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Acute food security outcomes are likely to improve with prospects of an average 2018/19 harvest

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Malawi
  • February - September 2019
Acute food security outcomes are likely to improve with prospects of an average 2018/19 harvest

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are present in most northern areas, while humanitarian food assistance is mitigating outcomes in central and southern areas with Minimal! (IPC Phase 1!) and Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes present, respectively. Incomes from agricultural labor, livestock sales, and self-employment are below average as a result of a bad 2017/18 production season with most households relying on markets for food.

    • Most areas have received normal to above normal cumulative rainfall to date, despite localized minor rainfall deficits. Due to the favorable rainfall performance and the current average crop stand, preliminary production estimates are showing that the 2018/19 food and cash crop harvests will be slightly higher average as compared to the five-year average.

    • After March, outcomes are anticipated to improve to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) in most areas as households start consuming foods from their own production. These outcomes are likely to continue through September as most households will most likely still be consuming own foods and not be reliant on markets for food.


    Current Situation

    Cumulative rainfall for the 2018/19 agriculture season has been above average to date across most of the country (Figure 1), despite seasonal weather forecasts predicting below average rainfall according to field observations and reports by the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services (DCCMS) and NOAA. Current Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) reports from February indicate most crops in central and southern Malawi are in the maturation stage with average crop stand in food crops such as maize, rice, sorghum, millet and legumes (Figure 2). Crop stand for cash crops such as tobacco, soy beans and groundnuts are also average (Figure 3). The MoA first round production estimates indicate production levels for most key crops such as maize, rice, sorghum, millet, cassava, sweet potatoes, soya, and ground nuts will be above the five-year average.

    Based on information gathered during a FEWS NET assessment in January, access to inputs for farming was normal in most districts, however slightly below average in some southern districts. The Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP) targeted 1 million rural farmers to receive coupons to purchase subsidized seed and fertilizers. However, while all the targeted farmers received FISP coupons, some reported failure to access the subsidized fertilizer and seeds in time due to the lack of financial resources. The lack of access to inputs led to a high number of farmers using recycled seeds and below average fertilizer use. However, the 2018/19 agricultural production season has seen a substantial reduction in pest infestations and attacks.

    According to the MoA, national food stocks are seasonally average. Maize stocks in local markets are generally below average, though, remain above average in northern markets. National stocks in the Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR) and Agricultural Development Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) have seasonally limited stocks after distribution of humanitarian assistance. A FEWS NET assessment in mid-January found that in central and southern areas, ADMARC maize grain was selling at atypical levels owing to the household food deficits caused by the below average 2017/18 production season and ADMARC markets were rationing maize to 25kgs per purchase for a household. This has resulted in an increased demand and prices in parallel markets across the country with the largest price increases observed in southern Malawi. In northern areas, poor households have typically low stocks and are awaiting the 2018/19 harvest. Household maize stocks are atypically low in southern Malawi and parts of central Malawi owing to a below average harvest from the 2017/18 season.

    Current maize grain prices in local markets across the country are significantly higher compared to the same time last year, but are on average 5 to 10 percent above the five-year average (Figure 4). National maize grain prices in January 2019 were about 50 percent higher than January 2018 prices. February prices on average remained high at about 65 percent above same time last year with prices ranging from MWK 134 to 192/kg. February is the peak of the lean season and usually when there are food shortages in markets and increased market dependence. ADMARC is selling maize grain at MWK 150/kg, however in addition to rationing purchases there are constant localized shortages in ADMARC markets increasing household reliance on parallel markets.

    Household income from agricultural labor continues to be below average as normal labor opportunities and wage are limited and households engage in agriculture activities on their own farms. Middle and better off households offering labor to poorer households continue facing financial constraints due to a reduction in incomes from the poor harvest in 2018/19. These households also have limited stocks and are unable to pay through in-kind means to labors. As well, many households are relying on labor for income to purchase food, increasing competition for labor opportunities and earned wages.

    During FEWS NET assessments in January, household livestock holdings were reported to be dwindling as many poor households have been selling livestock atypically for food purchases. Poorer households reported prior to the lean season having on average 3 goats per household, now most households have on average 1 goat. Terms of trade for goat to maize grain decreased and are seasonally low. Reports indicate the sale of one goat enables the purchase of only 70kgs of maize from ADMARC as compared to 113kgs of maize which is typical for this time of year.

    Incomes from agricultural labor, livestock sales, and self-employment are below average as a result of the below average 2017/18 production season. Household food stocks were depleted atypically early in central and southern areas and households are relying on markets to purchase food for consumption. According to seasonal assessments and analysis by the MVAC and FEWS NET, most households in northern Malawi have adequate household stocks due to an average 2017/18 production season.

    In early-January, the Government of Malawi commenced food distributions for the 3.3 million people identified as facing acute food insecurity by the MVAC IPC analysis. Some households that are not targeted by humanitarian assistance are coping by purchasing some food after engaging in agricultural labor, selling some livestock especially goats and chickens, and self-employment bordering on exploitation of natural resources such as firewood and charcoal sales. Area acute food insecurity outcomes are Minimal! (IPC Phase 1!) in most parts of northern Malawi, Minimal! (IPC Phase 1!) in the presence of humanitarian assistance in most parts of central Malawi and Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) in the presence of humanitarian assistance in most districts of southern Malawi.

    National Level Assumptions

    The Food Security Outlook for February to September 2019 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • Forecasts from NOAA, rainfall for the rest of the 2018/19 rainy season is forecast to be average with cumulative rainfall for the season to be average across the country.
    • Preliminary estimates indicate production for most crops will be slightly above average. Fall Armyworm attacks on cereals especially maize remain a threat but will likely have minimal impact on crop development.
    • Households will start accessing green foods at the end of February to March. The main harvest is anticipated to start in mid-March/April.
    • National stock levels for maize grain will most likely continue to be seasonally average owing to an average production season as indicated by preliminary crop estimates. 
    • Formal and Informal cross border maize imports will most likely continue to be below the five-year average through September due to adequate availability of maize nationally, and lower maize grain prices. Imports are expected to continue to decrease in April and May as households start consuming own produced food and traders also start accessing cheaper maize from the harvest.
    • Households will likely access average incomes from crop sales which provide around 40 to 60 percent of poorer household incomes. With projected average to above average harvests for most food and cash crops, households are expected to commence selling crops in June. However, evolution of prices is still uncertain as issues of demand and government setup on minimum farm gate prices among other factors play an important role in price determination.
    • Household incomes from agricultural labor will remain below average until the harvest in March/April as middle and better off households offering labor in most areas of the country will likely continue to face financial constraints due to a reduction in crop incomes from the 2018/19 harvest. During the harvest and post-harvest period agricultural labor incomes will most likely be average. Poor households are anticipated to access average levels of non-agriculture labor incomes such as construction related labor at the start of the harvest.
    • Livestock conditions and herd sizes will likely recover during in the post-harvest period. The average to above average rainfall has ensured recovery of pasture which has led to recovery of livestock conditions especially goats which are owned by poorer households. This coupled with average food availability owing to favorable harvests will lead to recovery of livestock prices which were low in the lean period due to desperate sales.   
    • Based on FEWS NETS integrated price projection in Mitundu market, maize grain prices will likely remain significantly higher than the previous season, slightly higher than the five-year average however continue to follow seasonal trends (Figure 4). 
    • The macroeconomy is anticipated to remain stable during the scenario period. The country’s currency has been stable over the past two years with overall stable rate of inflation.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    In late February, households in the central and southern regions are anticipated to start supplementing their food consumption with green foods from the 2018/19 harvest and accessing food from main harvests by early April. Households in the north will start accessing green foods by mid-March and food from main harvests in early May.  Overall northern Malawi is anticipated to continue to facing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes. In February and March humanitarian assistance will continue to improve security in central and southern areas to Minimal! (IPC Phase1!) and Stressed! (IPC Phase2!), respectively. As the green and main harvests become available in March and April households will most likely start relying on food from their own harvest instead of markets.

    In the post-harvest period, starting around April across Malawi, most households across the country will likely be consuming food from their own production and will have access to income from crop sales. As a result of the average harvest, households are anticipated to replenish their household’s food stocks and access their own foods through September. Labor opportunities will return to average levels allowing households to access incomes. Furthermore, the post-harvest period is the time when prices of food and other basic commodities reduce and are more accessible to most households. With the availability of a variety of foods, malnutrition levels will be lower than in the lean period. In view of adequate access to food and incomes, most areas across Malawi will be experiencing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes.


    For information on specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of this page for the full report.


    Figure 1


    Source: FEWS NET

    Malawi percent anomaly for October 2018 – February 2019 based on average cumulative rainfall for 1982-2011

    Figure 2

    Malawi percent anomaly for October 2018 – February 2019 based on average cumulative rainfall for 1982-2011

    Source: USGS/EROS

    Maize crops in Kasungu District – Mid January 2019

    Figure 3

    Maize crops in Kasungu District – Mid January 2019

    Source: AMIS/FEWS NET

    Tobacco Crops in Kasungu District – Mid January

    Figure 4

    Tobacco Crops in Kasungu District – Mid January

    Source: FEWS NET

    Maize grain price trends for Mitundu Market for the October 2018 to September 2019 Period

    Figure 5

    Maize grain price trends for Mitundu Market for the October 2018 to September 2019 Period

    Source: AMIS/FEWS NET

    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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