster will need to be declared in some areas if the current pattern of rain continues," the agency added in a report released today.
Also the World Food Programme (WFP) has expressed its concern. "With more families dependent on the market as household stocks are depleted, the government is set to release maize from the grain reserve to meet high demand," the UN agency said in its latest assessment of the situation in Malawi.
In response to drought concerns, the Malawian government has now imposed restrictions on maize exports, following rather large exports late last year. "The price of maize in local markets continues to rise as demand increases," WFP had noted.
Malawi, one of Africa's poorest countries, just had recovered slightly from one of the worst droughts in its history. Now, especially the southern parts of the country again may slip into a serious drought, which currently is affecting large parts of Southern Africa.
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