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Households in southern and central Malawi will face food and livelihoods deficits

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Malawi
  • June 2018 - January 2019
Households in southern and central Malawi will face food and livelihoods deficits

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • National Level Assumptions
  • Most Likely Food Security Outcomes
  • Events That Might Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • As the postharvest period continues, very poor and poor households in districts in the southern and central region will face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes from June to September. Most of these districts will transition to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) during the lean season from October to January, when food prices are at their highest and local cereal supplies are at their lowest. Drivers of the projected area outcomes include below-average access to income from casual labor opportunities and crop sales because of dryness and erratic rains during the 2017/18 cropping season, and above-average maize prices from November to January.

    • The 2nd round production estimates showed that overall cereal production for the 2017/18 season was below average. Production of maize is 15 percent below the five-year average and other crops that registered a decrease include groundnuts, pulses, and cotton. Despite these reductions maize grain is readily available in markets and carryover stocks from the previous season will fill some of the national requirement gap.

    • Maize prices are currently trending lower than the same time last year and slightly below average. Normal season trends for prices are expected during the outlook period. Maize prices are expected to increase from July to October, pushing prices closer to average during this period. From November onwards, maize prices will increase and trend above average. The increasing price and longer than normal length of time households will be required to make purchases will constrain purchasing power and result in livelihood protection and food deficits.

    National Overview

    Current Situation

    Households across the country began accessing food from their own production between March and May 2018.  In the northern and most of the central region, households are consuming their own-produced crops, but due to prolonged dry spells and erratic rainfall, poor households in most of the south and parts of the central region are currently facing constrained access to food and cash during the postharvest period. Between April and June, households in most of the south began to rely on market purchases for food consumption a lot earlier than normal. Limited availability in harvest labor opportunities and lower crop sales for households is constraining cash flow. Labor opportunities in areas where irrigated/winter cultivation typically occur are also lower than normal. 

    2nd Round production estimates released in April by the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) showed that overall cereal production for 2018 was below average. Estimates showed that maize production is 15 percent below the five-year average and 19 percent below last year, while production of rice and millet are near average. National sorghum production registered a slight increase at 7 percent above the five-year average. Other key crops that registered a decrease include groundnuts, pulses, and cotton.  

    Decreases in crop production are expected to result in a decrease in household food availability among the very poor and poor wealth groups during the outlook period since agriculture and agricultural labor are key sources of food and income during a typical year. During the outlook period, livelihood and food deficits will be more pronounced in most of the south and a few parts of the central region of the country. Households that began consuming their own-production between March and May will finish their food stocks by October in parts of the central region. In the south, many households have finished consuming their own-production and have started to rely on market purchases for food. Most households in the north will have adequate own-production for the entirety of the consumption period.

    Despite below-average cereal production, maize grain is readily available in most markets and prices are at or slightly below average. Supplies in markets are from the recent 2018 harvests as well as some carryover from the previous surplus-production season. National maize stocks in the Strategic Grain Reserve and Agricultural Development Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) are estimated at over 200,000 MT. Even though 2018 cereal production is 15 percent below national requirements, the carryover stocks from the previous season will bring the total estimated deficit to about 7 percent below national requirements. Alternative crops including legumes and tubers may help to cover the remaining requirement gap.

    Maize prices are currently trending lower than the same time last year and slightly below the five-year average. Increases are expected from July to October, and prices will be closer to the five-year average at that time.

    National Level Assumptions

    From June 2018 to January 2019, the projected food security outcomes are based on the following key assumptions:

    • National food stocks/ADMARC /Informal trade/Imports: Maize stock levels at the national level is below normal and will remain this way throughout the outlook period and consumption year. Based on the Ministry of Agriculture 2nd round estimates, cereal production for the 2018-18 cropping season was 2,791,741 MT. This is about 15 percent below the five-year average and 15 percent below national requirements. However, the total estimated cereal deficit comes to 7 percent below national requirements once over 200,000 MT of carryover stocks from the Strategic Grain Reserve and Agricultural Development Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) are taken into consideration. FEWS NET estimates that the remaining cereal deficit (7 percent) can easily be covered by informal inflows and alternative foods including legumes and tubers.
    • Informal cross border trade: Informal cross border trade of staples continues to play an important role in ensuring food availability between neighboring countries. Levels of informal cross border trade inflows, especially of maize staple, will increase during the outlook period. FEWS NET historical data shows that increased volumes of informal maize imports from neighboring Mozambique, Zambia, and Tanzania typically range from 20,000-65,000 MT during deficit years (based on the level of national deficits and local demand). In March 2018, import levels were 11 percent above the five-year average and month-on-month flows of informal maize grain from Mozambique and into deficit areas in the south increased by 21 percent.  Additionally, month-on-month exports to Tanzania declined by 49 percent, decreasing from 4,562 MT in February  to 2,314 MT in March. This decline is likely due to the existing export ban, stricter controls, and reduced demand from Tanzania.
    • Household food stocks (own produced crops/local food purchases): Cereal stocks at the household level will remain below average in the central and southern regions of the country due to a below-average production for the 2017/18 season because of seasonal dryness and erratic rainfall. As a result, households in these regions will need to rely on market purchases for consumption for longer periods than normally expected. Households in the south will only have 3-4 months of own-produced crop for consumption, while in the central region households will likely have about 9 months of own-produced crop for consumption. Households in the north experienced a favorable cropping season and will have adequate own-produced food stocks.
    • Income availability from crop sales: Earned income from the sale of cash crops (e.g. tobacco, cotton, soya bean) will be below average due to the decrease in 2018 crop production levels. Households normally sell their crops and access income from these crop sales from mid-April to August. According to the 2nd round crop estimates, tobacco production decreased to 14 percent below average, while cotton declined to levels that are 64 percent of the five-year average. Additionally, alternative cash crops like legumes (e.g. soya, groundnuts, and beans) face dwindling demand and decreasing prices. Ministry of Agriculture market information indicates that soya, groundnut, pigeon pea, and cow pea prices have decreased by 50 percent since the previous marketing season.
    • Income availability from livestock sales: Household livestock levels and prices will remain slightly above average from June to September because of the previous surplus-producing cropping season. During a FEWS NET assessment in May 2018, the price of one goat was enough to purchase three 50 kg bags of maize grain. Livestock prices will begin to decline from October to January as more households begin to engage in desperate sales to buy food. An increase in the sales of goats and chickens during this period will also decrease prices. Normally during the lean period following a poor cropping season livestock prices decrease by as much as 40-50 percent below normal levels, while maize prices will increase, worsening livestock terms-of-trade.
    • Agricultural labor availability and rates: FEWS NET’s assessment in May revealed that harvest and irrigated cultivation labor was limited and lower than normal. From June to September, agricultural labor opportunities and rates will be below normal. Factors affecting these levels include the poor 2017/18 production season, increased competition for ganyu/labor because of the need to purchase food, and reduced incomes for the middle and better-off households that typically hire labor. Once the 2018/19 farming season begins, labor opportunities will increase to normal levels from October to January, however wage rates will still be below average owing to the two factors listed above.
    • Non-agricultural labor availability and rates: Throughout the outlook period, non-agricultural labor (e.g. self-employment, firewood, and charcoal sales) opportunities and wages for poor and very poor households will remain below normal because of the reduced incomes earned by middle and better-off household from the 2018 crop harvest.
    • Seasonal forecast for irrigated production (June-Sept): Residual moisture levels for parts of southern Malawi that do 2nd season cropping will be below average through the end of the 2nd season, thereby reducing irrigated crop prospects.
    • Seasonal forecast for 2018/19 main production season: The most likely ENSO phase for October 2018 to January 2019 is El Niño, but there is some uncertainty in this forecast, particularly regarding Indian Ocean SSTs. Based on the El Niño forecast, below-average rainfall is the most likely outcome during the early portion of the southern Africa rainy season between October 2018 to January 2019. There is still a lot of uncertainty in this forecast and it may shift in the periods closer to the start of season. In addition, there is an increased probability for a late start of the rains in some eastern and central areas, which are likely to be erratic in terms of spatial and temporal distribution. Current forecasts point to an average production season in the northern half of Malawi and below-average production in the southern half of Malawi for the 2018/19 season.
    • Crop and animal pests and diseases: High density populations of Red (Nomadic) Locusts were reported in Lake Chilwa/Lake Chiuta Plains and are being sold in markets near the outbreak areas. Although Fall Armyworm (FAW) infestations were reported  to affect approximately 290,000 Ha of maize, sorghum, and millet and about 963,000 farming households during the previous 2017/18 season (Ministry of Agriculture), no evidence of the impact of the infestation on production was reported. During FEWS NET’s assessment in May, FAW infestations were reported in irrigated cultivation areas. The FAW is expected to be a threat to crops during the 2018/19 cropping season. An outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Blantyre and Neno has disrupted livestock markets and resulted in a temporary ban of livestock slaughter as the MoA works to contain the disease.
    • Integrated maize grain price projections: National average prices for maize are trending slightly below average during the immediate post-harvest period but will start increasing from July to October and trending near average. From November through the end of the 2018/19 consumption year, maize prices will experience significant increases and trend above the five-year average. FEWS NET’s integrated analysis shows that prices will decline in June 2018 before starting to increase and follow season trends onwards. Between July and September maize prices are projected to range between MWK 100-120/kg, and MWK 114-154/kg between October and January.
    • Humanitarian assistance: Humanitarian assistance is not currently planned, funded, or likely at this time. Identification of populations requiring humanitarian assistance will be completed by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) in July 2018.  FEWS NET will be updating this assumption as new information emerges.
    • Prevalence of acute malnutrition:  In January/February 2018, the MVAC conducted a SMART survey. The survey results indicated that the GAM prevalence during the peak of the lean season was at 1.3 percent (CI 95% : 09-1.9). This GAM prevalence was within acceptable WHO thresholds and lower than the prevalence recorded in December 2016, one of the worst lean seasons in the recent past. The results from the 2018 nutrition survey is the only recent nutrition data available, yet the results reflect the favorable food security conditions during the 2017/18 consumption year. Based on nutrition data that is currently available, FEWS NET assumes that the GAM prevalence will continue to be low during the June to September period, but may start to increase during the October 2018 to January 2019 period in the absence of humanitarian assistance to fill current and projected livelihood protection and food deficits.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    June-September 2018:  Food security outcomes for districts in the northern region will be Minimal (IPC Phase 1) due to the average to above average 2018 production because of the favorable rainfall during the cropping season. In the central region, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected among very poor and poor households in three districts (Kasungu, Dedza, and Salima) within the Kasungu-Lilongwe Plain Livelihood Zone (KAS) and Southern Lakeshore (SLA) livelihood zone. These areas will face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes due to below-average production and lower than normal labor opportunities caused by the erratic rains experienced during the 2017/18 cropping season. In the south, several districts (Machinga, Zomba, Chiradzulu, Mulanje, Phalombe, Blantyre, Mwanza, Neno, Balaka, Mangochi, and Nsanje) spanning the Lake Chilwa Phalombe Plain (PHA), Middle Shire (MSH), Lower Shire (LSH), and Southern Lakeshore (SLA) livelihood zones will also face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security outcomes during this period. Households will have lower than normal access to incomes from crop sales, agricultural labor, and non-agricultural labor. Based on nutrition assessment trends in the recent past,  and the SMART survey conducted during the lean season in January/February 2018, the national GAM prevalence will continue to fall within ‘acceptable’ WHO thresholds. Food consumption is expected to be at borderline and acceptable levels.  Food prices will be near the five-year average.

    October 2018-January 2019: During this period prices are normally at their highest and food supply levels are at their lowest. As very poor and poor households in the central region deplete their own-produced food stocks and rely on market purchases for consumption, Kasungu, Lilongwe, Ntchisi, and Mchinji districts will be facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes, while Dedza and Salima will begin facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes and will need humanitarian assistance. In the south, very poor and poor households in Chikwawa district will begin to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes while outcomes are expected to deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in Machinga, Zomba, Chiradzulu, Mulanje, Phalombe, Blantyre, Mwanza, Neno, Balaka, Mangochi, and Nsanje districts and households will need humanitarian assistance. Based on historical nutrition trends, the GAM prevalence may worsen slightly during this period in the affected districts but is still expected to fall within ‘acceptable’ WHO thresholds.

    Events That Might Change the Outlook
    AreaEventImpact on food security outcomes
    Areas of ConcernHumanitarian assistance is planned, funded, & likelyHumanitarian assistance would improve food security outcomes in districts in southern and central Malawi
    NationalLifting of the maize export restrictionMay result in increased demand for Malawian maize, and could result in higher prices (further limiting local household purchasing power)
    NationalDecrease in local currency exchange ratesCould trigger price increases that could limit market food access and worsen food security conditions


    Figures Current food security outcomes, June 2018

    Figure 1

    Current food security outcomes, June 2018

    Source: FEWS NET


    Figure 2


    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. Mitundu, Malawi Maize Grain prices and projections (MWK/kg)

    Figure 3

    Figure 1. Mitundu, Malawi Maize Grain prices and projections (MWK/kg)

    Source: FEWS NET Estimates based on Ministry of Agriculture data

    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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