Mwalimba is an 80 year-old farmer in Gomani Village, T/A Simphasi in Mchinji district, 100km away from Malawi’s capital City, Lilongwe. She talks about being affected by the climate.
She does not know what climate change is about yet, she is among the farmers that complain of poor harvests because the rains has become unpredictable.
“In the past, when the rainfall pattern was good, we used to grow local maize which could take up to 120 days to mature but now the rainfall stops even before the maize produces silks” says Mwalimba.
Climate change spells a misfortune for rural livelihoods and agriculture in Malawi.
Despite recent macroeconomic achievements, poverty is still a pervasive and endemic concern.
The Malawi government, through the fertilizer and seed subsidy programme, has managed to improve maize production.
A preliminary assessment report on the food situation in Malawi released recently by Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) shows that in May there were 718, 000 people that were food insecure in eight districts of southern Malawi.
The report indicates that these people are in dire need of food aid and recommended the immediate assistance to all affected people in continuation of the relief programme started earlier in the year.
In the past, Malawi used to have the rainfall season of about five months as minimum, but now the rainfall pattern has changed to four months maximum.
With the country’s economy being agro-based, which employs over half the population, the burden is being shouldered by the rural farmers whose livelihoods have been cornered.
Crop yields and production have been reduced by higher temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and increased flooding pattern.
This has forced poor farmers to go for improved seeds and fertilizer which is very expensive for a rural farmer.
“With high temperature, the fertile alluvial soil is burnt, thereby needing more nutrients to be added for good yields. This is also another burden to poor farmers as they need to invest a lot,” said Moses Chirambo, Director of Foundation of Irrigation for Sustainable Development (FISD).
Sometimes, other parts of the country receive a lot of rainfall thereby leaving fertile alluvial soil vulnerable to both flood and drought.
“Currently, we are promoting conservative farming which we allow farmers to let crop residues to remain in the field and not to till the ridges for two seasons because during this time, there is still some nutrients in the soil,” said Chirambo.
He said FISD makes sure that there is balanced use of agrochemicals, planned land use and no improper disposal of hazardous industrial effluents.
“We are also training farmers in using the organic manure as a one way of bringing back fertility,” he said
After the normal farming period or when the rainfall pattern is erratic, FISD embarks on the irrigation programme.
“As an alternative measure, we are also implementing a programme whereby we provide farmers with livestock on loan which may be used as a source of food and income when there is low crop production,” said Chirambo.
He said FISD also supports the government subsidy programme by providing farmers with free fertilizer and seeds.
Because of the dwindling in agriculture production, farmers have no alternative to have a health or nutritious meal, leaving families, mainly pregnant mothers and children vulnerable.
Monica Mmadi, 37, comes from Kadula Village, T/A Simphasi in Mchinji district. She is a married to a farmer and a piece worker with four children and is expecting another child.
“After harvesting last growing season, I realized only four 50kg bags of maize of which ended in February this year. Whenever I go to the hospital, I am told that I need to eat nutritious food of which is a milestone to us as a family.
“We mostly live on maize husks, sometimes on roots of wild plants, I can’t do otherwise but to succumb to the situation which, however, is a threat to my unborn child,” she said while wiping out tears of her fourth child who was crying of hunger.
FISD has moved in to help by providing trainings on how to prepare nutritious food using locally available resources.
When the temperatures and higher summer precipitation are high, it is likely that mosquitoes enjoy their reproduction thereby leaving people vulnerable to malaria.
Climate change is likely to increase the incidence of water-borne and air-borne diseases, bacteria, parasites that breeds faster in warmer and wetter conditions.
“Cholera and other diarrheal diseases could become common with the contamination of drinking water. In this case, the health of the poor will deteriorate and acute illness will be the course of the day thereby driving people into extreme poverty,” said Chirambo.
Malawi’s rural living identity and livelihood are highly connected with the water and rivers that define it.
Groundwater is a major source of clean water in Malawi although its supply is spatial, seasonal and only available to those living in the urban. This force the other sector of people to rely on wells (rather shallow and dry up when the rainfall season is over) and surface water which is unprotected from contamination from agriculture and wastes.
“With no enough water reserves both underground and surface, people in the rural areas are sharing the same source of water with animals which at the end of the day is polluted because of high pressure,” said Chirambo.
The water, he says, is now degraded and not suitable for either human consumption or some other domestic uses. However, there is no other source of water for the slum dwellers as purchasing water is beyond their reach.
“For the to survive, they will be using no water or consume the poor quality water and expose their families to health risk,” said Chirambo
Deforestation has also contributed to the shortage of water sources as they dry up.
“We are also constructing water harvesting systems which are used at times where by natural water sources have dry up,” he said.
Chirambo said they are also advocating for the systems which will lead to conserving the nature.
“In this case, we are advocating for the use of solar energy as use of energy. We are also implementing a sensitization programme on the use of energy saving stoves,” he said
ENVIRONMENT AND POVERTY
The reliance of the poor on the environment for survival makes them highly exposed to dangers of environmental degradation as almost each and every corner of their life rests on natural resources.
The use of resources can best be defined by need, desperation and access and also basic needs as shelter and fuel for cooking.
Apart from agriculture, the larger sectors of rural dwellers take charcoal business as a substitute during the farming off-season.
When the natural and older trees have been used, they remain with no choice but to scramble for small trees, thereby, as time goes by, clearing all the available forests.
THE FUTURE CHALLENGE
In future, it is feared that if issues of climate change are not addressed properly, there will be a nation of no water for both human beings and agriculture.
“With the high prices of farming materials and the unavailability of water, we should expect the world full of hungry and suffering people. We should expect more diseases as animals and people will be fighting for one source of water.
“There will be a scramble for a few trees, if not shrubs that will be there for firewood as the main sources of energy,” said Chirambo.