Food Security Outlook Update

Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes persist in the south given delayed start to assistance program

December 2020

December 2020 - January 2021

This is a map of Malawi showing most of the country in Minimal (IPC Phase 1). The four main urban centers (Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Zomba, and Blantyre) and some districts in southern Malawi are mapped in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). The Salima district in central Malawi is mapped in Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

February - May 2021

This is a map of Malawi showing most of the country in Minimal (IPC Phase 1). The four main urban centers (Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Zomba, and Blantyre) are mapped in Stressed (IPC Phase 2). Some districts in southern Malawi and the Salima district in central Malawi are mapped in Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) indicating that humanitarian assistance is anticipated to prevent worse outcomes.

IPC v3.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
National Parks/Reserves
Would likely be at least one phase worse without current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.

IPC v3.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
National Parks/Reserves
Would likely be at least one phase worse without current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.

IPC v3.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3+: Crisis or higher
Would likely be at least one phase worse without
current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.
FEWS NET Remote Monitoring countries use a colored outline to represent the highest IPC classification in areas of concern.

IPC v3.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

Presence countries:
1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
National Parks/Reserves
Remote monitoring
countries:
1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3+: Crisis or higher
Would likely be at least one phase worse without
current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET Remote Monitoring countries use a colored outline to represent the highest IPC classification in areas of concern.

Key Messages

  • Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected to persist across most of the country throughout the projection period. In the presence of humanitarian assistance (expected from January/February through March 2021), Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are anticipated in six districts of southern Malawi and one district of central Malawi that would have been expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes during the lean season in the absence of assistance. Outcomes in these areas are expected to improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) with the harvest in April 2021. Meanwhile, improvement to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes is expected in urban areas by January 2021 as economic recovery improves access to income, though some low-income households will likely register Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) or Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in the subsequent months given the impacts of a second wave of COVID-19 in the region.

  • Retail prices for maize grain remain significantly lower than last year but have generally been increasing in recent months, in line with typical trends during the lean season. However, in November 2020, prices decreased in almost half of monitored markets while remaining stable in others, due to increased supply as farmers sold maize in order to purchase agricultural inputs for the current production season. While maize grain prices have remained above the five-year average in most markets, relatively low current prices compared to some previous years are due to above-average supplies in most markets as most households are still relying on own-produced food following an above-average 2020 harvest.

  • The 2020/21 rainy season started 1-3 weeks late across most of Malawi. Despite this and despite erratic rains from November 20 to December 10 which delayed planting in some areas, most areas across the country have now planted main crops. Overall, cumulative precipitation deficits since October have generally been erased by rainfall in the first two weeks of December. According to the latest forecasts, average cumulative rainfall is now expected for the season through March 2021.

  • After remaining low for several months, the number of new COVID-19 cases reported daily has increased somewhat from December 15 to 22. Prior to this, given the general low incidence of new cases and continued relaxation of restrictions in recent months, trade and other forms of economic activity had been recovering, leading to improvements in income-earning opportunities for urban households. However, as of December 22, the government had issued new restrictions, including closing land borders to foreigners and the movement of non-essential goods. This as well as other restrictions in the region (particularly South Africa) is expected to reduce economic activity related to tourism and trade, and consequently reduce employment and income-earning opportunities for some low-income urban households whose resilience is already weakened from the first wave of COVID-19 in mid-2020 and who are being impacted by rising cost of living.

CURRENT SITUATION

Overall food availability—at both the national and household level—is above average following an above-average 2019/20 production season. According to recent information, ADMARC has now purchased 55,000 MT of maize out of a revised planned procurement target of 135,000 MT. Meanwhile, the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) has so far purchased over 50,000 MT of a revised planned target of 100,000 MT of maize for the Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR). Procurement targets are expected to have been revised downward due to funding constraints. Despite procuring lower than normal amounts, the two government institutions will likely have adequate grain for subsidized commercial sales and humanitarian assistance due to reduced burden on the two institutions this year. This is because most households are consuming food from own production or relying on market purchases from private traders and, additionally, a large part of the humanitarian assistance program (for over half of administrative areas) will be in the form of cash transfers.

In November 2020, retail maize grain prices in monitored markets ranged from MWK 139 per kilogram to MWK 220 per kilogram (Figure 1), with most markets recording prices under the government-set minimum price of MWK 200 per kilogram. Prices for maize grain in November remained significantly lower than last year (by 11 to 42 percent) in all monitored markets but are above the five-year average in most markets (Figure 2). Prices have generally been increasing in recent months, in line with typical trends during the lean season. However, from October to November, prices decreased in almost half of monitored markets, likely due to increased market supply as farmers sold more maize in order to buy agricultural inputs for the current production season. To date, purchases by ADMARC and the NFRA have had no notable impacts on prices.

Currently, Malawi is receiving planting rains. Despite a late start to the 2020/21 rainy season (by 1-3 weeks) and erratic rains from November 20 to December 10 (Figure 3) which delayed planting in some areas, most areas across the country have now planted main crops, with the planting of other crops ongoing. Overall, cumulative precipitation deficits since October have generally been erased by rainfall in the first two weeks of December (Figure 4). According to the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services (DCCMS), Malawi has so far received isolated moderate to locally heavy rainfall amounts—especially in the southern half of the country. Planting has generally progressed well, with most farmers accessing adequate seed despite internet outages impacting effective implementation of the new Affordable Input Program (AIP). However, as of mid-December, many farmers were facing unmet fertilizer needs due to supply challenges. It is still expected that most farmers will access the AIP subsidized inputs in time for fertilizer application.

Households in most of the country are accessing normal incomes through agricultural labor as the rainy season progresses and demand for agricultural labor increases. Households are currently earning income from land preparation, ridging, and planting labor. However, in southern and central areas where households are facing food and income gaps due to localized production shortfalls, labor access is expected to be constrained and wages are expected to be below average.

Government and partners have planned and largely funded a humanitarian assistance program to assist households in districts that were expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes during the lean season. Assistance was planned for periods ranging from two to four months, starting in some areas in December 2020 and commencing in other areas through February 2021. However, as of late December, assistance distributions had not yet commenced. Once the program starts, assistance is planned to be distributed in targeted areas through March 2021. The humanitarian response plan also indicates that government and partners intended to implement a humanitarian assistance program for low-income households impacted by COVID-19 in the cities of Blantyre, Zomba, Lilongwe, and Mzuzu beginning in November 2020 and lasting through March 2021. However, as of late-December 2020 the urban response had not yet started.

After remaining low for several months, the number of new COVID-19 cases reported daily has been generally increasing from December 15 to 22. Between mid-September and mid-December, the 7-day rolling average of daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases did not exceed seven. However, on December 22, this figure was 24. As of December 22, cumulative cases since April 2020 total 6,248, including 5,668 recoveries and 187 deaths. Given the general low incidence of new cases and continued relaxation of restrictions in recent months, trade and other forms of economic activity have been recovering through mid-December, leading to improvements in income-earning opportunities for households impacted by layoffs, business closures, and reduced demand for labor and trade during the period of peak COVID-19 impacts. However, as of December 22, the government has issued new restrictions, including restricting gatherings to 100 people and closing land borders (for two weeks, effective December 23, but the possibility of extension) to foreigners and the movement of non-essential goods. This as well as other restrictions in the region (particularly South Africa) is expected to reduce economic activity related to tourism and trade.  

According to the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM), the Malawi Kwacha has continued to depreciate gradually since May 2020 (Figure 5). As of December 18, the official exchange rate had depreciated by 3.6 percent compared to mid-July, the time period five months prior when the depreciation began. However, the value of the currency on the parallel market has been significantly lower than the value dictated by the official exchange rate, according to news reports in recent months. As of October 2020, the gap between the official and parallel exchange rates was one of the highest margins recorded, attributed to foreign exchange shortages. More recently, in December, media outlets have reported traders complaining of foreign exchange shortages. According to official inflation figures from the RBM, month-on-month rates of inflation in October 2020 were typical for the time of year. However, while staple food prices have not been impacted, the prices of other food and non-food commodities as well as cost of living have increased according to the Centre for Social Concern (CFSC) and Consumer Association of Malawi (CAMA). As estimated by the CFSC, cost of living in urban centers has increased 20 percent from July to October 2020. More recently, in mid-December, the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) raised petrol and diesel prices by 21 and 24 percent, respectively, in response to increasing global fuel prices, according to news reports. This is already increasing transport costs, expected to result in further increases in prices of food and non-food commodities.

Currently, most districts across Malawi are experiencing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes as they consume food from their stocks of own-produced food and market purchases. However, households in six districts of southern Malawi and one district in central Malawi experienced production shortfalls and are facing constrained access to incomes, with an increasing number of households expected to be facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes as the lean season progresses and food stocks are exhausted. These southern Malawi districts are currently expected to be facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, with the central Salima district likely facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. Low-income households in the cities of Blantyre, Zomba, Lilongwe, and Mzuzu who were impacted by effects of COVID-19 on the economy are expected to be facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in the absence of assistance. 

UPDATED ASSUMPTIONS

The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario discussed in the October 2020 to May 2021 Food Security Outlook Report  remain unchanged, except for the following:

  • According to the latest international and national forecasts, average cumulative rainfall is now expected for the October 2020 to March 2021 season.
  • Overall, informal cross-border maize import levels are likely to be average to above-average throughout the projection period. Despite previous expectations for below-average informal maize imports owing to very high national maize availability, FEWS NET monitoring of informal trade has recorded high import volumes in recent months. This is largely attributed to local market dynamics as opposed to overall national-level supply and demand. Farmers and traders in border districts of Mozambique and Zambia have continued selling their maize in Malawi as these markets are closer and more economically viable compared to markets far inside their countries. Meanwhile, informal maize exports have dropped steeply as Tanzania—the main informal importer—started accessing harvests.
  • Based on current trends, the global COVID-19 pandemic is likely to continue throughout the projection period. The rate of increase in total COVID-19 cases in Malawi is expected to remain close to current slightly elevated but overall lower levels than what was recorded in July and August 2020.
  • Given recent COVID-19 restrictions in Malawi and in the region which will likely impact the tourism and trade sectors in Malawi, economic activity in Malawi is expected to reduce somewhat while restrictions remain in place. Given current restrictions and levels of enforcement, particularly in Malawi, impacts on economic activity and income-earning are not expected to be as severe as during the peak period of COVID-19 impacts around July and August 2020. However, either further restrictions or the lifting of restrictions would be expected to change the scenario, as per the “Events that Might Change the Outlook” table below.
  • Due to expectations for somewhat reduced economic activity—particularly affecting tourism and trade—access to income in urban areas is expected to decrease for some households.
  • Given delays in implementation through late December, humanitarian assistance distributions are expected to target six southern districts and the central Salima district, starting in some areas in January 2021 and commencing in other areas in February 2021. Assistance will likely be distributed in these areas through March 2021. Humanitarian assistance for low-income households impacted by the economic downturn due to COVID-19 in the cities of Blantyre, Zomba, Lilongwe, and Mzuzu is also expected from January to March 2021. Households identified by MVAC will likely receive full rations of humanitarian assistance in months when distributions occur. According to a government press release in September 2020, approximately 2.6 million people (of whom about 586,000 are in urban centers) will likely be targeted with in-kind or cash assistance during this period. Out of 249 Traditional Authorities (TA)—local administrative areas—targeted, 135 will be targeted with cash transfers, 65 with in-kind food, and 49 will have the choice between cash or in-kind food.
  • Livestock herd sizes and body conditions are expected to remain normal in most areas. Prices are generally expected to remain average or above average due to fewer households selling livestock in the above-average production year. In southern areas affected by below-average production, livestock prices will likely follow seasonal trends, decreasing during the lean season from November to March as households sell livestock to buy food. In the Lower Shire districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje, given current levels of trade, the ban on livestock sales is not expected to result in meaningful reductions in income from livestock sales throughout the projection period, with normal levels of income expected overall.

PROJECTED OUTLOOK THROUGH MAY 2021

Most rural households are expected to continue accessing adequate food from own production and market purchases, with Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes expected to persist in most areas through at least May 2021. However, households in six districts of southern Malawi and one district in central Malawi faced localized production shortfalls. In these areas, access to food and income is expected to be insufficient to meet all food needs, with consumption gaps likely during the lean season for many poor households in absence of assistance. In southern areas currently expected to be facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, improvement to Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) is expected in January/February 2021 as the humanitarian food assistance program commences. In the central Salima district, deterioration from Stressed (IPC Phase 2) to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is expected in January 2021 in the absence of assistance, with improvement to Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) expected with the provision of humanitarian assistance likely to begin in February 2021. In these southern areas and the central Salima district, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are expected to persist in the presence of humanitarian assistance through March 2021. In April 2021, food from the harvest is expected to improve outcomes to Stressed (IPC Phase 2), with further improvement to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) expected in May 2021 as households access income from the sale of cash crops.

Given delays in the start of assistance distributions, many low-income households in the four cities of Malawi are now expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in the majority of December, with improvement to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) expected by January 2021 even in the absence of assistance due to continued gradual economic recovery. However, given the recent re-instatement of some COVID-19 restrictions in Malawi and in the region (particularly South Africa) and consequent revised expectations for economic activity, income-earning opportunities for some low-income urban households is likely to be reduce in the coming months while the restrictions remain in place. For many of these households, resilience is already weakened from reductions in income-earning during the first wave of COVID-19 in mid-2020. Additionally, the rising cost of living is expected to place additional pressure on poor households’ resources during the projection period. As a result, an increasing number of households will likely register Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes (with humanitarian assistance preventing worse outcomes) or Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes (in the absence of assistance) in the subsequent months, though area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are still expected.

Events that Might Change the Outlook

Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario:

Area

Event

Impact on food security outcomes

Nationwide

Second wave of COVID-19 and  re-instated preventive measures

This would likely reverse improvements in economic and business activity. Access to income would likely decrease again for many low-income urban households. An increase in the number of urban households facing Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes in the presence of assistance or Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in the absence of assistance would be likely. Area-level Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes would be likely to re-emerge in urban areas in the presence of assistance.

Nationwide

Earlier than expected lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in Malawi and in the region

This would likely allow for recovery in trade and economic activity following reductions expected due to the current restrictions. As a result, negative impacts on economic and business activity in Malawi would be less significant overall than if the COVID-19 restrictions remained in place. Access to income for some low-income urban households would likely be reduced for a time, but overall fewer urban households would be expected to face Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) or Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes during the projection period, with Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes likely to persist at the area level.

Areas affected by below-average production; urban areas

Further delays in humanitarian assistance

In southern and central areas impacted by below-average production, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes would be expected from January to March 2021 in the absence of assistance, with an increasing number of households expected to exhaust food stocks and face consumption gaps and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes as the lean season progresses.

In urban areas where low-income households are expected to face some reductions in income-earning in the coming months due to re-instated COVID-19 restrictions, further delays in humanitarian assistance would likely result in an increase in the number of households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.

 

About this Update

This monthly report covers current conditions as well as changes to the projected outlook for food insecurity in this country. It updates FEWS NET’s quarterly Food Security Outlook. Learn more about our work here.

About FEWS NET

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network is a leading provider of early warning and analysis on food insecurity. Created by USAID in 1985 to help decision-makers plan for humanitarian crises, FEWS NET provides evidence-based analysis on approximately 30 countries. Implementing team members include NASA, NOAA, USDA, USGS, and CHC-UCSB, along with Chemonics International Inc. and Kimetrica.
Learn more About Us.

Link to United States Agency for International Development (USAID)Link to the United States Geological Survey's (USGS) FEWS NET Data PortalLink to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Link to National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Earth ObservatoryLink to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Weather Service, Climage Prediction CenterLink to the Climate Hazards Center - UC Santa BarbaraLink to KimetricaLink to Chemonics