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Crisis level food insecurity affecting most of the poor households in southern Malawi

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Malawi
  • July 2012
Crisis level food insecurity affecting most of the poor households in southern Malawi

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Food Security Conditions
  • Key Messages
    • Based on the results of its post-harvest food security assessment, the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) has projected that in the April 2012 to March 2013 consumption period, 1.63 million people in 15 mainly southern districts will be unable to adequately access food in order to meet their basic food needs.

    • The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MoAFS) third round crop estimates confirms the 7 percent decrease in staple maize production as compared to last season.  Despite this decrease, Malawi will still have a national maize production surplus of about 500,000 MT from the traditional surplus producing central and northern regions.  Poor rainfall in southern Malawi resulted in significant crop yield reductions with parts of some districts experiencing total crop failure.

    • The Government of Malawi (GoM) through the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DODMA) and United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) has developed a response plan that aims to provide humanitarian assistance to all those affected by food insecurity starting in August. However, as of mid-July, that plan was only partially funded. Other response options are still being developed.

    • Many households in the southern districts are unable to afford to purchase non-food essentials and maintain their livelihoods. Within this region poor households are currently facing significant food consumption gaps and will experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity conditions from July – September. FEWS NET projects that if humanitarian response is not implemented, the food insecurity situation in the southern districts will deepen to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) levels during the remainder of the food consumption year. 


    Current Food Security Conditions

    The release of third round crop estimates by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MoAFS) confirmed the 7 percent production drop from the previous year’s total maize harvest. Factors that contributed to the reduction in crop production during the 2011/12 agricultural season include prolonged dry spells and poor rainfall in the southern region. The estimated maize harvest of 3.624 million MT is slightly above the five-year average of 3.46 million MT. According to the MoAFS national food balance sheet, the national cereal requirement stands at 2.8 million MT.  Currently, post-harvest losses are projected at 13 percent and a cereal surplus of 552,000 MT is expected. Southern Malawi has faced several consecutive years of poor harvests as a result of weather-related shocks, especially dry spells. Since the devaluation and depreciation of the local currency in May, the exchange rate has shifted from MWK 167/1 USD to MWK 278/1 USD as of July, significantly lowering consumer purchasing power as prices of basic commodities and staple food continue to rise.

    In Figure 2, a comparison of 3-year averages to nominal maize prices in source markets or surplus producing areas in Mzuzu (northern Malawi) and in Mitundu (central Malawi), shows that recent nominal maize prices are about 30 percent higher when compared to 3-year averages.  For the Chikhwawa market, a key maize market in the deficit producing and food insecure areas in southern Malawi, the nominal maize price increase is more than double the 3-year average.  

    Informal cross border trade  

    In terms of informal cross border trade, maize imports this year are 9 percent higher (from 6,087 MT to 6,634 MT) when compared to the previous year. Figure 3 shows that during the current marketing year imports are a little higher than they were last year and exports this marketing year are significantly lower than they were last year.

    At the same time, borders in Phalombe, Mangochi and Machinga districts in southern Malawi have recorded an average increase of over 300 percent when compared to last year’s maize imports during the same period.  Negative imports have been recorded for borders in Chikhwawa and Mulanje districts at 60 percent of last year’s import levels for the same period.

    The cross border monitoring system also recorded a 90 percent reduction in maize exports in all its borders (from 42,855 MT to 4,183 MT) during the April to June period.  This reduction is the result of the maize export ban policy that was put in place by the GoM after it became apparent that low maize production was likely for the 2011/12 agricultural season.  Despite the maize export ban, Songwe and Mbirima borders in northern Malawi are still recording high exports. Maize exports at these boarder areas account for 91 percent of the total informal cross-border trade between April and June of this year.

    Joint Post-Harvest Assessment, June 2012

    Following a joint post-harvest assessment, the MVAC has identified 15 districts where poor households will be unable to meet all their food needs.  As a result of this analysis, the MVAC has recommended that 75,000 MT of maize equivalents be allocated to meet the food needs of the affected populations starting in August.  DoDMA working in partnership with WFP developed a USD $48 million response plan based entirely on direct food distribution interventions. As a result of this plan, the GoM has allocated 25,000 MT and USAID has allocated food commodities valued at around USD $8 million for the proposed response.  As of mid-July, the WFP is still trying to come up with the remaining USD $30 million needed in order to facilitate an adequate humanitarian response.

    Other response options that were recommended by the MVAC include cash transfers and cash/food for work programming. In collaboration with the MVAC, both Oxfam and the WFP are providing technical leadership for a market analysis conducted in July. The results from the market assessment are expected by mid-August and will be used to guide DoDMA and all implementing agencies on the appropriateness of food and cash-based interventions. The assessment should also provide some guidance on how food markets are expected to function during the current consumption year.

    In addition to the market analysis, there are also concerns about the food insecurity conditions experienced in poor households in urban and peri-urban areas.  In order to better understand the vulnerability of populations living in urban areas, the MVAC is also conducting an urban assessment. This analysis will include a general food security needs assessment as well as a food market performance analysis in urban and peri-urban areas.  Results for the urban assessments are also expected in August.  Given the sudden rise in food prices and other basic commodities, this urban assessment in Malawi will identify missing food entitlements that populations in urban and peri-urban may face during the 2012/13 consumption year. 

    Update on Food Security Scenario

    Based on existing higher than expected nominal retail maize prices observed over the past two months and limited household access to casual labor and other self-employment opportunities, some poor households in the southern districts are currently facing significant food consumption gaps and will experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity conditions  between July and September. FEWS NET projects that if humanitarian response is not implemented the food insecurity situation in the southern districts will deepen to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) levels for most poor households during the remainder of the food consumption year.  

    Figures Seasonal Calendar

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar

    Source: FEWS NET

    Comparison of 2012 nominal maize prices and  3-year averages

    Figure 2

    Comparison of 2012 nominal maize prices and 3-year averages

    Source: FEWS NET

    Comparison of informal cross border trade imports and exports of maize from April to June of the 2011/12 and 2012/13 marketin

    Figure 3

    Comparison of informal cross border trade imports and exports of maize from April to June of the 2011/12 and 2012/13 marketing season

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 4

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    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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