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Localized poor harvests will most likely lead to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) at the start of the lean season

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Malawi
  • June 2019 - January 2020
Localized poor harvests will most likely lead to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) at the start of the lean season

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • According to the Ministry of Agriculture’s second round crop estimates, national food production is anticipated to be average to above average. Crop production specifically for cereals and tubers is most likely to be above average. The Ministry of Agriculture currently estimates that the national production of maize will be about 10 percent above the five-year average. However, localized production shortfalls exist in areas hit by heavy rains and flooding, especially in southern Malawi.

    • Prices for maize continue to be higher than normal, despite the start of the harvest and anticipated average to above average national crop production. This is the result of localized production shortfalls in southern Malawi which is atypically increasing market demand. Current and projected prices are estimated to be about 20 percent above the five-year average and much higher than last year’s prices. This will likely lead to reduced food access for low income households.

    • Overall food security outcomes in central and most of northern Malawi are favorable with Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes present and anticipated to prevail through January. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are most likely for some southern districts in the post-harvest period due to below average harvest and income with atypically high market prices. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are anticipated to emerge in some southern districts starting in October 2019 and persist through January.


    Current Situation

    Most households across the country are consuming own foods as they started accessing the harvest in March. However, households in localized areas affected by flooding especially in southern Malawi had limited harvests and are reliant on markets for food atypically early in June. According to the Malawi Flood Response Plan, in these areas, heavy rains and flooding in early March 2019 destroyed infrastructure, houses, and crop land affecting over 800,000 people. Some livestock was also lost during the flooding. Close to 90,000 people were displaced and about 60 deaths were reported.

    Second round production estimates released in April by the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development (MoAIWD) indicate overall cereal production for 2019 is slightly above average. Estimates show increases in production of most key food crops with maize production increasing 10 percent above the five-year average, including: rice by 17 percent, sorghum by 66 percent, groundnuts by 21 percent, soybeans by 50 percent, and sorghum by 66 percent.  However, some crops are estimated to register decreases such as millet, which is estimated to be 20 percent below average and cotton, which is one of the major cash crops decreased by 52 percent of the five-year average.

    National food availability is average as a result of the harvest, however the Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR) and Agriculture Development Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) stocks are estimated to be significantly below the five-year average. The carryover stocks from the 2018 season are below average due to the national reserves being used for humanitarian assistance or subsidizing ADMARC sales.

    Irrespective of June being the harvest period when prices are typically at their lowest, maize prices are currently above the five-year average and much higher than prices at the same time last year. Localized shortages in many southern Malawi districts affected by floods are causing upwards pressure on the prices. April prices at Mitundu Market, which is a national reference market, were 55 percent above last year’s prices and 20 percent above the five-year average.

    Current agriculture and non-agriculture labor availability is typical for the post-harvest period in which most of these opportunities are for irrigated farming across most of the country. In flood-affected areas, households that offer labor have registered reduced incomes, and as a result, access to non-agriculture labor is limited. With huge loss of assets and reduced incomes for the middle and better-off households that hire labor, all labor wages are reported to be lower than normal.

    As a result of the recent harvests, poor households are relying on own foods from production and most of the country is facing Minimal (IPC Phase 1). However, some southern areas and Karonga district are experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as the harvest was limited and households rely on markets with below-average incomes for food.  

    National Level Assumptions

    The Food Security Outlook for June 2019 to January 2020 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • Maize stock levels at the national level will be average to slightly above average. Cereal stocks at the household level will generally be average to above average in most northern and central Malawi districts but remain below average in most southern districts especially those affected by flooding around March 2019. In severely hit districts, some localized populations especially the displaced and those whose fields were washed away will most likely have less than three months of stocks for own food consumption or none at all. The SGR will most likely purchase the required 200,000 MT of maize grain to replenish stocks. ADMARC will most likely make the required maize grain purchases of about 50,000 MT to fulfill their requirements for the consumption season.  
    • Average to slightly above average national stocks in Malawi and lower production levels in Mozambique and Zambia due to adverse weather conditions will most likely lead to reduced informal flow into Malawi.
    • Income from the sale of cash crops (e.g., tobacco, cotton, soya bean, and other food crops) will most likely
    •  be average in most northern and central districts but remain below normal in most southern Malawi districts due to impacts of flooding.
    • From June to January livestock herd sizes and prices will most likely be average in most districts; however, livestock numbers and prices will remain slightly below average in flood-affected areas.
    • From June to September, agricultural labor opportunities and wages are anticipated to be normal to above normal in most northern and central districts but below normal in most southern districts, which experienced heavy rains and flooding. The same conditions are expected to prevail in the October to January period, which is the peak for agricultural labor period.
    • Throughout the outlook period, non-agricultural labor opportunities and wages for poor households will most likely be normal in most northern and central areas.  In southern areas, non-agricultural labor income is expected to be below average as more households are likely to engage in these activities and prices for these goods decrease as competition increases.
    • Prices for maize are most likely going to be above the five-year average throughout the consumption season. The drivers will be increased demand from southern Malawi where production is below average as well as below normal opening stocks in ADMARC markets and the SGR. ADMARC is expected to play a minimal role in price stabilization because of its below average opening stock levels and tampering with small traders who buy from ADMARC for resale as is typical when ADMARC prices are lower than prevailing local market prices.
    • Based on available nutrition data, FEWS NET assumes the level of acute malnutrition will most likely remain stable or improving in most areas through January 2020. The overall level of acute malnutrition is expected to remain within the “Acceptable” (Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) as measured by weight-for-height (WHZ) prevalence < 5 percent) thresholds throughout the scenario period except for areas that were heavily affected by flooding like Nsanje in the Lower Shire livelihood zone and Phalombe-Lake Chirwa plain livelihood zone districts of Phalombe, Zomba, and Machinga where levels of acute malnutrition are likely to deteriorate to Poor (GAM 5 percent to 9.9 percent).
    • The most likely ENSO phase for October 2019 to January 2020 is for a weak El Niño according to the international NOAA forecast, resulting in below-average rainfall in Malawi. However, the relatively high uncertainty of El Niño occurrence, combined with the uncertainty inherent in El Niño-based rainfall outcomes, near-average conditions are expected across Southern Africa for the onset period and first half of the season.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Most very poor and poor households in southern Malawi districts affected by heavy rains and flooding especially Nsanje, Chikwawa, Phalombe, and Zomba along with Karonga in northern Malawi that was affected by severe dry spells are anticipated to have minimal or no access to food from own production beginning in June or July. These households are expected to rely on market purchases for food. However, the households will most likely have below average incomes from both agriculture and non-agriculture labor. Some households in districts bordering Mozambique such as Nsanje in Lower Shire and Phalombe in the Lake-Chilwa Phalombe plain will access some food and income by seeking labor across the border. In the June to September period, very poor and poor households in areas heavily affected by heavy rains and flooding are most likely to start facing food consumption gaps, however, most poor households will be able to meet their minimum food needs, but not their minimum nonfood needs. As a result, some southern districts are expected to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. Populations in these areas will transition to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in the October 2019 to January 2020 period as more poor households are anticipated to not be able to meet their minimum food needs. In the rest of the country Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes will are most likely to prevail through January 2020.


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


    Figure 1


    Source: 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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