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Crisis (IPC Phase 3) persists in southern Malawi, driven by cyclone impacts

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Malawi
  • June 2023 - January 2024
Crisis (IPC Phase 3) persists in southern Malawi, driven by cyclone impacts

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Area of Concern: Lower Shire Livelihood Zone (Figure 1)
  • Area of Concern: Lake Chilwa - Phalombe Plain Livelihood Zone (Figure 2)
  • Key Messages
    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist across most southern Malawi districts through January 2024, driven by agricultural production shortfalls during the 2022/23 season, high food and non-food commodity prices, and disruption of livelihoods by impacts of Tropical Cyclone Freddy. Parts of Karonga district in northern Malawi, as well as Salima and Nkhotakota districts in central Malawi, are likely to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes due to below-average production as a result of dry spells, flooding in Karonga, and rainstorms related to Cyclone Freddy in Salima and Nkhotakota. On the other hand, most districts in central and northern Malawi are expected to have increased access to food and likely face Minimal/None (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes through January 2024.

    • Based on FEWS NET price projections, the prices of maize in Malawi are expected to increase in the coming months. Over the past five years, maize prices at the Mitundu market, which serves as a reference for the national market, have ranged between 97 Malawian Kwacha (MWK) and 283 MWK per kilogram. However, from June 2023 to March 2024, prices are projected to range between 486 MWK and 870 MWK per kilogram. In deficit areas of Malawi, particularly in southern Malawi, prices are likely to exceed 1,000 MWK per kilogram. These high prices significantly reduce food access for very poor and poor households, making it more difficult for households to cope with the reduction in food and income caused by below-average crop production in southern districts.

    • According to forecasts from international and national agencies, the upcoming rainy season in Malawi for 2023/24 is expected to be influenced by El Niño. In the past, El Niño conditions have been linked to a delayed start of the rainfall season, below-normal precipitation, and dry spells. While the intensity of this El Niño is not yet clear, extreme El Niño years have particularly had a severe impact on agricultural production, significantly reducing crop production and increasing the number of acutely food-insecure households. The historical pattern suggests the likelihood of below-average harvests and increased acute food insecurity in the upcoming rainy season, and the number of households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in late 2023 and early 2024 is expected to be atypically high, particularly in districts of southern Malawi.

    National Overview

    Current Situation

    Rainfall and crop production: The main rainfall season was favorable until mid-March 2023, leading to healthy crops across the country. However, moderate crop production reductions were projected due to limited access to subsidized fertilizers by subsistence farmers, who make up most of the farming community in Malawi. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security released Third Round crop estimates in June 2023, which showed slight decreases in national production for some key crops like maize but slight increases in others. Unfortunately, Tropical Cyclone Freddy struck in mid-March, causing floods, crop damage, and waterlogging, particularly in southern Malawi and low-lying areas. Field assessments by FEWS NET indicated that production in these regions would be significantly lower, estimated to be 30 to 35 percent below normal levels. Generally, the national maize production for the 2022/23 (current) season is below average due to recorded reductions in almost all agricultural zones of the country due to reduced access to fertilizer/inputs and the impacts of Tropical Cyclone Freddy in southern Malawi.  Top of Form

    National food stocks: FEWS NET is estimating that Malawi will register a negative net maize stock figure for the 2023/24 consumption season due to production reductions caused by low use of fertilizers, crop destruction by Tropical Cyclone Freddy, and post-harvest loses. In central and northern Malawi, households have below-average stocks for sale, while in southern Malawi, households have lower stocks for consumption and are likely to rely on market purchases to buy staples. The Ministry of Agriculture report confirms the reduction in crop production, and food stocks are expected to be below-average, driving an atypically early reliance on market food purchases by households right from the harvest time. In April 2023, the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) had 70,000 metric tons (MT) of maize carry-over stocks, some of which was being drawn down for humanitarian assistance. In May/June government announced allocation of 12 billion MWK to the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA), which can purchase about 20,000 MT of maize. The total from carry-over stocks and planned purchases amounts to less than half of the Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR) threshold of 217,000 MT per year.

    Informal maize imports and exports: Both imports and exports from informal cross-border trade decreased from January to April 2023 compared to the same period last year. The volumes of informal maize exports during this period were 5,475 MT in 2023, significantly lower than the 54,665 MT recorded during the same period last year. Similarly, informal maize import volumes were at 8,874 MT in 2023, compared to 10,622 MT in the same period last year. The decline in informal maize exports can be attributed to stricter border controls implemented by the government at the northern Malawi borders of Songwe and Mbirima. Additionally, there has been increased demand for maize within Malawi itself, which has reduced the quantity available for export. Lower informal maize imports are likely attributed to reduced market access in southern Malawi and Mozambique due to destruction of road infrastructure caused by Tropical Cyclone Freddy, which hampers the movement of goods between these regions.

    Macroeconomic conditions: Malawi’s economic conditions continued be challenging, as reported by the Reserve Bank of Malawi. Foreign exchange shortages are leading to high prices for imported goods and contributing to inflationary pressures. Prices of both domestic and imported food and non-food commodities have increased significantly, driving inflation higher. According to the National Statistics Office of the Reserve Bank of Malawi, the monthly inflation rate in May 2023 reached 29.2 percent, compared to 28.8 percent in April 2023 and 19.1 percent in May 2022. The Reserve Bank's Financial Review report in June 2023 highlighted a further decline in foreign exchange reserves, despite some inflows from tobacco sales. The gross official foreign currency reserves were estimated at 216.7 million USD at the end of the first quarter of 2023, equivalent to less than a month's worth of imports. This is a decline from the previous quarter's 292.0 million USD (1.2 months of imports) and a significant drop from the 374.5 million USD (1.5 months of imports) recorded at the end of the first quarter of 2022. The decline of foreign currency by about 40 percent compared to the same period last year is concerning, as it falls below the minimum reserve level recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which is three months' worth of imports.

    Maize prices: Despite the seasonal month-on-month decline, however, maize prices remain above last year and well above the five-year average. However, exceptions were recorded at Mangochi market in southern Malawi, Jenda market in northern Malawi, and Mitundu market in central Malawi, where prices increased by 2 percent, 4 percent, and 16 percent, respectively, due to lower supply of maize.

    Malnutrition: Reports from the Department of Disaster Management Affairs and interagency post-disaster assessment in April 2023 indicated that Tropical Cyclone Freddy's impacts have placed many children, pregnant women, and lactating mothers at risk of malnutrition in southern Malawi. The cyclone's effects on crop harvest losses have reduced household food consumption, disrupted proper child-feeding practices, and made it difficult for children to access adequate nutrition services. Broader access to health services have been hampered, causing challenges in the treatment of illness amid an increase in cholera cases. Reduced food intake, increased disease incidence, and disrupted services are likely contributing to rising acute malnutrition rates.

    Humanitarian food assistance: WFP and the government had targeted 715,000 people with a full ration of in-kind humanitarian assistance comprised of a bag of maize, CSB+, vegetable oil, and pulses in four of the worst cyclone-affected districts of Chikwawa, Mulanje, Nsanje, and Phalombe, ending in the month of June. There is uncertainty about funding for the next planned phase of humanitarian assistance beyond June 2023. Overall, while the deliveries food assistance are mitigating the size of food consumption gaps among the direct beneficiaries, the level of food assistance is limited.

    Current Food Security Outcomes

    In the districts of Phalombe, Mulanje, Chikwawa, and Nsanje, humanitarian assistance provided by the government and WFP covered less than 25 percent of caloric requirements and was insufficient to improve area classification levels. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes likely continued in these areas in June. Based on FEWS NET field assessments and Household Economy Outcome Analysis conducted in May, certain districts in southern Malawi, including Chikwawa, Balaka, Thyolo, Machinga, Mangochi, Mwanza, Neno, Zomba, and Blantyre, are currently experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food security outcomes. This situation is a result of the impacts of Tropical Cyclone Freddy, which have led to limited food and income from own-produced crops and below-average access to off-farm income-earning opportunities for most households in these areas. While many of the camps for internally displaced people have been closed in heavily affected areas, numerous households are still without proper shelter and are residing in temporary shelters within their villages.

    In central and northern districts of Malawi, access to own-food production from the recent main harvest, which started in April, has increased the availability of food as well as income from sales of cash crops, such as tobacco. This has particularly benefited households engaged in harvesting and processing crops, including tobacco, providing them with sufficient incomes to cover expenses for basic food needs. Consequently, most districts in these regions are maintaining Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes.

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Seasonal calendar for a typical year in Malawi.

    Source: FEWS NET


    The most likely scenario from June 2023 to January 2024 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • 2022/23 crop production: The main harvest is expected to be below average, due to the combined effect of the cyclone, flooding, and below-average supplies for agricultural inputs. The winter harvest mainly relies on irrigation, covering about 15 to 20 percent of the production, is likely to be reduced by half due to the impacts of Tropical Cyclone Freddy and slow maintenance/cleaning of irrigation canals and facilities.
    • 2022/23 crop planted area: it is estimated that the national crop planted area will be below average due to the impacts of the tropical cyclone on irrigated farms, siltation of fertile lands in low-lying areas and a combination of below-average supply of agricultural inputs.
    • 2023/24 rainfall forecast: Preliminary weather forecasts for the 2023/24 season by FEWS NET’s science partners, including NOAA/CPC, USGS, the Climate Hazards Center, and NASA, indicate that the start (October-December) of the October 2023 to March 2024 rainy season is likely to be delayed due to the likelihood of a positive El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) state. The 2023/24 rainy season is expected to be below-average in the southern half of Malawi, likely resulting in below-average crop harvests, and average to above-average in the northern half of Malawi, supporting crop growth and average to above-average harvests.
    • Income from crop sales, agriculture labor, and non-agricultural labor: From June to September, incomes from crop sales in central and northern Malawi will be average as households sell surplus food and cash crops, especially maize, soybeans, groundnuts, and tobacco. In southern Malawi, incomes from crop sales will be significantly below average, given below-average production in both food and cash crops due to flooding, and households will have very little or no produce for sale. Very poor and poor households in central and northern Malawi will access average incomes from agricultural and non-agricultural labor, which will be available at average levels due to the average production year. In contrast, households in southern Malawi will have reduced access to agricultural and non-agricultural labor opportunities due to the negative impacts of Tropical Cyclone Freddy on microeconomies. From October to January, labor opportunities will likely increase with the peak of the agricultural season, reaching above-average levels in central and northern Malawi but still remaining below average in southern Malawi.
    • Maize imports and trade flows: From June to September, informal cross-border maize imports are expected to decrease due to recent below-average harvests in the rest of the region. However, from October to January, there is a likelihood of increased maize inflows into southern Malawi from Mozambique and into central Malawi from Zambia during the period. Most markets in southern Malawi will receive maize supplies through informal cross-border trade from Mozambique and from surplus-producing areas in central Malawi, as the high food prices in southern Malawi are attractive to traders.
    • National maize stocks: Stocks of maize, which is a staple crop, in government institutions such as the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) and the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) are expected to be lower than average. An unusual trend observed during this period is the early reliance on market food purchases by households, starting right after the harvest. As a result, there will be fewer stocks available for storage and future sales by ADMARC. It is estimated that the carry-over stocks and planned purchases by government institutions will only account for less than half of the annual required maize reserves. This indicates a significant shortfall in the availability of maize reserves, which could potentially impact food security and market stability in the country.
    • Maize prices: Prices of the maize staple are expected to remain atypically high during the period from June to September 2023. FEWS NET projects maize prices will trend significantly higher than normal from October to January, with a likelihood of ranging between 400 to 900 MWK per kilogram. This represents a substantial increase, with prices estimated to be around 218 percent higher than the five-year average.
    • Macroeconomy: Malawi will continue registering negative economic indicators throughout the outlook period, characterized by atypically high commodity prices leading to high inflation and atypically low foreign currency supply and import cover. According to the Reserve Bank of Malawi, economic growth will be lower than the projected 2.7 percent due to impacts of Tropical Cyclone Freddy, constant power outages, and international economic forces including those induced by the Russia-Ukraine war. According to the Financial Market Dealers Association (FIMDA), Malawi is facing foreign currency shortages that have led to a misalignment between the official exchange rate and the parallel market, which is creating a nearly 50 percent higher exchange rate. These foreign currency shortages will persist throughout the outlook period, driving scarcity and high prices of imported goods, including fertilizer and fuel.
    • Humanitarian food assistance: Although the government and WFP have implemented an ongoing humanitarian food assistance program for households affected by Tropical Cyclone Freddy, it has been limited to only four severely affected districts and covers less than 25 percent of monthly caloric needs. Consequently, it is unlikely to be sufficient to cover household’s anticipated food consumption gaps. Currently, there is no confirmation of the continuation of the assistance program during the July to September and October to January periods.
    • Cholera outbreak: Malawi recorded the highest cholera outbreak in 2022, starting abnormally in the dry season and spreading to areas where cholera outbreaks are rare, prompting the government to declare a public emergency. As of June 30, 2023, nearly 59,000 confirmed cases and 1,763 deaths have been reported across all health districts in the country since the onset of the outbreak, with a case fatality rate of three percent. Given the destruction to sanitation infrastructure, including safe water points, caused by flooding from Tropical Cyclone Freddy, there is a likelihood of increased resurgence of cholera cases during the upcoming rainy season (which coincides with October to January of this outlook period) that may impact many households, with household-level impacts on engagement in agricultural and income-earning activities and resultant household-level impacts on food consumption in cyclone-affected areas as well as in other districts that reported high cholera cases from 2022 to 2023. Measures to control cholera may also have negative impacts on livelihoods, such as government mandates to closure of marketplaces, restricting flows of inputs between districts that could limit the food supply and income-earning activities. Besides, cholera also causes nutrient loss through diarrhea and vomiting that aggravate acute malnutrition, especially among children under five years.
    • Acute malnutrition: In the absence of recent SMART nutrition surveys and based on a review of data on admission to nutrition feeding programs and the cholera outbreak in 2022, FEWS NET assumes that national Global Acute malnutrition (GAM) prevalence in Malawi has slightly deteriorated but will remain within the acceptable levels (GAM<5%). According to the WHO classification (over the past five years, excluding 2016 when there was a slight increase, the prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) has ranged from 0.5 to 2.2 percent. These rates have remained relatively low, even during periods when the country has experienced high levels of food insecurity. However, a severe outbreak of cholera in 2022 that is yet to be fully contained is expected to have aggravated acute malnutrition to atypical levels in the affected areas, but general national wasting levels are likely to remain below five percent. The general low acute malnutrition levels can be attributed to the presence of humanitarian assistance during lean periods, bumper seasonal harvests, and the scale-up of cholera treatment and prevention which helps to mitigate severe deterioration of nutrition outcomes. Additionally, the availability of green vegetables has played a role in filling consumption gaps and providing essential nutrients. However, due to the food security deterioration in the southern part and the uncontained cholera outbreak, the number of children with acute malnutrition is likely to increase during the lean season from November to January.

    Most Likely Acute Food Security Outcomes

    Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will likely persist from June to September in the districts of southern Malawi that experienced the highest crop and livelihood losses due to Cyclone Freddy (Chikwawa, Balaka, parts of Mwanza, Neno, Zomba, and Blantyre districts). Most very poor and poor households in cyclone-affected areas of southern Malawi will likely run out of their own-produced food stocks between June and September (compared to around December in a normal year) and increasingly rely on market purchases as their main source of food. However, their incomes will be insufficient to purchase adequate food amid persistently high food prices, and households will most likely experience food consumption gaps and engage in negative coping strategies such as withdrawing children from school and selling productive assets to narrow food consumption gaps.

    Meanwhile, the harvest period ending in July will improve outcomes to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in the districts where the cyclone’s impacts were less severe, especially the Shire Highlands livelihood zone areas covering parts of Blantyre, Zomba, Machinga, and Mangochi districts. In contrast, households in most central and northern Malawi districts will likely experience Minimal/None (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes throughout the outlook period as they increasingly access adequate food and incomes from their own crop production and sell their own-produced food and cash crops, which will likely improve access to income, food, and non-food items. Central and northern Malawi produces diversified crops such as maize, groundnuts, sweet potatoes, and beans that are not only used for consumption but are also sold as an income source. Furthermore, the production of cash crops such as tobacco will likely increase the income of households and provide labor opportunities for poor and very poor households, supporting improved access to food. However, households in the Karonga district of northern Malawi are likely to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes due to prolonged dry spells in parts of the district in February and March that affected crop production and flooding, causing additional losses in late April 2023.

    As Malawi enters the lean period, the food security situation is expected to deteriorate from October to January, particularly in southern parts of the country. Without sufficient humanitarian assistance, most districts in southern Malawi are likely to remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), with a rising number of acutely food-insecure households. Additionally, parts of Karonga district are projected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) conditions. While irrigated winter harvests available in September and October can contribute to increased food access for households with access to irrigable land, the overall impact on household food security outcomes is limited. The size of these farms is typically small, and they are owned by a relatively small percentage of the population. Therefore, the harvests expected between September and October are unlikely to be sufficient to significantly improve overall food security outcomes. In central Malawi, parts of Salima and Nkhotakota districts are expected to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security outcomes, and the remaining districts in central and northern Malawi are projected to maintain Minimal/None (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes.

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

    Table 1

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

    Area Event Impact on food security outcomes
    National Worsening economic conditions, including low foreign exchange supply, high inflation, and currency devaluation. A devaluation of 25 percent of the MWK against USD last year led to very high price increases. Additional increases in the prices of food and basic household necessities will further impede access to affordable and adequate food, as well as other essential non-food items, exacerbating existing challenges related to food security result in increased number of national population facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Moreover, fuel shortages, higher production costs, and high transportation expenses, consequently, contribute to inflationary pressures. Furthermore, it may also affect the purchase and distribution of fertilizers, negatively impacting the upcoming agricultural season.
    National Extreme weather events such as the late start of the rainy season, dry spells, flooding, or early cessation of rains Extreme weather events such as dry spells or flooding in Malawi are likely to reduce the production prospects for both staple food and cash crops in the 2023/24 season, likely contributing to a persistent Crisis (IPC Phase 3). The aftermath of the weather hazards could result in low labor availability, further exacerbating the food security conditions in the country. With reduced agricultural productivity and limited income opportunities, households may face challenges in accessing an adequate and affordable food supply.
    Southern Malawi Lack of maintenance of damaged roads and bridges If the damaged infrastructure is not repaired in areas affected by Tropical Cyclone Freddy, this may lead to reduced supplies and high food prices, further worsening the situation, as increasing number of households face Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Market access could be affected, making it difficult for people to obtain an adequate amount of food. Additionally, the distribution of farm inputs under the Affordable Input Program may be hampered, resulting in decreased production for the upcoming harvests in 2024.


    Area of Concern: Lower Shire Livelihood Zone (Figure 1)

    Current Situation

    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 (Figure 1). Soils are predominantly sandy clay and clay loam, which, paired with the low precipitation and high temperatures, are moderately productive. The Lower Shire livelihood zone has been facing consecutive years of significant crop losses and associated declines in food and income due to drought and flooding. Households in the zone were already impacted by tropical cyclones Anna and Gombe in the previous year. In the 2022/23 season, Nsanje district experienced an uneven start of rainfall, with most planting done in December, which is delayed by about one month. The district also suffered localized dry spells and experienced serious impacts from Tropical Cyclone Freddy, which negatively affected crop production and caused displacement and asset and livestock losses, thereby disrupting livelihoods. The disruption of local livelihoods due to the tropical cyclone has also interrupted the availability of labor opportunities, thereby reducing about 20 percent of incomes for very poor and poor households who rely on labor exchange for in-kind food payments and cash payments that account for nearly 25 percent of income in a normal year but up to around 90 percent in bad year.

    Figure 1

    Area of concern reference map: Lower Shire Livelihood Zone
    Area of concern reference map for the Lower Shire Livelihood Zone. Described under heading Areas of Concern.

    Source: FEWS NET

    In May 2023, the department of Agriculture Office reported a 44 percent increase compared to the same time last year in the number of households that had no food from their own production and were entirely dependent on market purchases. This increase was driven by below-normal production due to dry spells and the impacts of Tropical Cyclone Freddy, which affected many crops. Households without food from their own production are coping with the situation by purchasing maize from vendors in commercial/ council1 markets and ADMARC, where it is available, using cash from sales of crafts (baskets, brooms, and mats), local beer, fruits, vegetables, fish, charcoal, firewood, and livestock, especially poultry and goats. However, staple purchase prices have also gone up by an average of nearly 185 percent above the five-year average, reducing household purchasing power. In May, the price of maize in these markets was around 380 MWK per kilogram, compared to approximately 220 MWK per kilogram during the same period last year, representing an increase of 73 percent in maize prices. Generally, the maize availability in ADMARC markets is limited, but when it is accessible, the price is set at 300 MWK per kilogram.

    Poor households without food from their own production are also coping with the situation by reducing the number of meals taken per day from three to two or sometimes even one meal per day. Many of these households are also consuming porridge or nsima with pulses (cowpeas) or vegetables. Very poor households who lost a majority of their crops due to Cyclone Freddy are eating wild food (Nyika). In the current situation, very poor households in Lower Shire Livelihood Zone are already facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food security outcomes.


    In addition to the national-level assumptions, the following assumptions apply to this area of concern:

    • The current harvest will likely be depleted by July, while irrigated crops will likely come in around August to October, although with a significant production reduction. Since the available food and income are not adequate to address the gap, some households are likely to smooth their consumption of some of their food stocks and spending of income on food.
    • Traders will continue to supply the maize staple to Nsanje markets from higher-producing neighboring districts in southern Malawi and from supply markets in central Malawi districts throughout the outlook period. In addition to local supply, informal maize grain from Mozambique is expected to continue flowing through Makhanga and Nsanje Boma borders.
    • The second round Agricultural Production Estimates Survey (APES) results shows that livestock herd sizes are still favorable, with 165 percent of the reference year for cattle and 176 percent for goats. Increases in livestock populations is attributed to increased pasture and availability of adequate water in the 2022/23 agricultural season, in addition to livestock distribution programs being implemented by the government and partners.
    • According to earlier Tropical Cyclone damage assessment reports by the Ministry of Agriculture, irrigated maize production was expected to decrease by over half of normal mainly due to damaged irrigation infrastructure and siltation of irrigable land by Cyclone Freddy. However, this is subject to the availability of agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizers.
    • Maize prices are expected to follow seasonal trends and will start picking up in June, remaining high compared to last year and the five-year average. Currently, maize grain month-on-month prices for May at Nsanje Boma market were at 380 MWK per kilogram from 385 MWK in April. The May prices are 140 percent above the five-year average.
    • Based on FEWS NET’s estimates, cultivation labor, petty trade, and brick production are expected to be similar to baseline year levels. However, firewood sales will likely be slightly lower than normal, leading to a slight decline in income compared to the baseline year throughout the outlook period. This is anticipated despite the fact that more people are likely to intensify firewood collection, in order to compensate for reductions in agricultural income, as supply will exceed demand. 

    Most Likely Acute Food Security Outcomes

    In the June to September period, very poor and poor households will primarily rely on own-produced food up to end of July 2023, when their own-produced food stocks will likely become depleted. Households will likely consume one or two meals per day and wild foods (Nyika) up until the winter/irrigated harvest. During this time, they will increase their reliance on labor exchange and self-employment to obtain food and incomes. The main source of food from July through to September will be from market purchases, with some irrigated crops likely coming in around August and September; however, irrigated crops will add little to total food needs and will not be sufficient to fill the food consumption gaps. Overall, due to both low crop production and limited income sources, poor and very poor households will likely be unable to cover their livelihood protection and face difficulty meeting their food consumption needs as they divert some of their income toward basic food purchases, as supported by FEWS NET’s Household Economy Outcome Analysis. This will result in both a substantial livelihood protection deficit and a caloric deficit between June and September, consistent with Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.

    During the October to January period, very poor households in the livelihood zone will primarily rely on in-kind labor payments and income from labor employment to access food. However, these sources of income will be insufficient to meet the atypically high costs of food. As a result, very poor households are expected to experience a kilocalorie deficit between October and January as the lean season intensifies. Based on a FEWS NET Household Economy Outcome Analysis, it is expected that very poor households in Lower Shire Livelihood Zone will be facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) from October to January.

    Area of Concern: Lake Chilwa - Phalombe Plain Livelihood Zone (Figure 2)

    Current Situation

    The Lake Chilwa and Phalombe Plain livelihood Zone (Figure 2) encompasses parts of the Machinga, Zomba, Mulanje, Phalombe, and Chiradzulu districts in Malawi. It stretches from the northern region of Lake Chiuta to the northeast of Thyolo and the western area of Mulanje, including the areas surrounding Lake Chilwa and the highland plain of Phalombe. Soils in this livelihood zone are generally of poor quality, ranging from sandy to clay loams. In terms of rainfall, the Lake Chilwa Phalombe Plain experienced relatively favorable conditions throughout the season until March, when Tropical Cyclone Freddy struck southern Malawi. During this period, the district received a total of 1,242 mm of rainfall due to the tropical cyclone, which was significantly higher compared to the 517 mm received at the same time last year.

    Figure 2

    Area of concern reference map: Lake Chilwa - Phalombe Plain Livelihood Zone
    Map showing area of concern reference map:  Lake Chilwa - Phalombe Plain Livelihood Zone. Described under heading Areas of Concern.

    Source: FEWS NET

    The impacts of Tropical Cyclone Freddy, coupled with limited access to government-provided fertilizers through the Affordable Inputs Program (AIP), have led to below-average agricultural production in the area. The cyclone has caused significant damage to crops and agricultural infrastructure, resulting in reduced yields and productivity. 

    Lake Chilwa - Phalombe Plain Livelihood Zone was severely affected by Tropical Cyclone Freddy, which struck from March 10 to 14, 2023. The cyclone brought heavy rainfall, causing extensive flooding and landslides in the area. The consequences of the cyclone were devastating, resulting in the destruction of crop fields, houses, livestock, and human lives. The district agriculture reports indicate that approximately 40 percent of cropland in Phalombe was either submerged or completely washed away due to Tropical Cyclone Freddy.

    This significant damage led to reductions in estimated harvests and further compounded the challenges faced by farming households. The impact of the cyclone was not limited to agricultural losses but also included the displacement of people. Around 70 percent of the population in affected areas had to seek refuge in IDP camps or stay with relatives in less-impacted areas. Initially, these affected populations relied on assistance and support from friends, relatives, and, later, humanitarian assistance programs. IDP camps were established to provide temporary shelter and humanitarian assistance. As the situation improved, all the camps have since been decommissioned, and people have returned to their homes, although many are still living in makeshift dwellings near their villages.

    Despite being in the typical harvest period in May, many farming households in the livelihood zone continued to face limited access to food. Phalombe district in Malawi was severely affected by Tropical Cyclone Freddy, which struck from March 10 to 14, 2023. The cyclone brought heavy rainfall, causing extensive flooding and landslides in the area. The consequences of the cyclone were devastating, resulting in the destruction of crop fields, houses, livestock, and human lives. The department of agriculture reports indicate that approximately 40 percent of cropland in Phalombe was either submerged or completely washed away due to Tropical Cyclone Freddy. 

    In a FEWS NET interviews with the 10 key informants in Lake Chilwa – Phalombe Livelihood Zone about the availability of off-own-farm income sources in their communities, conducted in May, a significant number of respondents reported reduced labor opportunities. Specifically, 43 percent of respondents reported reduced opportunities for weeding labor, while 40 percent reported reduced opportunities for planting labor. This decline in opportunities has reduced households’ capacity to access food. In addition, FEWS NET's outcome analysis indicates that very poor households are facing a significant livelihood protection deficit. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food security outcomes are expected in the month of June. Community interviews and field observations confirm that households are applying crisis-coping mechanisms such as rampant theft, withdrawal of children from school, and soliciting in exchange for food or cash.


    In addition to the national-level assumptions, the following assumptions apply to this area of concern:

    • Prices for cash crop sales will likely be above average due to the high minimum farmgate prices set by the government in April 2023, as well as the high inflation. However, very poor households will earn below-average incomes, as they will have fewer or no crops for sale due to below-average production of food and cash crops.
    • Households will continue engaging in labor and self-employment as a coping mechanism to obtain cash for food and basic non-food purchases, with firewood collection and sales intensifying throughout the outlook period. According to interviews with key informants, respondents generally reported above-average agricultural labor availability. However, the period included part of the peak agricultural labor period. With anticipated reductions in harvest and reduced irrigation potential, harvest labor will likely be below average in the June to September period but increase to normal levels from October to January, when the agricultural season commences.
    • Throughout the outlook period, households will continue relying on market purchases for food as households will have significantly below-normal own-produced food. From June to September, prices of the maize staple will likely decrease, following seasonal trends (Figure 3). With prices already being double compared to last year and the five-year average, market access will be below average, especially for very poor and poor households. Prices will start increasing from October to January, in line with seasonal trends but trending much higher than the five-year average.

    Figure 3

    Maize price trend and projections for Phalombe Market
    Combined bar/line chart showing maize price trend and projections for Phalombe Market. Described under heading Assumptions.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Most Likely Acute Food Security Outcomes

    Due to the significant decrease in harvests caused by the impacts of Tropical Cyclone Freddy, very poor households in the Lake Chilwa- Phalombe Plain Livelihood zone are expected to exhaust their own food reserves by July, meeting their minimum food needs mainly through purchases and in-kind payments and applying negative coping mechanisms that includes significant reduction of meals or skipping of meals. While some supplies of food will be available in September and October through irrigated harvests, these will not be sufficient to bridge the food and income gap experienced by very poor households and humanitarian assistance is not sufficient to satisfy the needs. As a result, it is likely that households will not be able to cover their livelihood protection or food consumption needs throughout the outlook period as they divert some of the income towards basic food purchases. This will lead to a substantial livelihood protection deficit and a caloric deficit between June and September.

    From October to January, the lean season will intensify, and most poor and very poor households are likely to face considerable food consumption gaps, that can only be filled by applying negative coping mechanisms. As winter harvest starts in September/October, an increased number of households will rely on agricultural labor as the main source of income, and it is likely to be used to purchase food. However, the income generated will not be sufficient to fill the food consumption gaps, as food prices are expected to be well above average. The poor households will most likely continue to limit the number of their meals and sometimes skip meals to spread the little resources they may have. According to FEWS NET’s Household Economy Outcome Analysis and other evidence, Lake Chilwa - Phalombe Livelihood Zone is likely to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, as over twenty percent of the population is expected to face food consumption gaps through January 2024.

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Malawi Food Security Outlook June to January 2024: Crisis (IPC Phase 3) persists in southern Malawi, driven by cyclone impacts, 2023.


    Council- is a local government unit responsible for the regulation and oversight of markets, shops, and commercial structures in trading centers, towns, and cities. There are twenty-eight district councils in Malawi. Council/commercial markets are contrasted with ADMARC markets, where government facilitates the sale of subsidized food.

    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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