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Persistent dry spells result in significant crop failure in Karonga district

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Malawi
  • April - September 2014
Persistent dry spells result in significant crop failure in Karonga district

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Area of Concern
  • Events that Might Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • Reports from the Karonga district Agriculture Office (DAO) confirm that prolonged dry spells during the critical stage of crop development resulted in extensive crop wilting in parts of Karonga district in Central Karonga (CKA) livelihood zone, and this is expected to result in lower agriculture output this harvest. As a result, poor households are likely to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) during the April to September period.
    • Acute food insecurity across the rest of the country will be Minimal (IPC Phase 1) from April to September with increased household food availability from the harvests.
    • Second round crop estimates by the Ministry of Agriculture have been completed, but the official figures have not been released yet. Unofficial agricultural and meteorological data using Water Requirement Satisfaction Index (WRSI) models, suggests that the 2013/14 harvest will be adequate enough to meet national maize consumption needs.
    • Consistent with seasonal trends during harvest time, maize prices across the country have dropped significantly. Typical informal cross border trading flows are expected with Mozambique, Zambia, and Tanzania during the outlook period. It is unlikely that the Government of Malawi (GoM) will lift the formal maize export ban that is currently in place.

    National Overview
    Current Situation
    • As usual during this time of the year, food availability at the household level has improved significantly, due to the availability of green harvests and impending crop harvests. Availability of food at the household level is expected to remain favorable through the outlook period in most districts, with the exception of CKA livelihood zone, which was affected by prolonged dry spells between January and March.
    • In March the price of the staple maize continued to decrease across the country. Key drivers for the decrease in prices are primarily increased availability of diverse foods from green harvests and the start of the harvest which is expected to continue through June. In the areas where irrigation potential is higher, traders started selling irrigated maize and releasing stockpiled maize which created a glut on the market in Nkhotakota, Salima, Mchinji, Nkhatabay, Rumphi, Chikwawa, and Nsanje districts.
    • In April, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MoAFS) completed the second round crop estimates but the official results have not been released yet. However, unofficial results from the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services (DCCMS) based on Water Requirement Satisfaction Index (WRSI) models, show that the 2013/14 agricultural season will be enough to meet the estimated national maize consumption needs. 
    • According to a DCCMS recap of the 2013/14 agricultural season, there was a delayed start of season (SOS) ranging from two weeks to > 1 month across the country. Generally, the season started erratically in most of the country and this favored the development of an armyworm outbreak. Subsequent heavy rainfall and local agriculture office efforts to manage and control the armyworms were successful and in most areas there was negligible impact on crops. During the period of mid-December to the end of February, both the spatial distribution and intensity of rainfall was favorable in most of the districts. However, discussions with district agriculture officers show that localized dry spells affected parts of Karonga, Lilongwe, Balaka, Dedza, Ntcheu, Chikwawa, Nsanje, Neno, Blantyre and Mulanje districts for a period of two weeks or more when the staple maize crop was at the critical tasseling and grain filling stages.
    • Vegetation in Karonga district, in the CKA livelihood zone, was worst affected by the mid-January to mid-March dry spells (Figure 1). The rainfall situation improved in March, but that was after all crops had completely wilted (Figure 2). In the other districts listed above, maize and other crops either wilted permanently or were forced to dry prematurely and resulted in withered cereal grains.
    • The GoM is promoting cotton production as one of the key cash crops in the country by facilitating the formation of a Cotton Development Trust (CDT), which does contract farming through the provision of input loans that are paid back during marketing. This season inputs were delivered late and well after some crops had been attacked by pests. Low yields and production are expected this season and this could reduce household earnings, potentially impacting food access during the October-December period. Cotton is an important cash crop in Karonga, Balaka, Nsanje, Chikwawa, Ntcheu, and Dedza districts.
    • Average national maize prices in local markets decreased by approximately 28 percent between January and March. Factors contributing to this price decline include the availability of food supplies in ADMARC markets and lower demand because of increased household food availability from own harvests.
    • As the new consumption season begins in April, the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) has almost no maize grain stocks in the Strategic Grain Reserves (SGR) because all of the stocks were used for last year’s humanitarian food assistance program. The GoM will need to procure adequate stocks to replenish the SGR and prepare for any possible humanitarian food interventions in the future.
    • Informal cross border maize imports increased by 18 percent between February and March. Cumulative informal maize imports were 334 percent above imports in March 2013 and 68 percent above the five-year average. So far the bulk of imports this year to date has been from Zambia through the Mchinji border (52 percent) and from Mozambique through the Muloza border (22 percent). 
    • Informal maize exports are 85 percent below the five-year average and approximately 80 percent of the exports during the 2013/14 consumption year were to Tanzania through the Songwe and Mbirima borders.
    • The annual food security assessment will be conducted by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) in June in areas where the season performed poorly. This assessment will determine the number of people likely to face acute food insecurity during the 2014/15 consumption period and the level of humanitarian assistance that may be required to fill any food or livelihood deficits. In March, FEWS NET, WFP, MOAFS, and DCCMS conducted a joint rapid pre-harvest assessment that covered all of the districts in Malawi, with the exception of Likoma.
    National Level Assumptions

    The food security outlook for April to September 2014 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    Markets and Trade
    • Second round crop estimates by the MoAFS have been completed, but the official results have not been released yet. Unofficial estimates from the DCCMS based on WRSI models, indicate that the 2013/14 agricultural season will be enough to meet the estimated national maize consumption needs.
    • The amount of current maize stocks held by millers and large traders is currently unknown. Opening SGR stocks will be less than 10,000 MTs because supplies were used for earlier food assistance programming and to stock ADMARC markets. Since this is less than the recommended 60,000 MTs for the SGR, restocking will be necessary and the GoM will probably procure this grain through an open bid process.
    • Maize prices are likely going to be slightly higher this year in comparison to last year on account of the average annual inflation rate of 27.3 percent which translates to about 2.25 percent month on month inflation. 
    • Informal cross border trade between Malawi and neighboring Mozambique and Zambia is expected to follow normal seasonal trends between April and September.  It is unclear if the government will maintain the maize export ban currently in place in the country, as this policy change could impact trade flow trends.
    • The Malawi Kwacha (MWK) recently started to appreciate since the start of the tobacco marketing season in April. However, financial experts are predicting that this appreciation may be temporary because cotton production is expected to be below average, so further depreciation once the tobacco marketing season ends in August is possible. In addition to this donor budgetary support has been suspended since late 2013.
    Labor
    • Agricultural labor opportunities are expected to follow normal trends during the harvest and post-harvest period between April and September. During this outlook period opportunities will increase during the harvest time (April-June), improving income earnings for poor households.
    Cash crop incomes
    • As a result of delayed seeds and pesticide distribution across the country at the start of the season, cotton production is expected to be below average and income from sales in CKA, MSH, and LSH are also expected to be compromised as a result.
    • The tobacco marketing season opened in early April and production is expected to be average this season. Since tobacco is sold in USD currency the in-flow of foreign exchange should allow the GoM to buy key imports (including fuel and inputs, among others), during the outlook period which should alleviate any fuel shortages throughout the country.
    Social Safety-nets
    • It is likely that the MoAFS and some NGOs will provide input and seed 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 face Minimal food insecurity outcomes (IPC Phase 1). However, due to reduced crop production, reduced household incomes as a result of low crop sales, and projected food prices that will be slightly higher than last year’s levels, poor households in Karonga district (CKA) will face reduced food availability and access and will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) between April and September.

     


    Area of Concern
    Central Karonga (CKA) Livelihood Zone (Karonga district)
    Current Situation
    • Currently household food availability is below average for this time of the year. Three out of the five EPAs in Karonga were hit by dry spells from mid-January to mid-February and another dry spell from late February to mid-March. These periods of dryness occurred at critical stages of crop development, affecting maize, groundnuts, cotton, tobacco, and the transplanting of rice.
    • The district received than 50 percent of its normal rainfall (Figure 2) compared to climatology. While some of the maize recovered, about 35 to 50 percent of the maize reached permanent wilting point and did not recover. Officials in Lupembe, one of the affected sub district agricultural zones reported that they expected maize production to fall by about 50 percent as well as significant reductions in all other crops like groundnuts, cotton, tobacco and rice.
    • Field observations showed that in some areas especially in Lupembe EPA, the maize crop in entire fields reached permanent wilting meaning that farmers will not harvest anything for summer production. It is projected that poor households may experience inadequate food consumption due to limited food stocks and income sources. The MVAC is expected to assess the food security situation in May or June in order to make response recommendations. Maize prices in local markets are about the same as they were a year ago. In January the average price was MWK 124/kg and in March the price was MWK 131/kg. 
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Poor households will harvest very little food crops are expected to be exhausted by the end of May. These households will be able to cover their basic food needs from own production and by selling chickens or doing ganyu locally but are unlikely going to be able to meet their essential non-food needs during the April to September period. As a result they will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2). Households that cannot access income through local ganyu will resort to the unsustainable harvesting and sale of natural trees from the nearby mountains in order to be able to purchase food from markets.   

    OTHER AREA OF CONCERN
    Middle Shire (MSH) Livelihood Zone (parts of Blantyre, Balaka and Zomba districts)
    Current Situation

    Household food availability is improving in all the districts under MSH because poor households are harvesting a diverse range of food crops ranging from cereals, legumes and vegetables. During the Joint Food Security Assessment in March, DAOs from t districts within the zone indicated that parts of these districts experienced prolonged dry spells for three to four consecutive weeks while most of the staple maize was at grain filling stage of development. The crops wilted in some cases reached the crops dried completely. This resulted in significant crop damage which will result in low food and cash crop production. 

    Maize prices in March remained much higher than the 5 year average. Projected maize prices in MSH from April to September will likely be slightly higher than last year’s prices and about 70 percent above the five-year average. Current availability of maize by private traders is good although households who depend on the markets are worried about increasing prices in the lean period. Traders were sourcing their maize stocks from the nearby district of Ntcheu as well as farther in Lilongwe. The key drivers of high prices are low local stocks, high source market prices, and increasing transport costs.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Poor households in MSH will be able to cover all of their basic food needs mainly from own production from April to September. FEWS NET projects that poor households will face Minimal food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) outcomes during the outlook months.


    Events that Might Change the Outlook

    Possible events over the next six months that could change the most-likely scenario.

    areaeventimpact on food security outcomes
    CKAThe rains necessary for irrigated production are late.More potential for second season rice crops and irrigated maize production which could improve local cereal production.
    All livelihood zonesThe GoM is unable to replenish the SGR due to very high maize grain prices.Poor households will be at risk of food insecurity and may also face food access constraints due to high prices.

     

    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 six months. Learn more here.

     

    Figures Figure 1. Enhanced MODIS Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) seasonal graphs for Karonga district.

    Figure 1

    Figure 1. Enhanced MODIS Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) seasonal graphs for Karonga district.

    Source: FEWS NET and USGS

    Figure 2. Cumulative rainfall from October 1, 2013 to April 20, 2014.

    Figure 2

    Figure 2. Cumulative rainfall from October 1, 2013 to April 20, 2014.

    Source: FEWS NET and DCCMS

    Figure 3. Projected national average maize prices.

    Figure 3

    Figure 3. Projected national average maize prices.

    Source: FEWS NET and MOAFS AMIS

    Seasonal Calendar in a Typical Year

    Figure 4

    Seasonal Calendar in a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 5

    Source:

    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.

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