It rained the first two days and faces with prospects of better yield beamed with joy in the cane fields of Nchalo and Dwangwa. Better rains means good monies.
It rained gain. Now continuously for days and more. The rains that brought so much joy and hope to the sugarcane smallholder farmers who predominantly practice rain fed agriculture caused panic and anxiety. The faces that brightened with hope turned gloomy.
The rains poured in the fields and water flowed everywhere. There was massive flooding in the cane fields of Chikwawa and Dwangwa. Rivers burst with flooding waters which carried with it silt deposits. The rains stopped. Days passed. After the heavy rains there was dry spell.
There were no rains and farmers started to be worried again. And it was not just for them.
Bigger farmers who have merchanised their farming by investing in irrigation technology faced their own problems. Their irrigation system chocked with silt that was carried by the rains. Their sprinklers barely oozed out water to keep the sugarcane alive. Then they had to take silt out of the irrigation system and they parted with more money. That is the impact of climate change.
“The climate we have come to expect is not what it used to be because the past is no longer a reliable predictor of the future. Our climate is rapidly changing with disruptive impacts and that change is progressing faster than any other seen in the past 2000 years,” warned Bouke Bijl of Agricane at the 2nd International Sugar Conference in Lilongwe.
Climate change is no new animal in today’s development discourse and to sugarcane production in Malawi. According to studies, the increasing greenhouse gas emission and globe warming result in the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Climate change is like a muddled switch on rainfall patterns.
According to Bijl, it is not just extreme weather that has come with climate change. There are also extreme costs to be borne by sugarcane farmers courtesy of violent climate.
Bijl outlined the costs of climate change poignantly. “Reduced sucrose yield means less income, increased requirement for water means you have to invest in irrigation, thus extra costs. Extra costs related to pest and disease control, extra costs related to flood damage. Extra costs related to soil fertility degradation and extra costs related to investments in adapting irrigation systems.”
And the damage is already being done. Sugarcane Growers Association of Malawi (SUGAM) Chairman Frighton Njolomole says heavy rains followed by prolonged dry spells have affected production levels of smallholder sugarcane farmers in Malawi.
“On average, a smallholder famer can produce up to 60 tons of cane per hector when things are good. But in 2015 this production came to about 40 to50 tones per hector” said Njolomole.
Such plummeting levels of productivity bite the smallholder farmers gruesomely. Since their mainstay is farming, the poor business showing, means lost income and probably failure to meet obligations such as paying schools for school going children.
But then, the conference was not to be an orchestra of dirges. The smallholder farmers were advised on various ways of how to beat the cruelty of climate change.
“Regardless of the additional costs, we need to come to terms with the facts that these changes are permanent and may get worse so climate smart mitigation measures must be implemented as soon as possible.” Said Bourke whose presentation focused on the impacts of climate change on sugarcane production.
The outgrowers were encouraged to adopt resilient sugarcane varieties, plant early and equipped with change forecasting skills among others.
“This conference has encouraged us as outgrowers to work hard despite the devastating effects of climate change,” said Max Mkandawire of Kabadwa Cane Growers Association.
SUGAM hosted the sugar conference with support from United Purpose (Concern Universal) through funding from EU and Solidaridad. The conference took place from 27th to 28th September 2016. The theme of this conference was “Building Sugarcane Out-growers Resilience to the Changing Environment.”
The 2nd sugar conference is a follow up to the first sugar conference which was held in Lilongwe in August 2015 under the theme “
Other speakers at the conference included Dr Hanna Baleta, Professor Sosten Chiotha, Dr Henry Njoloma, Dr Christopher Guta, Ms Christina Chatima, and Nexon Msiska
At the end of the conference the delegates observed that:
1. Climate change has a huge impact on the sugarcane industry. It was observed that yields have been relatively reduced and the cost of production has increased.
2. Malawi has very good policies and laws on environment but the implementation is poor.
3. Farmers have limited knowledge and skills in forecasting, adoption and planning to minimize the effects of climate change.
4. In terms of the market opportunities, Malawi is a surplus producer and has more opportunities for export. In light of reforms in the EU market such as the removal of quarters to be effected in 2017, there is a great opportunity for export into the SADC and COMESA regions. However smuggling of sugar is negatively affecting the local market. Government through Malawi Revenue Authority and Police have put in place strong measures to curb the malpractice.
5. Farmer’s livelihoods has improved and there has been tremendous infrastructure development which is benefiting communities.
6. The coming of new players will increase the production of sugarcane products in the country. It was observed that Salima Sugar Company which launched its factory has changed the sugarcane industry environment.
7. A lot of progress had been made in RAMA project although they still have some bottlenecks in sourcing funding for their infrastructure development.
8. The coming of the Carbon Dioxide Production Company has brought with it new employment opportunities and prospects of benefiting from carbon dioxide credits.
1. That all players in the sugarcane industry should play an active role in addressing the effects of climate change through influencing environmental related policies and implementing environmentally friendly activities. There is need therefore to ensure that players in the sugarcane industry started walking the talk on environmental management.
2. That there is need for industry to have skills in climate forecasting that will help in reducing the risks of climate change. This can be done through adoption of a number of actions like growing drought tolerant varieties.
3. That the industry must explore regional markets to reduce the effects brought by uncertainty of the removal of quotas in the EU markets. Regional markets offer lucrative prospects but there is need for Malawi to advocate for removal of nontrade barriers.
4. On building outgrowers’ resilience, the industry should promote use of climate vulnerability assessment and response tools to help farmers identify risks and develop physical, social and business adaptation capacity for increased yield.