4 February, 2023

Land degradation threatening Malawi’s food security

Agriculture authorities have warned of a worsening  hunger situation in the coming years, unless farmers adopt good land management practices that would sustain land productivity.

Director of Agriculture Planning Services in the Ministry of Agriculture Rodwell Mzonde gave the caution on Monday in Mzimba, during the launch of a Sustainable Management of Landscapes-SAMALA project, which aims at contributing to the restoration of degraded landscapes.

Implemented by the NGO consortium comprising of Total Land Care-TLC as a lead, Youth Net and Counselling-YONECO, and the International Centre for Research and Agroforestry-ICRAF, the €4.7 million five-year project, is jointly funded by the Government of Flanders and the Embassy of Ireland.

It aims to improve livelihoods of 25, 000 people in 7 Extension Planning Areas (EPAs) in Mzimba, Kasungu, Ntchisi and Dowa through participatory sustainable management of forests and catchment areas.

Among others, the project will focus on watershed management, promotion of conservation agriculture, Agroforestry, natural regeneration and tree planting, co-management of protected areas, and capacity building of local communities, awareness and advocacy on sustainable land management.

Presently, the country’s agriculture productivity is under threat as Malawi is losing top soil, which is the source of nutrients at a rate of 1.07 to 10 metric tonnes per hector in a year due to farmers’ continued use of ancient farming practices

The  development is contributing to food shortages.

The country is also losing huge areas of forest cover, which is worsening the situation.

“We are losing top soil in a very horrendous situation and you know the top soil is the source of our productivity. Every crop is to grow on top soil and the soil is the one that does have the nutrients and if we are losing that, is a threat to our agriculture sector,” Mzonde said.

He added; “In the forests, we are also losing a lot of forest cover because people are going into the areas where the forest reserves are to make settlement and even to open new gardens.”

“That itself is disturbing the ecosystem because in a way if we do not conserve the forest cover even the rains will be disturbed a lot and maybe this what we are seeing now in terms of droughts, floods and storms will be the common place in our midst.”

Mzonde said while the current situation is unbearable, there is hope to reverse it through proper management of the environment.

He said: “The issue is how are we doing our agriculture, are we following the right crop husbandry or are we following the right soil conservation techniques. How we are to manage our forest cover and how can we integrate this.”

“If we don’t manage the environment by planting some trees or grass, soil erosion will be just too heavy on us and with time we are to have very much reduced yields of our crops in the country and that will definitely have negative impacts on livelihoods in terms of food availability and income,” Mzonde added.

According to TLC Managing Director Zwide Jere, the coming in of the SAMALA project will help avert the agricultural production threat the country is facing.

“We have serious environmental problems especially to do with soil erosion, removal of soil fertility and that is impacting greatly with regard to land productivity and thereby reducing crop yield,” Jere said.

“So what we would like to see by the end of five years and even before the five-year period is that these landscapes are regenerating because we would like to restore the landscapes, we would like to see higher yields of the traditional crops like maize, we would like to see a big increase in productivity of these crops,” he said.

Meanwhile, diplomats from the Government of Flanders and the Embassy of Ireland have pledged to continue supporting initiatives in the agriculture sector aimed at improving livelihoods and building resilience of smallholder farmers in the country.

“For years, we have been supporting the agriculture sector on several projects and we are delighted to see the progress in terms of the benefits that smallholder farmers have achieved,” said Mark Montgomery, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Ireland in Malawi.

“We also acknowledge the challenges in terms of land degradation and environmental degradation caused by an over demand on the land whether that is through population increase, the significant effects and impacts of climate change and most recently flooding through cyclone Ana.”

Montgomery has since indicated their keen interest in seeing how they can support smallholder farmers grow their income and their resilience to climate change through effective climate smart agriculture and good land management practices including reforestation of critical area.

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