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Dry spells could result in reduced crop production in parts of northern and southern Malawi

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Malawi
  • March 2014
Dry spells could result in reduced crop production in parts of northern and southern Malawi

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook Through June 2014
  • Key Messages
    • Due to ongoing humanitarian interventions and expected green harvests within the month, acute food insecurity among poor households in targeted areas is expected to remain at Minimal (IPC Phase 1!) outcomes in the presence of assistance.
    • The Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) markets have maintained a regular flow of subsidized maize supplies across the country. This has contributed to lower prices of unsubsidized maize on the local markets, among other factors.
    • Most of the country has received average rainfall since the late start of the season. Dry spells have been observed for more than 10 days in most of the country; Karonga district is facing the worst effects of this dry spell so far.
    • Red locust monitoring and control efforts by the government have been limited, resulting in an increased risk of swarms in the coming months.

    Current Situation
    • Humanitarian assistance led by the Government of Malawi (GoM) in coordination with the World Food Program (WFP) and local and international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) is ongoing for about 2 million people across the country until the end of March. 
    • Green harvests are delayed due to the one month delayed start of the season and are expected in mid-March.
    • February 2014 maize prices continued to decrease by about 14 percent from an average of MWK 147.30/kg in January to MWK126.14 in February. Based on information from private traders in the rural areas in all the regions of the country, these decreases are as a result of the continued supply and availability of maize in ADMARC markets across the country.  Another driver is the positive crop outlook and start of green consumption as crops start to mature in some areas. An additional driver is the scaling up of humanitarian assistance in January for food insecure households.
    • During the 2013/14 consumption year, cumulative informal maize imports have more than quadrupled compared to the previous year. Following seasonal trends, informal imports for February dropped to 14 percent of the average (Figure 1).
    • Cumulative rainfall across the country is generally average; however prolonged dry spells resulting in wilting of some crops especially maize has been reported in the first two weeks of March. In the north of the country, Karonga district is the worst affected in terms of maize production. It is worth noting that Karonga district is not among the main maize producing districts in Malawi so this reduction is not expected to significantly impact national production. However, since the affected areas are in the high maize production areas in Karonga, there will be significant impact on local stocks within the district.
    • Remote sensing data using the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) as an indicator of robustness of vegetation (also known as the greenness index), shows a decrease in crop greenness between January and February and continued below-average levels (Figure 2). The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MoAFS) estimated that about 14,000 hectares (less than 1 percent) of total maize cropped area for 2013/14 season was under severe moisture stress in Karonga district with diminishing chances of possible recovery. It is likely that yields will be seriously reduced in the worst affected areas by the dry spells because the maize crop was at the critical flowering stage. However, the extent of the impact of the dry spells will be fully understood once a joint assessment involving FEWS NET, WFP, MoAFS and the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services (DoCCMS) is completed at the end of March.
    • If monitoring and preventative actions are not taken there is the possibility of a red locust outbreak within the districts surrounding the Lake Chilwa basin areas during the off season, or during the initial stages of the next main cropping season. An outbreak is possible due to limited government red locust monitoring and control efforts in the 2013/14 agriculture season. As a result, there were reports of uncontrolled nymphs raising fears that the nymphs could develop into full grown locusts which could form swarms that could damage crops during the off season and into the next cropping season. If these swarms are not monitored and controlled, they could potentially spread into non-endemic areas in southern Malawi and part of Mozambique.

    Updated Assumptions

    The updated assumptions discussed in the February Food Security Outlook Update are still valid.

    Projected Outlook Through June 2014

    Based on recent FEWS NET assessments and information from partners in all the livelihood zones receiving humanitarian assistance, the majority of poor households are able to meet their food and livelihood protection needs. Therefore the acute food insecurity outcomes in all the areas of concern for March will remain Minimal in the presence of food assistance interventions (Phase 1!).

    FEWS NET projects that between the months of April and June 2014, the majority of poor rural households across the country will likely access adequate food through a combination of purchases from markets and some own household stocks, and will be facing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) 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 at


    Figures Seasonal Calendar in a Typical Year

    Figure 4

    Seasonal Calendar in a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Figure 1. Cumulative informal maize imports

    Source: FEWS NET and ACTESA

    Figure 2. Negative NDVI in between January and March 2014

    Figure 3

    Figure 2. Negative NDVI in between January and March 2014

    Source: FEWS NET and USGS

    Figure 4


    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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