The devastation wrought by Cyclone Freddy on the agriculture sector in Malawi is beyond imagination. The cyclone hit the southern African country just as the rainy season was ending, resulting in severe flooding, landslides, and wind damage.
In just four days, the cyclone claimed the lives of more than 300 Malawians and displaced over 180 000 others. Smallholder farmers, who are already struggling to make ends meet due to the inflation in food prices and the worst cholera epidemic in decades, are among the hardest hit by the storm.
They were in the midst of preparing their fields for April harvesting when the cyclone struck, leaving their crops and soil severely damaged, according to One Acre Fund, an agricultural service provider that supports Africa’s smallholder farmers. The organisation highlights the sobering initial reports and calls for immediate support for affected Malawian clients, staff, and their communities.
Disaster relief efforts
One Acre Fund is seeking $1 million in new funds to provide support to the country. It plans to carry out measurements and evaluations to assess the extent of the damage to farms and livelihoods, inform an effective response strategy, and potentially distribute drying tarps to prevent rotting of flooded harvests. It will also provide inputs later in the year to enable farmers to replant crops and restore damaged infrastructure such as bridges.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has also stepped up an emergency response to help an estimated 130 000 people affected by Cyclone Freddy. WFP is providing immediate lifesaving food assistance by distributing corn soya blend, a fortified food consumed as porridge, to displaced people.
They are also providing trucks and boats to transport supplies and support search and rescue operations. The Malawi government has declared a state of natural disaster in the ten most-affected districts and is preparing a response plan, while humanitarian partners are developing a joint appeal for support.
The impact of Cyclone Freddy on the agricultural sector is particularly concerning given Malawi’s high dependence on smallholder farming.
Khadijah, a farmer who was still recovering from the damage caused by Cyclone Ana, described the impact of the storm in a report by One Acre Fund: “I had just started planting when the cyclone came. All my crops were destroyed, and my fields were washed away. I don’t know how I will survive this year.”
Urgent support needed
The cyclone also comes at a time when Malawi is facing several other crises, including inflation in food prices and the worst cholera epidemic in decades. The country has experienced five major extreme weather events, including droughts and floods, over the past seven years, highlighting the urgent need for climate adaptation measures and support for affected communities.
Paul Turnbull, WFP’s country director in Malawi, noted the challenges facing humanitarian response efforts: “A lot of areas are inaccessible, restricting movement of assessment and humanitarian teams and life-saving supplies. We are ramping up as quickly as we can under the circumstances, but the true extent of the damage will only be revealed once assessments have been concluded. What is clear though is that the country will need significant support.”
The devastating impact of Cyclone Freddy on Malawi’s agricultural sector is said to underscore the urgent need for increased investment in climate adaptation measures and support for affected communities. Without swift action, the impact of extreme weather events such as cyclones will continue to have devastating consequences for vulnerable populations in Malawi and other countries facing the impacts of the climate crisis.