Drought, armyworms cut Malawi maize crop by 19 pct - minister

LILONGWE (Reuters) - Malawi’s maize output declined by 19.4 percent in the 2017/18 farming year to 2.8 million tons due to damage caused by drought and crop-eating armyworms, Agriculture Minister Joseph Mwanamvekha said on Monday.

“This (decline) is because of dry spells experienced in some parts of the country and the armyworm invasion,” Mwanamvekha told Reuters.

Malawi produced 3.5 million tons of maize in the 2016/17 season but banned exports of its staple crop earlier this year and said it was considering restocking its national grain reserves.

Armyworms are a pest from Latin America that first threatened African crops late in 2016, while drought is a perennial threat to the impoverished southern African country.

Mwanamvekha said it was too early to predict 2018/19 agricultural output but there could be significant reductions in the yields of most of Malawi’s major food crops, which include cassava, groundnuts and sorghum.

Malawi relies heavily on rain-fed agriculture, and most of its maize is grown on small plots by subsistence farmers.

Reporting by Mabvuto Banda; Writing by Alexander Winning; Editing by Joe Brock