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Crop production deficits in southern and central Malawi in 2022, coupled with high prices for food and basic non-food commodities due to global and domestic economic factors, remain key drivers of acute food insecurity. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist in parts of southern and central Malawi, as well as in the Karonga district of northern Malawi, until the harvest begins in April. Although humanitarian food assistance is being delivered to these areas during the lean season, the scale of the humanitarian response is being outpaced by the scale of need resulting from crop and labor income losses during the 2021/22 production year and currently high food prices. In parts of the far south where humanitarian food assistance is more significant, however, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are likely. After the harvest becomes available in April, most areas of concern will see improvement to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or Minimal (IPC Phase 1). In areas with near-normal crop production in 2022 and 2023, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected throughout the scenario period.
Limited and delayed access to subsidized fertilizer for most subsistence farmers is expected to cause slight reductions in crop production. Reports and field assessments in January 2023 indicate very low rates of fertilizer use during the window for timely application in the 21 days after planting. However, fertilizer usage is typically low among very poor and poor households. According to government and USDA estimates as of February, the main maize harvest is still expected to be near average.
The prices of most food commodities, including maize, are expected to remain high through September, including during the harvest and post-harvest periods, due to high agricultural input prices and high fuel and transportation costs. While the impact on household access to food will be relatively lower during the harvest period, high staple food prices will continue to suppress household purchasing power, particularly among poor households who are typically more market dependent. In FEWS NET monitored markets, maize prices in February were 214 percent higher than the same time last year and 195 percent above the five-year average. FEWS NET projects maize prices will trend at over 120 percent above the five-year average through September.
According to global and local rainfall forecast models, above-average rainfall is likely from January to March 2023 across much of southern Africa, including southern Malawi. After a slow start of the rainy season, the heavier rains are generally expected to compensate for earlier moisture deficits, supporting favorable harvests and increased food availability in much of the country. At the time that this report was written, Malawi had yet to experience any extreme weather events during the course of the rainy season. However, Cyclone Freddy passed through southern Malawi from March 12 to 15, 2023, resulting in severe floods and landslides. While this report does not incorporate the impacts of the cyclone, FEWS NET will release an updated analysis of Malawi’s food security outlook in April.
Rainfall and crop production: Below-average rainfall from October to December 2022 delayed planting for most farmers. However, average to above-average rainfall since January 2023 has compensated for these earlier deficits, recharging water bodies and aiding crop establishment, although sporadic localized flooding has caused some damage to cropped land in the Lower Shire livelihood zone in southern Malawi. Good rainfall performance is expected to continue up to the end of the season in March/April 2023.
While rainfall performance projections favor an average crop production season, limited access to fertilizers is likely to slightly reduce yields. Prices for commercial fertilizers have almost quadrupled from last year and subsidized fertilizer prices through the government-subsidized Affordable Input Program (AIP) have doubled compared to last season. Additionally, the number of AIP beneficiaries has dropped from 3.7 million in the 2021/22 agricultural season to 2.5 million in the current agricultural season, mainly due to high import prices and shortages of fertilizer on the global market. As of mid-January 2023, only 30 percent of the beneficiaries had reportedly accessed inputs for the planting season. During FEWS NET field assessments in January 2023, crop development was reasonably good, but some crops had started yellowing due to lack of fertilizer application. However, it is also important to note that very poor and poor households tend to apply very little fertilizer. Using Malawi HEA Baseline information for a high maize production area, Livelihood Zone 03 (Kasunga Liongwe Plain), poor households spend around 8,700 MWK (8.29 USD) on fertilizer annually, while middle and better-off households spend 70,000 MWK (66.73 USD) and 114,110 MWL (108.78 USD), in comparison. Relatedly, very poor and poor households produce around 735 to 925 kg of maize annually while earning most of their income from agricultural labor. Given the relatively low fertilizer use and high dependence on agricultural labor among very poor and poor households, the delays of AIP are likely to result in better-off families planting less, which could reduce income opportunities for poor households. However, low access to fertilizer may have incentivized some farmers to shift their production to crops that require little or no fertilizer, such as pulses or groundnuts.
National food stocks: Malawi continues to have average to above-average food stocks to meet market demand, particularly for maize grain, which is supported by substantial carryover stocks from near-average production of maize in the 2021/22 production year. These food stocks include 169,073 metric tons held by government institutions, namely the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) and the Agriculture Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC). Government institutions have committed to holding about 24,388 metric tons of maize stocks for humanitarian food assistance.
While availability of stocks on the market is normal, crop production in southern Malawi was below average in the 2021/22 production year due to damage from tropical cyclones Ana and Gombe. As a result, most households in southern Malawi have depleted their own-produced food stocks and are relying on market purchases, mainly from private traders.
ADMARC typically plays a critical role in stabilizing staple food prices by purchasing and then strategically selling food at more affordable prices. However, ADMARC had little impact on the maize market throughout the 2022/23 consumption season due to the institutional challenges it is facing, leading to the closure of most outlet markets at the time of peak maize demand. The absence of ADMARC on the maize market has contributed to elevated maize prices among private traders, with prices rising above 500 MWK/kg as compared to the 300 MWK/kg that ADMARC set for its maize.
Malawi has atypically exported more maize, mainly into Tanzania, than it has informally imported from Mozambique and Zambia. In the period of April to December 2022, Malawi imported about 26,000 MT of maize against exports of about 121,000 MT, translating into net exports of 95,000 MT of maize grain. The higher-than-normal informal exports are driven by higher maize prices in Tanzania, which is supplying East African neighbors such as Kenya, which is affected by a severe drought that has diminished its own production and increased demand for imports.
Macroeconomic conditions: The country’s economic conditions remain unfavorable, with the Reserve Bank of Malawi reporting that foreign exchange shortages are contributing to high prices for imported goods and putting upward pressure on inflation. High prices of domestic and imported food and non-food commodities remain the driving factor for high inflation. According to the National Statistics Office (NSO), the inflation rate (year on year) stands at 21 percent for December 2022 and 26 percent for November 2022, while the month-to-month inflation rate for December 2022 stands at 2.6 percent. The food inflation rate for December 2022 is at 3.4 percent, while the non-food inflation rate is 1.6 percent.
Maize prices: The month-to-month maize grain prices between December 2022 and January 2023 were stable in three monitored markets and registered increases in nine markets, with the highest increases in Balaka (13 percent), Nsanje (17 percent), and Mangochi (23 percent) districts in southern Malawi. The national average price is 495 MWK /kg, with the highest registered prices at Nsanje at 573 MWK /kg, and the lowest prices at the Lilongwe market at 300 MWK/kg. Additionally, in January, WFP reported a month-on-month increase in the standard minimum expenditure basket for urban households, while the Centre for Social Concern indicated that the urban cost of living in Lilongwe and Blantyre rose from 235,584 MWK to 328,522 per month from January to December 2022, representing around 40 percent increase in one year. The main drivers of the high maize prices remain macroeconomic factors due to global challenges of high fuel, fertilizer, and food prices and supply disruptions due to the Russia-Ukraine war. Moreover, below-average production in the south, high inflation, and the absence of subsidized maize sales by the state-run ADMARC markets are also contributing to increased food prices. High prices in northern Malawi are also being driven by higher prices across the border in Tanzania, where most informal maize exports are taking place through Karonga and Chitipa districts.
Cholera outbreak: Cholera outbreak has continued to affect many households in rural and urban areas. The Ministry of Health (MoH) declared cholera as an epidemic in March 2022 and stepped up its efforts to control the spread of the disease. In a typical year, the prevalence of the disease in the lowlands and areas closer to water bodies is common; since 2022, however, most parts of the country have reported cholera cases. As of February 2023, the MoH had confirmed 49,965 cholera cases across all 28 districts of the country, with 1,578 deaths at a death rate of 3.16 percent. As a control measure, district and town councils have, at times, partially closed markets, limited livestock trade, and shut down food vendor locations. This has periodically affected poor and very poor households who rely on incomes from casual labor and petty trading, especially those who sell cooked food.
Acute malnutrition: The last SMART survey of malnutrition levels was conducted in Malawi in November/December 2020. Historically, global acute malnutrition (GAM) levels are in the Acceptable (≤5 percent) range. However, nutrition data from the Malawi Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) surveillance system for December 2022 shows that Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) admissions in 2022 increased by 10 percent as compared to 2021, while Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM) is reported to have increased by 73 percent as compared to levels in 2021. The increase in SAM and MAM admission cases are likely linked to both the ongoing cholera outbreak and atypically low food intake during the 2022 lean season, particularly in central and southern Malawi.
Humanitarian assistance: A population of 3.8 million people across all districts were identified as food insecure in 2022 by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) assessment. Available assistance distribution information suggests up to 3.8 million people are currently receiving humanitarian food assistance in the form of cash or in-kind transfers for a period ranging from three to five months (November 2022 to March 2023), which is approximately 15-20 percent of the national population of Malawi. However, levels of assistance only meet the IPC 3.1 thresholds for significant levels of assistance (reaching at least 25 percent of the population with at least 25 percent of their monthly kilocalorie needs) in six districts out of Malawi’s 28 districts. Recipients receive cash or maize transfers covering a 50-kilogram monthly maize ration, which is equivalent to 65 percent of the caloric needs for a household.
Current Food Security Outcomes
Based on the convergence of evidence, including a February 2023 FEWS NET Outcome Analysis using the Household Economy Approach (HEA), the national population in need of food assistance in February – during the peak of the lean season – is significantly higher than the previous year. The main driver for this increase is the atypically high maize prices that range from 400 MWK to more than 700 MWK per kilogram, coupled with the increased need to purchase food among poor households that experienced significant crop production losses in 2022. The high food price was also influenced by high fuel, increased transportation costs and global supply chain disruptions due to the Russia-Ukraine war. FEWS NET assessments showed that most households are prioritizing food purchases above any other expenditures, due to higher food prices and spending less money on non-food items. In November 2022, WFP also reported a month-on-month increase in the minimum expenditure basket for rural households, reflecting the overall increase in cost of living for households. While agricultural labor wage rates are above average, opportunities have been hampered by low employment opportunities from better-off households due to worsening economic challenges. Furthermore, the increase in wage labor is not keeping up with the increase in staple maize prices, leading to lower purchasing power for very poor households that mostly rely on the markets. Households are, therefore, largely dependent on self-employment activities, such as firewood and charcoal sales that are facing significant challenges due to government restrictions on forest exploitation. This leads to lower access to income from self-employment activities and an increasing number of people likely to face food consumption gaps.
The current area food security classification outcomes across districts in southern Malawi range from Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) with significant levels of humanitarian food assistance preventing worse outcomes in six districts (Blantyre, Chikawawa, Mwanza, Neno, Nsanje, and Mulanje) to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in districts where humanitarian assistance is covering less than 25 percent of the population (Zomba, Machinga, Mangochi, Balaka, Thyolo and Chiradzulu). In central Malawi, most districts are registering Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes; however, a few areas are likely facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, including districts such as Ntcheu, Salima, Lilongwe, and Nkhotakota. Finally, most of northern Malawi is registering Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes, but some parts of Karonga district registering Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.
The most likely scenario from February to September 2023 is based on the following national-level assumptions:
- Rainfall: Based on global forecast models and forecast climate modes, above-average rainfall is most likely across much of southern Africa, including southern Malawi, in the January to March 2023 period. With a delayed and erratic start to the rainy season in the October to December 2022 period, overall rainfall amounts for the 2022/23 season will be about average. However, there is a likelihood of episodic, extreme weather events such as mid-season dry spells and flash-flooding in flood-prone areas, along with regionalized flooding if widespread torrential rainfall occurs. According to CHIRPS accumulation to date and NMME dynamical forecasts, northern and southern Malawi are likely to experience near-normal rainfall accumulations through May 2023. This is in agreement with the latest government-issued weather bulletin, according to which overall rainfall was normal to above-normal in most areas of the country from October 2022 to 10 January 2023, with pockets of below-normal rainfall in all three regions.
- Access to inputs: Access to inputs throughout the season will remain lower than normal. Prices for commercial fertilizers have almost quadrupled from last year to the current production season due to worsening economic conditions. Subsidized fertilizer prices through the government-implemented AIP program have doubled from last season. Furthermore, the government reduced the number of beneficiaries in the subsidy program from around 3.7 million in the previous agricultural season to about 2.5 million farmers this season, due to dwindling resources and very high prices of inputs. This will affect production of maize and tobacco as farmers start switching maize production to pulses, which require little or no fertilizer, and farms experience low yields due to lack of fertilizer or delayed or insufficient application.
- Crop production is likely to be below average, especially for maize. The erratic rainfall during the start of the season and reduced access to inputs, especially for the very poor and poor rural farmers, is expected to result in reduced yields and production totals. The government has cut the number of subsidized input beneficiaries from 3.7 million in the previous year to around 2.5 million this year. Additionally, as of mid-January 2023, only 30 percent of the beneficiaries had reportedly accessed inputs for the planting season, way past the window period for fertilizer application. The First Round Agriculture Production Estimates (APES) led by the Ministry of Agriculture and government ministry offices suggest that maize production will be about four percent below last year’s production and two percent below the five-year average. However, due to low fertilizer access, the production estimates may be revised downward in subsequent assessments.
- Income from crop sales and agricultural labor: Income from crop sales is expected to be average across wealth groups, supported by a relatively good production season. However, based on recent field assessments, especially in southern Malawi, FEWS NET expects that agricultural labor and non-agricultural labor opportunities among very poor and poor households will be lower between January and May due to reduced incomes for middle and better-off households, which typically hire members of poorer households. A key factor affecting agricultural labor availability and wages is the reduced access to seeds and fertilizers, which will limit agricultural activities.
- Other income sources: Self-employment opportunities among very poor and poor households in rural areas, including charcoal, firewood, and handicraft sales, are also expected to be available as usual. However, income levels from these various opportunities will likely be lower as the competition to earn income from similar activities increases, particularly given the impact of reduced agricultural labor income and high food prices on household purchasing power. Meanwhile, in urban areas, incomes for poor households are expected to be near average, but the purchasing power for urban households will continue to decrease due to the high prices of commodities, including food and basic non-food items. According to the Employers Consultative Association, the cost of living for urban households rose by about 41 percent from September 2021 to September 2022, a similar trend that is expected to continue based on expectations for atypically high inflation in 2023.
- Maize stocks: National maize supplies will likely remain average to above average at the national level, based on expected near-average harvests in April/May, coupled with some carry-over stocks from the 2022 production year. During FEWS NET field assessments in key markets across the country, many farmers, especially in central and northern Malawi, reported adequate amounts of maize grain to satisfy needs. The assessments also found that traders have adequate maize stocks to supply markets until the next harvest.
- Maize imports: Malawi will continue registering reduced net maize imports through formal and informal cross-border trading. FEWS NET data has shown that from April to December, Malawi exported 120,890 MT against imports of 26,013, leaving it with negative net imports of 94,877 MT. Most maize exports went into Tanzania through northern borders, while most of the maize imports are from Mozambique and Zambia through central and southern Malawi border points. While this may not have a huge impact on overall national maize supplies, increased informal maize exports are exerting upward pressure on maize prices, especially in northern Malawi.
- Inflation: Malawi’s headline inflation rate will likely remain high through the outlook period, driven by foreign exchange shortages and increased input costs. Prices of food, non-food commodities and other services are expected to remain atypically high, as further depreciation of the MWK will continue to increase the cost of imports. The balance of payments crisis is expected to deepen, as overall economic growth is forecast to be below the regional average for 2023 (World Bank). Malawi’s year-on-year inflation was 21 percent in 2022, compared to 9.3 percent in 2021 (Malawi National Statistics Office). The main drivers for the prevailing high inflation are the depreciation of the local currency since its devaluation in May 2022, high global fuel prices, low foreign currency reserves, and global supply chain disruptions due to the Russia-Ukraine war.
- Maize prices: According to FEWS NET price projections, prices for maize will continue to increase, remaining atypically high until March, when prices will start to seasonally decrease as the country moves toward the next harvest period. However, prices will remain around or above 300 MWK per kg during the harvest period before registering increases from July 2023, likely exceeding 400 MWK/kg by September, which is atypically high. Maize prices in January averaged 495 MWK/kg with prices in February reaching as high as 760 MWK/kg, which may be the country’s highest recorded in history. The weaker MWK against USD is a key driver of elevated maize prices, and further depreciation is expected to increase the inflation rate due to the increased costs of imports. Additionally, maize prices are elevated due to reduced production in the south, high input costs, and the absence of subsidized maize sales by the state-run ADMARC markets. High prices in northern Malawi are also being driven by prices across the border in Tanzania, where most informal maize exports are taking place through the Karonga and Chitipa districts.
- Humanitarian food assistance: According to available information on humanitarian assistance plans, WFP and partners are expected to continue to deliver food assistance to up to 3.8 million people (identified per the 2022 MVAC assessment) through March 2023. The humanitarian response is expected to scale down after March, coinciding with the availability of the main season harvest in April. Food assistance is not likely to be delivered between April and September.
- Cholera outbreak: The ongoing cholera epidemic is expected to remain a serious public health threat among both urban and rural populations in Malawi. Cholera, which is endemic but normally localized in low-lying and lakeshore areas but is also prevalent during the rainy season, has been affecting populations across all parts of the country, even in the dry season, since early 2022. As a result, cholera cases are expected to remain elevated even after the end of the rainy season in March. A high prevalence of cholera will likely contribute to elevated morbidity and acute malnutrition levels, especially among children. The impacts on food security and livelihoods are expected to be felt among households who earn income through livestock and food vendor stands, which have been targeted by government control measures.
- Acute malnutrition: Acute malnutrition levels in children under five years of age will likely be within Acceptable levels (Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) ≤5 percent) in both projection periods, according to WHO thresholds. Historical trends from 2018 to 2020 (when the last SMART survey was carried out) show that, overall, GAM levels have typically not exceeded five percent, with rates in the past three years recorded at less than two percent. However, elevated levels may be observed within this range. Current nutrition data from the Malawi Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) shows that severe acute malnutrition (SAM) admissions in 2022 increased by 10 percent as compared to 2021, while moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) admissions are reported to have increased by 73 percent, as compared to levels in 2021. The recent increase in SAM and MAM admissions is likely to be somewhat alleviated as the harvest become available in April, but still influenced by the ongoing cholera epidemic.
Most Likely Food Security Outcomes
The occurrence of frequent tropical storms in 2022, coupled with erratic rainfall in southern Malawi, contributed to reduced production of maize in Central and Southern Malawi during the 2022/2023 harvest. The loss of this key source of food and income, coupled with persistently high prices for staple food and essential non-food items that limit household purchasing power and access to food, will continue to drive Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes until the start of the next harvest in April. In March, up to 3.8 million people are expected to receive humanitarian assistance that will mitigate the size of their food consumption gaps; in six districts, the level of assistance is expected to be high enough to prevent worse outcomes, indicative of Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!). The ongoing humanitarian assistance has protected the poor and very poor households from applying negative coping mechanisms like selling of their fixed assets, farm equipment, and migrations.
Food availability and access will start to improve after the harvest begins in April/May. At this time, very poor and poor households are expected to move from Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes. Farmers will be able to gradually improve their consumption of own-produced food, while increasing the amount of income earned through agricultural labor and/or by selling part of their own-produced crops. At the same time, market reliance will start to decline in April and remain low through September, as most households will be able to consume their own harvests from the 2022/2023 production season and/or be able to trade their stocks for other preferred foods. Overall, very poor and poor households will be able to increase the number of meals consumed per day, as well as the dietary diversity and size of the meals.
During the June to September period, the harvest will conclude. During this period, households across all wealth groups will be accessing food from their own production and incomes from crop sales, in addition to other typical sources of income, including off-farm labor and self-employment activities. Due to better food availability and access, most households in southern Malawi expected to see improvement to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes, which they are able to meet their minimum kilocalorie needs. Meanwhile, most households in central and northern Malawi will likely experience Minimal/None (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes. However, some very poor and poor households who rapidly sell off their food stocks to repay loans or experienced localized poor production are likely to face in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, though the share of the population is expected to be less than 20 percent. These areas of concern include the Lower Shire Livelihood zone and Lake Chilwa and Phalombe Plain Livelihood zones.
Events that Might Change the Outlook
|Area||Event||Impact on food security outcomes|
|Heavy rain and flooding resulting from a cyclone||The 2022/23 season has seen above-average rainfall starting in January, with some areas having already experienced stormy rains that have damaged crops and infrastructure. With cyclone activities forecast in the Indian Ocean over the coming months, stormy rains and flooding may lead to crop damage and reduced production, loss of assets, and displacement. A cyclone event would likely increase the share of the population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), particularly in flood-prone areas in southern Malawi.|
Early cessation of rains
|In a typical year, Malawi’s rainy season starts around October to April each year. With a delayed start of the season, some late planted crops would require a longer rainfall season or causes increasing green harvests/consumptions. Early cessation of rains would lead to premature drying of crops, thereby decreasing crop yields and leading to a decline in household food and income from crop production. This would most likely lead to an increase in the share of the population that is Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in some livelihood zones in Northern and Central Malawi.|
|Further inflation or devaluation of the Malawi Kwacha (MWK)||The devaluation and floating of the Malawi Kwacha (MWK) in May 2022 have continued to have negative impacts on market and trade conditions. This has led to high prices both for imported goods and for locally produced food and non-food commodities. Depreciation has also led to increases in import costs of critical goods such as fuel and fertilizer. Malawi has already experienced fuel and fertilizer shortages. Further depreciation or devaluation of the currency could lead to more price increases and scarcity, which would negatively impact food security and livelihoods of households across all wealth groups, leading to increased number of people facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or Crisis (ICP Phase 3) outcomes in parts of southern Malawi.|
|Implementation of more stringent restrictions to control the cholera epidemic||While the persistence of the cholera epidemic is already included in the most likely scenario, a worse-than-anticipated escalation in the spread of cholera may prompt the government of Malawi to take more significant measures to control the spread of the disease. If the government takes steps to further restrict the sale of food commodities and/or closure markets in an effort to limit water and food contamination for a prolonged period, the impact could lead to an increase in the number of households that face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, particularly among households that depend on food and income from food sales and trade.|
Source: FEWS NET
Source: FEWS NET
The Lower Shire Valley Livelihood Zone includes large parts of Chikhwawa and Nsanje districts. It is the southernmost zone in the country and borders Mozambique on its southern edge and the Shire Highlands on its north and eastern edges. Soils are predominantly sandy clay and clay loam, which, paired with the low precipitation and high temperatures, are moderately productive.
In the current agricultural season, farmers in the Lower Shire Livelihood Zone planted crops at the end of December 2022 or in the first week of January 2023. Currently, the rainfall distribution is good across time and space. There are reduced cases of flooding compared to the same time last year, despite some episodes of mild flash floods in all the Agricultural Extension Planning Areas. Crop development looks very good now, but by mid-January access to seeds and fertilizer from the Agricultural Input Program (AIP) was very low, thereby threatening yields. Only 53 percent of farmers in Nsanje and 60 percent of farmers in Chikhwawa had access to hybrid maize seeds, while access to fertilizer was only around 14 percent in Nsanje and 44 percent in Chikhwawa.
In the current consumption season, households are continuing to report insufficient food consumption due to reduced food and income derived from the previous production season as a result of back-to-back tropical cyclones in 2022. Since then, levels of food insecurity have been exacerbated by steep increases in food prices.
Food-insecure households depend on market purchases for food, using incomes from self-employment, labor exchange, petty trade, and livestock sales. However, reduced access to agricultural labor – resulting from the impact of the previous poor production year and increased cost of living and product on the ability of better-off households to hire labor – is limiting the financial capacity of very poor and poor households to purchase maize grain and other staples foods from the market. Maize prices in Nsanje market are still high (Figure 2), and the situation has worsened with the unavailability of maize grain in most ADMARC markets, as well as the suspension of ADMARC operations in most outlet markets.
Monthly food distribution reports are unavailable. However, humanitarian food distributions to food-insecure households commenced in November 2022, with 25,008 households targeted in Nsanje district and 48,975 households in Chikhwawa district. Assistance was reportedly ongoing in January and February, and planned targets reach or exceed 25 percent of the district-level population. While Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are most likely ongoing, some households are still in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). During a January 2023 assessment, FEWS NET observed that poor and very poor households were consuming one meal per day and eating less preferred wild tubers.
Source: FEWS NET
In addition to the national-level assumptions, the following assumptions define the most likely scenario in the Lower Shire Livelihood zone through September 2023:
- Traders will continue to supply maize to Nsanje markets from higher-producing neighboring districts in southern Malawi and from supply markets in central Malawi districts throughout the harvest period. Overall, supplies will be average to somewhat below average, contributing to high price increases amid wider inflationary pressures.
- Households will continue engaging in self-employment in order to obtain cash for food and basic non-food purchases, especially firewood collection and sales. As more people engage in firewood and charcoal selling, the income earned from these activities will decrease due to greater supply in the market. In addition, poor and very poor households will likely intensify casual labor and sending able-bodied household members to seek agricultural labor opportunities in Mozambique to raise income and to purchase food.
- Households are expected to primarily rely on market purchases for food during the first projection period from February to May, and especially in February/March, as most no longer have food stocks from the 2022 harvest and the 2023 harvest will not begin until April. During this period, they will also rely on food assistance deliveries in March and on less preferred foods, including wild vegetables and fruits.
- Similar to the national-level assumption, the 2023 harvest starting in April is expected to be near average. A slight decline of less than five percent compared to average is estimated, reflecting reduced access to fertilizer but good rainfall performance.
- Maize prices are expected to follow seasonal trends at well above-average levels (Figure 2). In January, maize prices at the Nsanje market were 138 percent higher compared to last year and 156 percent above the five-year average, limiting food access for many poor households. Maize prices are expected to decrease from February to May as the harvest becomes available, and farmers immediately begin to sell crops to pay off loans and purchase essential non-food needs; however, the price will still trend much higher than both last year’s prices and the five-year average. Prices are expected to rise after June, following seasonal trends but at above-average levels, as poor households that sold off their stocks earlier in the season start to increasingly purchase food, pushing up demand for market supplies.
Most Likely Food Security Outcomes
In February and March, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are expected, with the delivery of humanitarian food assistance preventing more severe outcomes at the peak of the lean season. Poor and very poor households are expected to consume one to two meals per day, relying on market purchases, food assistance, and wild foods. The most common foods will be nsima, the staple food made from maize grain, green maize, tubers such as sweet potatoes, vegetables, and wild foods (nyika). As the harvest starts in April, food consumption between April and May 2023 will greatly improve, with most households consuming three meals per day of their preferred foods, including maize, millet, or sorghum meal with pulses, small fish, vegetables, and wild foods, mainly nyika.
From June to September, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected, with some households (less than 20 percent) in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Household food stocks from the harvest are not expected to last more than a few months and will likely gradually decline towards the end of the projection period, as this area is typically less productive and vulnerable to erratic rainfall that results in dry spells and episodic flooding. Many very poor and poor households are expected to start reducing the quantity of their meals or the diversity of foods consumed. This population will begin to rely on income from agricultural labor for winter-season crop production starting at the end of June, utilized to purchase food. While the rainfall forecast and soil moisture content is favorable for winter crop production, the contribution of own production among poor household is minimal, according to Malawi livelihoods baseline information. In addition to labor, very poor and poor households will intensify off-farm casual labor activities, firewood sales, and migrating to Mozambique in search of agricultural and mining related labor. At the end of August, many households will start consuming their winter harvest throughout the outlook period.
The Lake Chilwa and Phalombe Plain Livelihood Zone (Figure 3) occupies parts of the Machinga, Zomba, Mulanje, Phalombe, and Chiradzulu districts. Extending from north of Lake Chiuta down to just northeast of Thyolo and west of Mulanje, the zone encompasses areas surrounding Lake Chilwa and the highland plain of Phalombe. Soils are of poor quality, with sandy to clay loams found throughout the zone.
Source: FEWS NET
In the previous agricultural season, the zone was hit by tropical storms Ana and Gombe. Later, some areas in the zone recorded early cessation of rains, leading to premature drying of late planted or replanted crops, reducing yields and production. Performance of irrigated crops was also low as some areas remained water-logged late into the season, with some irrigable land experiencing severe sand damping that prevented cultivation. Most poor and very poor households had just under three months of own-produced food and rely on other coping mechanisms, especially daily labor jobs and self-employment like firewood collections, charcoal selling and petty trading’s.
In the current season, a FEWS NET field assessment showed that most households have reduced access to food and basic non-food commodities due to consecutive years of poor harvests and the depletion of their own-produced food between June and August 2022. Households have increasingly relied on in-kind food and income earned from casual labor and self-employment in order to purchase food from the market. However, incomes are lower than normal due to increased competition for available labor and self-employment opportunities. Significant numbers of male household members reported that they were migrating to Mozambique for two weeks to a month at a time to do agricultural labor for in-kind or cash payments.
As of February 2023, maize prices at Balaka market averaged 506 MWK per kilogram, which is 218 percent higher than at the same time last year and 197 percent above the five-year average. On average, retail prices for maize are trending 144 percent above the five-year average (August to February). Compared to the same time last year, prices are trending over double than during the same time last year (Figure 4).
Source: FEWS NET
In January 2022, most ADMARC outlet markets were closed and suspended services, reducing the availability of subsidized maize. Government-set prices for maize at ADMARC markets were 300 MWK per kilogram in January, while retail maize prices in other markets ranged from 500 to 570 MWK per kilogram, making it costly for households to access adequate maize supplies. Alternative foods were also expensive, with prices of cassava and pigeon peas having doubled compared to the previous consumption season. Food availability in markets other than ADMARC markets is average due to inflows mainly from surplus-producing areas in central region districts, such as Lilongwe, Dedza, Ntcheu, and Mchinji, as well as inflows from Mozambique and Zambia through informal cross-border trade. Despite adequate availability, prices remained atypically high due to the higher prices in supply markets where farmers and middle traders were charging higher prices in line with ongoing high inflation.
Apart from those benefitting from humanitarian assistance for five months until March 2023, FEWS NET field assessments have found that the number of targeted households in this area was much lower than the current level of need. The increased needs are being driven by the worsening of the economy, high inflation, and the steeply rising cost of food and basic non-food commodities. As a result, many very poor and poor households are experiencing food consumption gaps indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) despite the delivery of food assistance to the area. Focus group discussions with community members during the most recent FEWS NET assessment in January 2023 revealed that most very poor and poor households in Lake Chilwa and Phalombe Plain districts were consuming one meal per day. Households are consuming mostly maize meal with vegetables, with very little or no diversity. In the absence of maize, some households were consuming cooked dry cassava (makaka), which is cheaper than maize when available in markets. When food for typical meals is inaccessible, most households reported having no option but to consume less calorie-dense foods such as boiled mangoes or cooked vegetables.
In addition to the national-level assumptions, the following assumptions define the most likely scenario in the Lake Chilwa and Phalombe Plain livelihood zone through September 2023:
- Traders will continue to supply maize to Machinga markets from higher-producing districts in central Malawi throughout the outlook period. Supplies will be likely be average from February to May and above average from June to September as households harvest the season’s crops.
- Poor and very poor households’ food access will continue being constrained in the first outlook period, which is the lean period, and will likely improve in the short-term in the second outlook period from June to September, which is within the harvest period. Most poor households will continue relying on market purchases for food as household incomes deplete earlier than normal after the harvest period due to below-normal household food production. Households will continue engaging in labor and self-employment to obtain cash for food and basic non-food purchases, with firewood collection and sales intensifying throughout the first outlook period and modest incomes derived from crop sales during the second outlook period.
- Similar to the national-level assumption, the 2023 harvest starting in April is expected to be near average. A slight decline (less than five percent compared to average) is estimated, due to reduced access to fertilizer but good rainfall.
- Staple food prices are already double compared to last year and the five-year average and will remain exceptionally high throughout the scenario period. During the first projection period of February-May, maize prices are expected to decline as supplies from the 2023 harvest become available and farmers immediately begin to sell crops to pay off loans and purchase essential non-food needs; however, prices will still trend much higher than the five-year average due to inflationary pressures, including high production costs. Prices are expected to increase after June, as poor households that sold off their stocks earlier in the season start to increasingly purchase food, pushing up demand for market supplies. Prices are expected to trend around 110 percent above the five-year average through September and 105 percent above the prices recorded at the same time last year (Figure 4).
- The humanitarian food assistance program will end after March, after the start of the harvest. In February and March, an average of about 22 percent of the affected households are benefitting from in-kind or cash rations, equivalent to about 76 percent of their monthly needs.
Most Likely Food Security Outcomes
- In February and March, poor and very poor households will likely resort to consuming one meal per day, combined with some wild vegetables/fruits and reducing meal sizes. Food consumption will be maize/millet/sorghum meal with vegetables. Atypically steep increases in maize prices and reduced access to income are the main driver for this increase in food insecurity. FEWS NET projects the Lake Chilwa and Phalombe Plain Livelihood Zone will likely continue to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes during this period. Most very poor and poor households will continue to rely on humanitarian food assistance to mitigate the size of their food consumption gaps. Households are also expected to continue to intensify casual labor and migration to Mozambique in search of agricultural labor that increases income of households to access food and non-food basic needs.
- From April through September, most households are expected to see improvement to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes as the harvest becomes available. This area is typically more productive and crop production is typically more diversified, with stocks expected to last several months. In addition to harvesting their own crops, very poor and poor households are expected to have increased income-earning opportunities from agricultural labor and off-farm labor, particularly benefitting from employment on irrigated farms owned by better-off households. As a result, their food consumption is expected to improve to at least two meals a day as households begin to harvest 2023 crops in April/May. Households will have access to a diverse diet as various food types are available during the harvest time. An increase in incomes after some crop sales will also enable households to purchase a variety of foods. Moreover, other sources of income will be accessed through irrigated farming labor, and hence income access will be around average.
Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Malawi Food Security Outlook, February to September 2023. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) expected in central and southern Malawi until the harvest is available in April, 2023.
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.