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Delayed rainfall likely to result in poor harvest in the south of Malawi

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Malawi
  • January - June 2014
Delayed rainfall likely to result in poor harvest in the south of Malawi

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Areas of Concern
  • Events that Might Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • The start of the agriculture season was delayed across parts of the central region and most of the south by 20-30 days. This will result in a delayed start of green consumption and this will lengthen the amount of time poor rural households will have to manage without access to food supplies from their main harvest.
    • Crops in the south that were planted late due to the delayed rains could face severe moisture stress if a mid-season dry spell (around February) occurs. This dry spell could moderately-to-severely affect late planted crops, potentially impacting yield and production levels in the 2013/14 season.
    • The humanitarian response plan for 2 million people is adequately funded and should improve acute food insecurity levels to Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) in areas of concern in the north, central, and southern regions. Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected from April to June, once household access to food increases with the new harvest.
    • During the first quarter of the outlook period maize prices likely to remain above last year’s levels and the five year average due to reduced local supplies in the lean period, high source market prices and increasing transportation costs.

    National Overview
    Current Situation
    • The majority of the southern region experienced nearly a month long delay in planting rains. With the exception of the parts of the Western Rumphi Mzimba (WRM) livelihood zone, most of the central and northern regions experienced an average start of season (SOS). The season was more than 40 days late in a few areas in parts of the western and southern region.
    • A FEWS NET field assessment in mid-January found that most of the maize crops in the south are at the vegetative stage, while a few areas were further along and in the flowering stage. The delayed SOS and planting means that green consumption and the main harvest in this region will likely be delayed by about a month.
    • December 2013 maize prices were, on average, 77 percent  above December 2012 levels and 159 percent above the five year average.  Maize prices increased most rapidly between November and December 2013 (12 percent) as a result of dwindling maize stocks and increased demand from buyers from the south. Average maize prices in southern markets increased by 8 percent between November and December 2013. Markets in the north were stable between November and December due to the availability of informal imports from Zambia.
    • Maize stockholding by private traders is currently believed to be good. Traders have been hesitant to sell off stocks on account of  very high purchase prices in 2013 as well as uncertainty about the impacts of subsidized maize sales. By the end of January, ADMARC was delivering maize in most of its markets at the rate of an average of 15 MTs per market per week. At this rate, ADMARC has sufficient supplies to last through mid-March. The ADMARC sale prices is MWK80/kg, nearly half of the retail prices in most places (MWK160/kg). 
    • Informal maize imports from Zambia into central and northern Malawi were 73 percent higher than the five-year average during the 2013/14 marketing year (April through December).  Informal imports nevertheless declined as they normally do between November and December 2013 because stocks dwindle in key source markets during the lean period and also due to worsening road conditions. Informal exports increased through southern Malawi into Mozambique via the Nayuchi, Muloza and Naminkhaka borders in December as a result of increased demand and higher prices in Mozambique. Cumulative informal cross border maize exports (April through December) were 75 percent below the five-year average.
    • Based on Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) recommendations, humanitarian assistance in the form of food and cash transfers started in October in some districts. A one month delay in the cash transfer component was experienced due to logistical challenges. The MVAC has updated the population requiring humanitarian assistance this year from 1.5 million in 21 districts to about 1.9 million in 24 districts. The revised figure includes districts from Thyolo Mulanje Tea (TMT), the Rift Valley Escarpment (RFT), and the Kasungu-Lilongwe Plains (KAS) livelihood zones. So far households have reported sharing the food obtained through humanitarian assistance with their neighbors. The availability of monthly humanitarian assistance has resulted in most of the poor households being able to meet basic food needs for the entire month in the zone, and there are reports that those that are sharing food are supplementing their shortfall with incomes from available agriculture labor
    • The Government of Malawi (GoM) has authorized ADMARC to drawdown an additional 20,000 MTs on top of 8,500 MTs which was approved earlier for sale in its markets at the subsidized rate of MWK80/kg.  ADMARC has been limiting the quantity of maize purchased per individual to 10 kgs because it is targeting poor households who don’t qualify for humanitarian food security interventions.
    • The Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) has been authorized to drawdown another 5,000 MTs of maize which will be kept on standby for immediate response when disasters like floods strike.
    • As of the end-January, the SGR had about 23,000 MTs which is available for use either for humanitarian or commercial purposes. Demand in ADMARC markets alone stands at 15,000 MTs each month implying that the available stock would be consumed by mid-March. The available quantity is not adequate to keep prices low in the private sector.
    • The GoM continued to distribute subsidized inputs (fertilizers and seeds) under the Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP) to about 1.5 million poor but labor-endowed farming households. Distribution of the subsidized inputs started a month late in November 2013. As of mid-December 2013 the deliveries from central depots to final distribution markets across the country was at around 70 percent, which is lower than expected for this program. In combination with the delay of the season, these additional input delays will likely affect the productivity of the crop in the current production season throughout the country.
    National Level Assumptions

    The Food Security Outlook for January to June is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    Seasonal progress and labor
    • The start of rainfall was delayed from 20 to 40 days across various parts of the country. Based on this delayed SOS, it is likely that green consumption of maize and actual harvest will be delayed from mid-February to mid-March.
    • While the Department and Climate Change and Meteorological Services (DoCCMS) have maintained the rainfall forecast of increased chances of normal to above normal rainfall for the remainder of the agricultural season, the SADC Climate Services Center (SADC-CSC) and the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) model have predicted average to below average rainfall by end March. Due to the delayed and erratic start of season across the country, FEWS NET is assuming that rainfall will be average for Jan.-Mar.   
    • Generally, during the peak rainy months of January and March, ganyu or labor opportunities tend to be higher. Average labor availability is expected during the January to June period. 
    Humanitarian assistance
    • As the MVAC continues to assess the food security situation during the outlook period, it is likely that additional households may require humanitarian assistance from January to March.
    • Current maize stocks for humanitarian assistance are at near-adequate levels in order to cover the needs of the 1.9 million people that were identified as food insecure in November 2013.  Any additional needs beyond this figure would require additional funding.
    Markets and trade
    • FEWS NET expects average national maize prices to peak within a range of MWK 150/kg to MWK 170/kg during the January to March period. The current drivers of high maize prices include  high source market prices (in Malawi and within the Southern Africa region), uncertainty about ADMARC activities that continue to affect trader marketing behavior, and the high cost of transporting maize from surplus to deficit areas following increasing fuel costs, and  the devaluation of the local currency in 2012.  
    • As a result of limited GoM grain stocks in the SGR (about 23,000 MTs against a monthly requirement of about 15,000 MTs), ADMARC is expected to run out of maize stocks in mid-March. This could result in prices rising above the levels projected above.
    • Informal maize imports from Zambia into central and northern Malawi  are expected to continue, but at a slower rate than earlier in the marketing year as a result of decreasing stocks in key source markets. Informal exports into Mozambique are likely to persist.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    During the next quarter (January to March) poor households will have limited food from their own stocks since this period is typically the peak of the lean period. This year, due to delayed start of the agricultural season the lean season will likely be extended by a month (from February to March) and the availability of green foods will probably be delayed. This means that the majority of poor rural households across the country will depend on markets for that additional time. Based on the MVAC assessment findings, poor households in 24 of the 28 districts located in Kasungu Lilongwe Plains, Mzimba Self Sufficient, Western Rumphi and Mzimba, Rift Valley, Middle Shire and Thyolo-Mulanje Tea livelihood zones are unable to meet their food needs, even with the available ganyu opportunities. As a result the MVAC recommended a humanitarian response that is currently ongoing. Despite ongoing humanitarian assistance in these livelihood zones, poor households do not have adequate incomes to invest in sustainable livelihood activities, and are expected to face Stressed acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes from January to March. With the harvest expected in mid-April or early May, the food security situation should improve among poor households and food insecurity will likely be Minimal food (IPC Phase 1) from April to June. 


    Areas of Concern
    Kasungu Lilongwe Plains (KAS)1
    Current Situation
    • In December the maize grain prices in about 20 markets located in KAS averaged MWK 117.73/kg or were approximately 156 percent above the five-year average. Currently households are weeding and applying fertilizers on their crops after a delayed rainfall onset of about 20 days.  As a result of the delayed start ganyu opportunities were also delayed. Tobacco or maize wage rates have remained around MWK 5000/acre despite high inflation over the year. In-kind payments are limited because households have less food stocks as they move into the lean period. Current labor types and activities include non-agricultural activities like firewood sales, charcoal sales, migratory labor (to Mzuzu and other areas in Zambia) petty trade (the purchase and sale of vegetables); while the agricultural labor activities include ridging, tilling, weeding, fertilizer applications.
    • In terms of food availability and consumption, most households finished consuming their own production several months ago. Since October, most of the poor households have been relying on humanitarian food distributions or cash transfers. Most of the households are only consuming two main meals, while in a normal year in the zone poor households usually consume three meals a day. Poor households are meeting basic food needs by extending their typical livelihood strategies. There are no signs of atypical sales of productive assets, though charcoal and firewood sales are atypically high. Most of the poor households’ expenditures are going towards food or market purchases. It should be noted that earlier in the consumption year (June 2013) approximately 38 percent of households in KAS experienced borderline food consumption or worst based on an Emergency Food Security Assessment (EFSA) and Nutrition Survey conducted by the MVAC.
    • Humanitarian food distributions and cash transfers have been taking place in KAS since October 2013. Poor households that are accessing the food aid and cash transfers make up approximately 30 percent of the population. In mid-December, the MVAC received information that the food security situation in Kasungu and Dedza districts was worsening. An MVAC team recently verified the situation in Dedza and recommended that an additional 40,000 households be considered for assistance, while in Kasungu district the team found no cause for alarm.

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

    • Below average labor availability is expected during the January – March period due to limited incomes of wealthier households who experienced poor harvests during the 2012/13 season.
    • Given the delayed start of rainfall in KAS (by 20 days) it is likely that the late planted crops will face severe moisture stress if the rains tail off as expected (around February). This normal mid-season dry spell is expected to moderately-to-severely affect the late planted crop.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Poor households will be able to cover their basic food needs from the monthly humanitarian rations that will continue until March and additional ganyu opportunities. They may not be able to afford some essential non-food items. During the January to March period, poor households will face reduced in-kind payments due to lower food stocks in wealthier households that are hiring labor. They will seek income through labor opportunities, firewood and charcoal sales. However, this income will be inadequate to fulfill livelihoods needs and poor households experiencing food insecurity in this zone will face Stressed acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 2!). From April to June, the poor households are likely going to access adequate food from their own production because the harvest is expected by the end of April. Households in this area will likely experience Minimal acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) from April to June.

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

    The onset of rainfall was delayed by one month. National and regional agrometeorology reports show that as of late December the total rainfall deficit levels were worst than historical rainfall deficits in this zone. Farmers had already planted their crops by mid-December and weeding and fertilizer applications are common agricultural ganyu activities. As a result of the late rains and reduced 2012/13 crop sales by wealthier households, local ganyu opportunities are depressed, but some people are travelling to nearby estates and or Balaka town (between 5 and 10 kilometers) . Wages have increased slightly due to inflation (from MWK 3,500 to MWK 4,000). Households prefer to receive in-kind payment but only cash based ganyu opportunities are available.

    Maize prices are much higher than last year. Prices in key markets in MSH were 155 percent above the five-year average and 79 percent above December 2012 prices. 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.

    In terms of food availability and consumption, most households finished consuming food from their own production back in August 2013. Since October and November, most poor households have been relying on humanitarian food distributions or cash transfers. So far households have reported sharing the food obtained through humanitarian assistance with their neighbors because some households are not targeted in the areas. Poor households are meeting basic needs by relying on humanitarian assistance and doing some ganyu to meet some non-food needs. Because ganyu opportunities are limited as a result of fewer wealthier households offering ganyu (due to limited 2012/13 cash crop sales) poor households are unable to fully meet their livelihoods needs. Currently households that are not receiving assistance are looking for ganyu in order to meet their basic food needs. Some of the households are engaging in charcoal sales, firewood sales, agricultural-ganyu, gifts from relatives, and a few households are consuming boiled green mangoes.

    Context

    Normally poor households in the MSH livelihood zone produce less food because their land holding sizes are smaller compared to middle and better-off wealth categories. In normal years, poor households spend a disproportionate amount of time doing ganyu for others in order to buy food instead of working on their own land. Typically, during the January to March period poor households depend entirely on ganyu from better-off and middle wealth group households, but because of the poor rainfall levels over the past four years these local opportunities have been much lower than usual. For the past four consecutive years, many poor households in Balaka district have received and relied on food assistance from as early as October through March, further suggesting that there is an underlying chronic food insecurity problem in this livelihood zone.

    Assumptions

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

    • Given the delayed start of rainfall in MSH it is likely that the late planted crops will face severe moisture stress if the rains tail off as expected (around March). This normal mid-season dry spell is expected to moderately-to-severely affect the late planted crop.
    • Below average labor availability is expected during the January – March period due to limited incomes of wealthier households who experienced poor harvests during the 2012/13 season. Labor or ganyu rates are slightly higher than last year because of inflation and rising food prices, however due to the increased competition for labor lower rates are expected during this period. While households are looking for in-kind payment, the limited available ganyu will be paid in cash during the January to March period.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Poor households will be able to cover all of their basic food needs from the assistance and ganyu incomes, but are unlikely going to be able to afford all of their essential non-food items. Most poor households have no or very little livestock to sell and will depend on available ganyu opportunities. With high competition among workers, lower labor rates are likely. FEWS NET projects that with ongoing assistance poor households will face Stressed food insecurity (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes between January and March. Since the harvest is expected by late April or early May, from April to June, poor households are likely going to access food from their own production  Households in this area will likely experience Minimal acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) during the post-harvest period.

    Other areas of concern

    Mzimba Self Sufficient (MZS) and Western Rumphi and Mzimba (WRM) zone
    Current Situation

    Most poor households have been receiving and depending on humanitarian food assistance since October 2013 and this is expected to continue until March 2014. In these two zones crops were planted two weeks late in December because of delayed rains. Subsided inputs through the FISP were still being distributed in these areas as of late December. There were no maize stocks in ADMARC selling points in both Mzimba and Rumphi districts in December. Average maize grain prices in Mzimba, Embangweni and Jenda markets continue to be abnormally high and are on average approximately 78 percent higher when compared to the same time last year. The agricultural labor rates are normal (MWK 500 per acre).

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Poor households in these livelihood zones will continue to depend on humanitarian food assistance until March. Nonetheless, all poor households in these zones will need to be continuously monitored during the outlook period because of the continuing high food prices and the possibility of a prolonged lean period (extended to April) due to the delayed start of rainfall in late December. In spite of ongoing humanitarian assistance, Stressed food insecurity levels (IPC Phase 2!) are expected over the next three months (January - March) and  after the harvest begins (April – June) poor households will face Minimal food insecurity (IPC Phase 1).


    1For a description of the KAS livelihood zone, visit: http://www.fews.net/livelihood/mw/National.pdf

    2For a description of the MSH livelihood zone, visit: http://www.fews.net/livelihood/mw/National.pdf

     


    Events that Might Change the Outlook

    Table 1. Possible events over the next six months that could change the most-likely scenario.

    AreaEventImpact on Food Security Outcomes
    All Livelihood zonesCommon Approach to Budget Support (CABS) donors funding to Malawi is delayed.Increasing inflation, inability to pay for fuel and fertilizer imports; all of which could result in the inability of households to access food and inputs on local markets.
    All Livelihood zonesHigher than projected maize prices due to lack of subsidized ADMARC maize, high source markets and high transportation costs.Increased population unable to access food through markets, resulting in worsening acute food insecurity.
    KAS Livelihood zoneDelay in the implementation of emergency assistance programming in additional areas.Worsening food security outcomes due to very high prices and limited availability of food in local markets.
    Southern regionEarly cessation of rainfall.Crops may fail to reach maturity and this could result in reduced harvests for the 2013/14 agriculture season. 

     

    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. 

    Figures Seasonal Calendar in a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar in a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    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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