Malawians face hunger after erratic weather affects farm harvests

Malawi faces its most severe food crisis in a decade, blamed on extreme flooding and late, erratic rains, putting millions at risk of malnutrition and hunger.

CHIKWAWA, MALAWI ( (UNICEF) – Erratic weather patterns in Malawi in recent months have seen farming communities suffer losses this year and now many are going hungry as a result.

Earlier in the year parts of the country’s south we flooded after heavy rains set in, and many farmers lost their crops as well as huge areas of arable land.

In March the food security outlook was made worse when severe dry spells badly affected crops across the country and now people are going hungry during the lean season.

El Niño, caused by Pacific Ocean warming, has caused drought in several parts of Africa, including Malawi and Zimbabwe.

In Chikwawa district Liza Fatchi’s maize farm was washed away by floods, she has struggled since to recover from the loss and provide for her children.

Liza’s five-year-old daughter, Emilda is now suffering from malnutrition because there isn’t enough food. She brought her to the district hospital today for a checkup.

“Before the floods, my child was doing well. But later after, when we lost our crops, she fell sick and became malnourished. That is why I came to this hospital for treatment and she is now been given plump nut,” said Liza.

Malawi’s economy is largely dependent on agriculture. The southern Africa country is a poor and landlocked, in a region where bad weather periodically hits crops and leaves the fast-growing population short of nutritious food.

Aid agencies and the government have already started distributing food aid to affected families.

This is the first time in 9 years that Malawi has experienced a maize deficit. At the same time maize prices have already almost doubled.

This means families who haven’t been able to harvest maize, now can’t afford to buy the staple food.

Grace Chisomo, a mother of three says after her maize crop was destroyed, she now depends on odd jobs to support her family.

“This year’s harvest was very poor. The floods affected us and we hardly harvested enough maize,” she said.

In October, The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that cereal harvests have decreased by up to 27 percent compared to last year and the U.N. World Food Programme recently announced that 2.8 million people in Malawi will face hunger in coming months due to food shortages.

Some farmers have decided to come together and are irrigating farms and practising new farm techniques as a way to beat the drought. They have been able to grow various vegetables for consumption and for sale.

“There are a number of benefits. As you can see the tomatoes here, we practice inter-cropping. The maize here will help us and the children with enough food during lean periods just like we experienced this year,” said Fanny Kaputt, a farmer in Phalomba.

El Niño is forecast to continue strengthening into early 2016, causing more floods and droughts and fuelling Pacific typhoons and cyclones.

Sevi Kumwenda, a climate change expert at the University Of Malawi, says that African countries should become better prepared if they are to manage changing weather patterns today.

“We have about 3 million people who are affected. But in some years to come there will be a lot more people that will be affected. We cannot compare with other countries because in Malawi people are poor. They rely on agriculture most of the times and if these effects of climate change continue to be looked like that – not being addressed then we are seeing that in the near future we will have a lot of people who will be hungry they will not have anything to eat and also a lot of people who will be affected by floods, a lot of people who will be affected by droughts,” he said.

Global leaders met this week at The World Climate Summit this week, to debate an agreement on limiting global warming.

El Niños are not caused by climate change but scientists believe they are becoming more intense as a result of it.

The poorest regions of the world are among the hardest hit and least able to cope.