Magazine article African Business

Floods Hit Malawi's Recovery: Devastating Floods Have Displaced Thousands and Are Likely to Undermine Agriculture-Led Economic Growth, Prompting Calls to Invest in Diversification

Magazine article African Business

Floods Hit Malawi's Recovery: Devastating Floods Have Displaced Thousands and Are Likely to Undermine Agriculture-Led Economic Growth, Prompting Calls to Invest in Diversification

Article excerpt

Malawi's agriculture-led economic recovery is in doubt after torrential rains in January and February led to widespread flooding.

The Department of Disaster Management Affairs says that 200 people have died. Around 600,000 people have been affected, and more than 65,500 hectares of land has been submerged, according to government statistics. Alongside the human cost, the floods have damaged the country's economic prospects. According to the presidency, the floods have cost the Malawi economy at least K23.9bn ($54m), excluding the cost of relief programmes.

The country is in the early stages of an economic recovery plan aimed at improving its fiscal stability and foreign exchange reserves, which suffered after donors cut their support in 2013, following a scandal over the misuse of state resources. Although Malawi's headline growth remained relatively strong during the crisis, import-dependent industries, such as manufacturing, suffered from the acute shortages of foreign exchange

The International Monetary Fund and the Malawian government had forecast economic growth of 5.8% in 2015, with the projections largely based on agricultural output.

The flooding has, however, put the brakes on that growth. Agriculture is Malawi's economic engine, accounting for 30% of GDP and 90% of export revenue. The floods have caused severe damage to agricultural infrastructure, washing away roads, bridges and livestock.

Country-wide, around 116,000 farmers have been affected with 35,000 hectares of cropland impacted--representing a food production loss of over $8m.

"I have lost almost everything; clothes, food, chicken, goat, food, and kitchen utensils, you name it. I can say I was lucky that I managed to run for safety with my children because the flooding occurred during daytime," says Mainala Jimu, a widow whose two-hectare maize garden in the southern district of Phalombe was washed away.

"We are here in the camp hopeless, only waiting for how the government will assist us."

Ministry of Agriculture Spokesperson Sarah Tione says that the ministry has started distributing free seeds to farmers affected by the floods for replanting. However, with only two months remaining in the rainy season, it is unlikely that this will replace the lost production. On average, Malawi's main staple, maize, takes three or four months of good rains to mature.

In January, President Peter Mutharika declared a state of emergency in 15 out of the country's 28 districts and called for urgent donor aid.

Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe said that the floods were a "huge blow", and will have a long-term impact on macroeconomic indicators. …

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