Food Security Outlook

As high maize prices persist, late season dry spells are likely to reduce crop yields in some districts

April 2013 to September 2013

IPC 2.0 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 2.0 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 2.0 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

  • Second round crop estimates released by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MoAFS) have projected gross maize production at about 3.68 million MTs. While this estimate is slightly higher (1.5 percent) than 2011/12 production levels, FEWS NET expects that the third round crop estimates will better capture the impact of the extended dry spells on crop yields in the central and northern region, and maize production estimates will likely decrease.  

  • Due to prolonged dry spells in February and March, reduced maize crop yields are expected this season for poor rural households in parts of Southern Lake Shore (SLA), Kasungu-Lilongwe Plains (KAS), Mzimba Self-sufficient (MZS), and Western Rumphi-Mzimba (WRM) livelihood zones. From July to September affected households will likely be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as their own food stocks become depleted and households must buy high priced food in local markets. 

  • In March, the average national retail price for maize was 253 percent higher than the average retail price in March 2012 due to continued tight supplies and high demand, exacerbated by the loss of 32,222 MTs of national maize stocks, the continued depreciation of the Malawian Kwacha (MWK), the longer distances traveled to source markets, and high fuel costs. Given these factors FEWS NET projects that between April and June maize prices will decrease according to seasonal trends, but will remain higher than average historical maize prices throughout the outlook period. 

National Overview

Current Situation

In April the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MoAFS) released second round crop estimates projecting a gross domestic maize production of about 3.68 million MTs, which is 1.5 percent higher than 2011/12 production levels and would result in a domestic maize surplus of approximately 740,000 MTs. When compared to the 2011/12 agriculture season, rice production is projected to increase by 19.3 percent, cassava by 3.9 percent, sweet potatoes by 11 percent, sorghum by 6.8 percent, and millet by 26.2 percent. By the end of March harvests for millet, sorghum, and maize had started in most of the southern region of Malawi. In the central and northern regions maize and other staple crops will be harvested starting from mid-April and into May. Based on reports of extended dry spells since mid-February and March and a recent field assessment in the central and northern regions, FEWS NET expects that the upcoming third round crop estimates will better capture the impact of this dryness on crops, and maize production estimates will likely decrease.

  • Rainfall distribution this season has been variable. After heavy rains and flooding in January, extended dryness was reported in mid-February through the end of March and rainfall distribution analysis using rainfall estimates suggests that the driest period was in March (Figure 4). This dryness resulted in the greater potential for the wilting of crops in February and March, particularly in Mangochi, Dedza, Salima, Dowa, Ntchisi, Kasungu, Mchinji, Mzimba and Rumphi districts. According to the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services (DoCCMS) since the start of season was delayed by 10-20 days this dryness resulted in some crops in the central and northern region not maturing in time before the tailing off of seasonal rains in mid/late-March across the country.
  • FEWS NET expects that moisture deficits experienced during the final maturity stage of crops in February and March could significantly reduce crop yields in Dedza, Ntchisi, Dowa, Mchinji and Kasungu districts in Kasungu-Lilongwe livelihood zone (KAS); a large part of Mzimba district under Mzimba Self-Sufficient livelihood zone (MZS); a part of Mzimba and Rumphi district under Western Rumphi and Mzimba livelihood zone (WRM), and southern Karonga district in Nkhata Bay Cassava (NKH) livelihood zone. 
  • In March, the average national retail price for maize was 253 percent higher than the average retail price in March 2012. Similarly, a comparison of 2013 and 2012 March maize prices in the northern region show a 285 percent increase, while prices in the southern region are 287 percent higher than they were during this same period last year. Year on year increases are normal during the lean period but the size of this increase is much higher due to the continued tight supplies and high demand, exacerbated by the loss of 32,222 MTs of national maize stocks, the continued depreciation of the Malawian Kwacha (MWK), the longer distances traveled to source markets, and high fuel costs. 
  • A recent FEWS NET/MoAFS assessment in March found that farmers in parts of central and northern Malawi started harvesting their maize much earlier than normal because it was too expensive for households to buy maize in local markets.   
  • At the start of the new consumption season in April, the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) reportedly lost 32,222 MT of maize stock for the Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR) due to heavy rains and poor storage facilities. This loss of maize stock resulted in pipeline breaks for humanitarian food distributions for food insecure households in the southern region. Pipeline breaks were also observed in the distribution of subsidized maize for sale in ADMARC depots. In response to this loss of maize stock and rapidly rising maize prices, the Government of Malawi (GoM) has resorted to importing 35,000 MTs of maize from Zambia.
  • In the presence of a maize national maize export ban, total informal cross border (XBT) maize exports between April 2012 and March 2013 were 18 percent higher than the five year average. Nearly all of the maize exports (> 90 percent) during this period were recorded at the Malawi-Tanzania border points of Mbirima and Songwe in the northern part of Malawi. The informal maize grain was reportedly destined for the Greater Horn of Africa.  In terms of XBT imports, between April 2012 and March 2013, Malawi imported only 14,766 MTs or 222 percent lower than the five year average.  The reduction in maize grain imports during this period reflects the absence of any imports at the Malawi-Mozambique border point of Muloza since July 2012. During a recent FEWS NET/MoAFS assessment in March, informal imports appeared to be resuming at Muloza.
  • March was characterized by rainfall deficits averaging below 50 percent of the long-term average in the central and northern regions of the country where rainfall started later than normal (Figure 4). At this point crops on the ground were still between their tasseling and cobbing stages of maize development. The effects of the prolonged dry spells on maize crops during the second round crop estimates was not captured by MoAFS officers when visiting districts in the central and northern areas. At the same time, in the southern region these dry conditions were beneficial because they facilitated drying process for mature crops.
  • The national vulnerability and food security assessment will be conducted in June in areas where the season has performed poorly in order to determine the number of people likely to face acute food insecurity during the 2013/14 consumption period and the level of humanitarian assistance that may be required to fill any food or livelihood deficits.
National Level Assumptions

The Food Security Outlook for April to September 2013 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

Markets and Trade

  • Gross domestic maize production levels based on third round crop estimates will be lower than the recently released second round crop estimates as a result of the impact of February and March dry spells on crop yield in high production areas in the central and northern regions.
  • There will be little or no opening stocks for the SGR due to the recent loss of 32,222 MT of maize stocks due to spoilage. The Government of Malawi (GoM) is in the process of importing 35,000 MTs of maize from Zambia.
  • Maize prices will likely fall in parts of Malawi in the coming months, but the very high end of season prices and unevenly distributed production are likely to prevent post-harvest prices from declining to their respective 2012 and five-year average levels. FEWS NET projects that during the outlook period maize prices will decrease according to seasonal trends between April and June, but will remain higher than average historical maize prices. Given the increase in the minimum farm gate price of maize this consumption year, high average maize prices will continue between July and September and may increase by up to 80 percent above last year’s month-on-month levels during this period as household maize stocks start to dwindle in some parts of the country.
  • Informal cross border trade between Malawi and neighboring Mozambique and Zambia is expected to follow normal seasonal trends between April and September despite the maize export ban.
  • Based on second round crop estimates the tobacco harvest this year is projected to be double last year’s production levels and this increased production coupled with higher prices is expected to boost household incomes between April and September. The country’s depleted foreign reserves have started to slightly rebound as a result of income generated so far from tobacco sales in April.  This continued foreign exchange in-flow should allow the GoM to buy key imports (including fuel among others), thereby alleviating fuel shortages throughout the country.   

Labor

  • Based on currently available national crop estimate data, agricultural labor opportunities are expected to follow normal trends during the harvest and post-harvest period between April and September. Forthcoming regional production estimates are expected to inform available labor opportunities in the southern, central, and northern regions of the country.

Humanitarian Assistance

  • Flood affected households that lost most of their crops in Chikhwawa, Nsanje, Phalombe, Zomba and Mangochi districts will receive food assistance from April to June.
  • It is likely that the MoAFS and some NGOs will provide input and seeds distribution in April and May in order to support second season planting in low-lying areas, and this will likely result in a second season harvest between July and September.
Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

During the outlook period (April-September) the majority of poor rural households across the country are projected to have Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity outcomes. Households in some districts in SLA, KAS, MZS, WRM, and NKH where maize production was affected by either spells or flooding will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) between July and September as food stocks from their own production begin to diminish.

Area of Concern

Southern Lakeshore Plain (SLA) Livelihood Zone (parts of Mangochi, Salima and Dedza districts)

SLA is the principal fishing area of Malawi, with shallow waters in the southern end of the lake, making this area easily accessible to many small scale fishermen. Fishing dominates the economy, allowing the better-off wealth group to participate in fish sales, while the poor and middle wealth groups participate in ganyu and fish trading.  Crop production is also important in this zone but it is usually insufficient to cover household food requirements and this situation is worsened by the post-harvest sale of crops by the poor and middle wealth groups.

Current Situation

According to the Mangochi district agriculture office, the area experienced a delayed onset of rains this season. The start of season occurred in mid-November, a few weeks later than the start of season the previous agriculture season.  The livelihood zone received above normal rainfall during the  2012/13 season and when compared to 2011/12 the mean rainfall amount in Mangochi was 19 percent higher. The largest amounts of rainfall was received in the month of January.  This heavy rainfall in January resulted in flooding which affected approximately 3,085 households in the district. In about 10 percent of the flood affected areas crops were completely washed away. Between April and June, the World Food Program (WFP) is planning to distribute humanitarian food assistance to the 3,085 households that were directly impacted. 

In addition to the flooding, some of the same communities in SLA were affected by extended dry spells in February and March, resulting in the complete wilting of crops. Rainfall distribution was poor in Mbwadzulu, Nansenga and Maiwa EPAs.  Due to the prolonged dry spells and wilting, households started to prematurely harvest maize in order to salvage a small portion of their planted crops.  

Maize prices in SLA areas in Mangochi district remained quite high in March.  Prices from private traders were MWK127.65/kg in March, remaining higher than last year’s and the five-year average. Furthermore, these prices are much higher than the subsidized maize that is sold by the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) for MWK60/kg, however in the past ADMARC supplies in this area have been and continue to be limited.  A recent FEWS NET field assessment found that the local ADMARC markets were only supplied with maize once in January and in February.  No delivery of maize was made to the local ADMARC depots during the month of March.  At the time that MoAFS and FEWS NET conducted a joint assessment in mid-March, households were purchasing a variety of foods (i.e. sweet potatoes, beans, and maize) being sold by private traders. Reports showed that these food commodities were sourced from the Bembeke area of the neighboring Dedza district (about 150 km away).  

Assumptions

In addition to the national assumptions described above, the following assumptions have been made about SLA livelihood zone:

  • Based on a recent FEWS NET assessment in SLA, fishing labor opportunities are expected to behave normally between the months of April and September.
  • Based on past trends in this area, ADMARC maize stocks in local posts are expected to continue to be erratic from April-September.
  • Compared to a normal year, the contribution of non-fishing labor opportunities (including roofing houses, fetching firewood, drawing water, and riding push-bike taxis) to rural poor household incomes will decrease slightly due to too much competition, and this is likely to result in an overall reduction in labor wages from July to September.
  • There will be a significant reduction in in-kind payment food due to failed crop production.
  • Based on a recent FEWS NET assessment, community members estimated that staple crop sales are expected to be reduced by more than half due to lower maize production as a result of prolonged dry spells in February and March.  It is expected that poor households would prefer to hold on to their little harvest rather than to sell it only to buy it back at higher prices after they have depleted their own food stocks.
  • Due to prolonged dry spells and flooding, poor household production this season will be reduced.  During the FEWS NET led focus group discussions, community members projected that poor households are likely going to have enough food  to consume from their own production for three months (from April to June). Poor households that lost their crops due to flooding are expected to rely on food assistance distributions from WFP for the first half of the outlook period.
  • WFP will provide food distributions to about 3,000 households affected by flooding from April to June.  The assistance will include a 50kgs of maize grain, 10kgs of CSB and 5 of kgs pulses.  This assistance will adequately meet the food needs for all flood affected households in SLA.
  • Due to the higher than average maize prices and declining labor rates because of increased competition, compared to a normal year poor household access to food through market purchases is expected to be slightly reduced during the July to September period after their own harvest and food assistance is exhausted.  In response to reduced maize production and high maize prices, some poor households will increase their participation in self-employment and non-fishing income opportunities during the outlook period. For example, some women will try to increase the number of trips per week they will make to the nearby protected forest reserves to collect firewood for sale. Some poor households will also increase self-employment activities like making mats and selling grass for thatching houses.
Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

Overall, acute food insecurity outcomes among poor households will be Minimal (IPC Phase 1) from April to June since flood affected households will be able to meet their food needs through emergency food assistance distributions through June. However, as the outlook period progresses and as maize prices continue to increase, poor households in Mangochi, Dedza, and Salima districts that experienced reduced or no production this season due to prolonged dry spells and floods will likely be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as they begin to experience income and food deficits between July and September.

Other Areas of Concern

Lilongwe Kasungu Plains (KAS)

According to the 2003 livelihoods baselines, KAS is a primarily maize surplus and tobacco income-based zone. In an average year, the zone produces a surplus of food crops like and maize, groundnuts, sweet potatoes, cassava, and soya beans which are sold for income, mainly to Lilongwe. However, most of the crop surplus is generated by about 20 percent of better-off households in the zone. Household incomes in this zone are high compared to elsewhere in the country because tobacco is the single most important cash crop, providing 65-85 percent of income for all three wealth groups.

Current Situation

Compared to the 2011/12 season, better-off and middle income grew more tobacco during the current (2012/13 season) due to better selling prices, however many poor households were unable to grow tobacco this season because of the very high input and seed prices. Planting was delayed in KAS because of the late start of rains during the first two weeks of December in most areas. This late started was followed by heavy rainfall between mid-December and early January. A dry spell affected crops between January, 11-30th and resulted in widespread wilting of crops.  Since rainfall distribution was poor and erratic at the beginning of the season, some farmers in these districts had to replant their crops in early February. Erratic rainfall continued during February and March when maize crops were going through the flowering and grain-filling stages, between February and March. Moisture stress experienced by most of the crops, including maize, is expected to result in very low yields in these areas this season.

FEWS NET believes that the second round crop estimates that were carried out during the dry spells between January and March do not accurately reflect the crop wilting experienced at the conclusion of the rainy season in these areas. Anecdotal reports received during the FEWS NET field assessment in these districts revealed that there was poor pod-filling also for all pulses (beans, soya beans, and cowpeas) and that the severe impacts of the reduced rainfall and poor distribution of the rains at the critical development stage for maize and pulses is likely going to be fully revealed when the third and final round is completed in June. Although tobacco quality is usually better in less wet and drier weather conditions, the dryness is expected to reduce yield because of inadequate soil moisture levels this season. The low yields in tobacco will likely result in a reduction of income earned from labor for poor households that depend on better-off households for labor opportunities during the lean period. Reduced labor opportunities from better-off households will also result in less income for poor households that usually participate in irrigated farming activities during this time of the year.  According to MoAFS field officers, crops in Kasungu, Mchinji, Ntchisi, and Dowa districts have all been severely affected by the dry spells, with Bowe, Nalunga, Madisi, Kalulu, Mkanda, Mayani, Kaphuka, and Chioshya EPAs being some of the worst affected areas.

In March the retail maize prices in Malomo market in Ntchisi district were 324 percent higher when compared to prices in March 2012. Anecdotal reports indicate that household income levels in this area are not adequate enough to cover the higher cost of living since the depreciation of the MWK in May 2012. Farmers in this zone are reportedly continuing to informally export maize to Zambia and this practice will likely result in food shortages by October since lower food production levels are expected this season. As maize continues to be sold across the border, it is likely that more households than normal will need to depend on the market for maize purchases later on in the consumption year.

Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

Based on the current available information the KAS livelihood zone will need to be continuously monitoring during the outlook period. It is likely that the current harvest will be available for household consumption until September. The lean period is expected to start earlier (in October) than normal and will be quite severe for poor households which make up about 25 percent of the population in the livelihood zone.  Minimal acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected among poor rural households during the first three months after the harvest begins (April – June). Due to expected continued high and increasing maize prices in local markets, it is likely that poor households will not be able to afford to purchase maize in local markets and will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) from July to September.

Mzimba Self Sufficient (MZS) and Western Rumphi and Mzimba (WRM) zones

The WRM zone is a relatively diversified zone, with food and income generated from a variety of sources. Good yields are typically obtained for a range of crops, of which maize and cassava are the most important. There are three main sources of income for the zone include the sale of food crops, sale of livestock, and the sale of tobacco. Cattle holdings are significant, with most households (excluding the poor wealth group) owning from 1-15 animals. All wealth groups in this zone typically grow tobacco, although in smaller quantities than other tobacco growing areas in the country, so households are not dependent on just one crop.

Most wealth groups in MZS rely heavily on two crops, maize and tobacco. The zone produces just about enough to feed itself in an average year, so that crops sold out of the zone post-harvest will have to be replaced by imports later in the year. Incomes tend to be higher in MZS than in other non-tobacco-growing zones, but there is little to fall back if the tobacco crops fail. There are significant opportunities for collecting wild foods, given the proximity of the zone to Nyika National Park and Vwaza Game Reserve. The zone also benefits from its proximity to the neighboring Nkhata Bay Cassava zone, a potential source of labor during bad years.

Current Situation

In these two zones, rains started later than usual (around December 20th).  From mid-February to mid-March most of the areas received below average rainfall and experienced dry spells from mid-February through the end of March that resulted in poor cob formation, poor pollination at the tasselling and silking stages, and premature drying of maize crops. The dry spells will also have a negative outcome on cash crop production and could result in inadequate household incomes. According to second round crop estimates, maize production in Mzuzu ADD and all EPAs in Mzimba district are projected to be reduced by 29 percent as a result of the dry spells, however because these estimates were taking place while the crop was still experiencing dry spells the actual reduction in in production is expected to be higher since most crops did not recover from the dryness. Due to the lack of adequate residual moisture this season, second season farming opportunities will be constrained along river valleys.

Maize grain prices in these areas continue to be abnormally high. For instance, at Embangweni market in Mzimba district February maize prices were 256 percent higher than prices during this period in 2012. Anecdotal reports from a recent FEWS NET field assessment in these two zones show that there was abnormally high levels of green maize consumption due to the inability of households to buy maize in local markets because of the very high prices. Limited household incomes have resulted in poor households selling their maize before it is fully dried.

Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

Based on the current available information the MZS and WRM livelihood zone will need to be continuously monitored during the outlook period.  It is likely that the current harvest will be available for household consumption until September. The lean period is expected to start earlier (in October) than normal and will be quite severe for poor households which make up about 30 percent of the population in the livelihood zone. Minimal acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected among poor rural households during the first three months after the harvest begins (April – June). Due to expected continued high and increasing maize prices in local markets, it is likely that poor households will not be able to afford to purchase maize in local markets and will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) from July to September.

Events that might change the Outlook

Area

Event

Impact on food security outcomes

Parts of SLA, KAS, MZS, NKH, and WRM livelihood zones

Low tobacco earnings due to uncertain weather conditions and low international market prices.

This would create shortage of maize and therefore increase prices to abnormal levels making it inaccessible to these poor households.

Third round national crop estimates revealing lower national production levels than the second round crop estimates.

Importation of maize may be needed to fulfill domestic maize requirements.

ADMARC maize supplies consistently reach markets in the southern region.

The availability of cheaper maize through ADMARC posts would improve household food access and food insecurity outcomes. 

Improved stabilization of macro-economic shocks.

Less maize retail price volatility in Malawi.

About Scenario Development

To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more 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. Read more about our work.

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