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Crisis (IPC Phase 3) persists in south due to below-average crop production

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Malawi
  • June 2024 - January 2025
Crisis (IPC Phase 3) persists in south due to below-average crop production

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  • Key Messages
  • Analysis in brief
  • Food security context
  • Current food security conditions as of June 2024
  • Analysis of key food and income sources
  • Humanitarian food assistance
  • Current acute food insecurity outcomes as of June 2024
  • Key assumptions about atypical food security conditions through January 2025
  • Projected acute food insecurity outcomes from June 2024 to January 2025
  • Events that may change projected acute food insecurity outcomes
  • Key Messages
    • From June to September 2024, districts in southern Malawi are expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. These conditions are driven by a significant reduction in food and cash crop production due to severe dry spells, reduced access to income, and above-average prices of food and basic non-food commodities. Most households in the south have not yet recovered from the impacts of Tropical Cyclone Freddy in 2023. 
    • From October 2024 to January 2025, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will persist in southern Malawi districts as the lean season begins toward the end of the year and households exhaust their food stocks. Additionally, four districts in central Malawi; Lilongwe, Mchinji, Nkhotakota, and Salima will also experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. Furthermore, cities and towns with below-average income, limited employment opportunities, amid high food prices, specifically Blantyre, Zomba, Lilongwe, and Mzuzu. are likely to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). 
    • In the June 2024 to January 2025 period, the areas of the highest concern are in southern Malawi, particularly in Nsanje district in the Lower Shire livelihood zone. The district received extremely below-average rainfall, leading to significant reductions in crop production levels. A FEWS NET assessment in April 2024 indicated that 44 percent of households already had no own-produced food at harvest time, while food prices were more than double compared to same time last year’s average and income-earning opportunities were below average.
    • FEWS NET is waiting to receive up-to-date information on planned and funded humanitarian food assistance. Even though the government made an El Niño response appeal in April 2024, funding levels remain unknown, and response planning is awaiting IPC analysis results from the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee. FEWS NET estimates that from June to September 2024, the number of people facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes — predominantly in southern Malawi — will range from 2 to 3 million and is likely to increase to 3 to 4 million from October 2024 to January 2025. 

    Analysis in brief

    El Niño impacts lead to early lean period

    Most southern Malawi districts recorded very low rainfall of about half of normal levels in the 2023/24 season, linked to the impacts of El Niño. The rainfall was poorly distributed across time, with dry spells lasting over a month. This has resulted in huge losses in production of food and cash crops, with some households harvesting no crops at all. While most poor and very poor households depend on labor exchange and self-employment for income to purchase food in times of shortages, most income-earning activities are agriculture-related. Hence, reductions in income are expected. Household coping capacity has also been affected due to extensive damage caused by Tropical Cyclone Freddy in March 2023. In addition, Malawi was impacted by Tropical Cyclones Idai in March 2019, Ana in January 2022, and Gombe in March 2022. The cyclones impacted southern Malawi particularly heavily, causing significantly below-average production of key crops, especially the maize staple. This has resulted in an increased number of households registering Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.

    Malawi will register high numbers of food-insecure households during the lean period, which is anticipated to be longer than normal. Due to atypically high food and non-food commodity prices, below-average household food stocks as a result of below-average production, and reduced income due to decreased local labor opportunities, very poor households in all southern Malawi districts and Salima district in central Malawi are expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes from June 2024 to January 2025. Other districts in central Malawi, including Lilongwe, Mchinji, and Nkhotakota, will face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security outcomes in the June to September period but transition to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as the lean season progresses in the October 2024 to January 2025 period. According to FEWS NET historical data, Malawi has been registering an average of 2 million people facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes on a yearly basis since 2021. FEWS NET estimates that Malawi will likely register a peak of 3 to 4 million people facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, following the seasonal trends, but repeated climatic shocks contributing to rapid increase in people who need urgent humanitarian assistance. 

    Figure 1. Second round national-level crop production estimates for the 2023/24 season, compared to five-year average
    Second round national-level crop production estimates for the 2023/24 season, compared to five-year average

    Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security

    Malawi has registered declines in crop production levels for most major crops in the 2023/24 production season, but, driven primarily by weather hazards and crop pests. Due to prevailing El Niño weather conditions, over 1 million hectares of cropped land were affected by severe dry spells and about 700,000 hectares were infested by fall armyworm. Additionally, in low-lying areas, 11,374 hectares were affected by floods and hailstorms. This has resulted in reductions in crop production, with production of maize — the main staple — estimated at 2,926,190 MT compared to 3,509,837 MT last year (a 17 percent decrease) and a five-year average of 3,797,096 MT (a 23 percent decrease). Several districts faced reductions in production of other key crops such as millet, sorghum, soybeans, and cotton (Figure 1). In related to key crops production, the northern region registered an average increase of 8 percent, the central region a 13 percent decrease, and the southern region a 35 percent decrease compared to last year’s production. However, income from tobacco is expected to increase due to favorable international prices. This will play a critical role in boosting foreign reserves and providing income-earning opportunities for poor households, thereby enhancing their purchasing power. 

    Malawi’s economy has been registering slow growth since 2019, exacerbating acute food insecurity via rising prices and reduced opportunities to earn income. Malawi’s GDP growth rate fell from 5.5 percent in 2019 to 1 percent in 2020. Since the start of 2024, Malawi has been registering high annual headline inflation rates ranging from 30 to 35 percent, and foreign exchange import cover is still below the recommended minimum of 3.9 months (2.4 in May 2024). The Malawi Kwacha (MWK), the local currency, has depreciated steeply from 824 MWK/USD before May 2022 to 1,750 MWK/USD in June 2024, representing about a 110 percent loss of value. Very poor rural households who rely on food purchases for half of the year and low-income urban households who survive on a very low minimum wage have seen their buying power eroded. These rural and urban low-income households will likely fail to earn enough income to meet their essential food and non-food needs. However, according to the February 2024 Malawi Economic Report, Malawi’s GDP is expected to grow from 1.6 percent in 2023 to about 3 to 4 percent in 2024. This growth is expected to facilitate the rehabilitation of damaged infrastructure, restart farming activities, and create employment opportunities for poor households. Gradually, this will enhance their purchasing power, enabling them to access staple foods from the local market.

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    The analysis in this report is based on information available as of June 30, 2024. Follow these links for additional information: 

    Food security context

    Agriculture plays a major role in Malawi's economy, sustaining the livelihoods of over 80 percent of its population. The agriculture sector provides employment and income for a majority of the workforce. Small-scale and subsistence farming dominate the crop production sector, but commercial production significantly contributes to GDP. The main crops cultivated include maize — the main staple food critical for household food security — and tobacco, tea, and sugarcane, cash crops grown for both domestic consumption and export. The country’s October to March rainy season dictates crop production activities, with the main harvest of maize typically occurring from April to August. Given the importance of crop production for rural households, the start of the harvest in April marks the end of the typical lean season and the start of the next consumption year.

    In June, the current situation month of this report, the country is in the midst of the main harvest of maize, which continues through August. The northern and central regions are known for surplus production, and the southern regions typically face deficits due to small landholding, poor soil fertility, and the semi-arid nature of the area. Typically, surpluses from the north and center help mitigate shortages in the south. Irrigated winter crop production supplements the main harvest, providing households with additional food and income sources and increasing the food supply in local markets, stabilizing food prices. Winter planting typically takes place from April to August in lowland areas using residual moisture or access to irrigation facilities, with the winter harvest expected from September to November.

    Tobacco plays a particularly crucial role in Malawi’s economy, serving as a source of hard currency, contributing to the country's foreign exchange reserves, and supporting overall economic stability. Tobacco production is highly labor-intensive (involving planting, tending, harvesting, curing, processing, and auctioning), creating employment opportunities and supporting household income, particularly for the poor and very poor. The tobacco auction season, which begins in May and continues through August/September, attracts traders, buyers, and day laborers from across the country. Limited supply of inputs and fluctuating markets are some of the challenges to the tobacco industry and can negatively disrupt the tobacco value chain.

    Malawi's food security is highly susceptible to climate disruptions and natural disasters, which pose significant challenges to the production of food. Periodic events such as droughts and floods can destroy crops, leading to reductions in food availability and income-earning opportunities. Notably, severe drought conditions during El Niño events in 2015, 2016, and 2023/24 and flooding from tropical cyclones Ana and Gombe in 2021/22 and Freddy in 2023 led to significant reductions in production of maize and alternative food crops in the southern part of the country where the several cyclones struck. 

    High rates of poverty in rural areas and unemployment in towns limit households' capacity to purchase sufficient food and required agricultural inputs. The country’s economic instability often leads to high inflation rates, driving above-average prices of locally produced food, imported food, basic non-food items, fertilizer, and fuel.

    Figure 2: Seasonal calendar for a typical year
    Seasonal calendar for a typical year Malawi

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security conditions as of June 2024

    Early warning of acute food insecurity outcomes requires forecasting outcomes months in advance to provide decision makers with sufficient time to budget, plan, and respond to expected humanitarian crises. However, due to the complex and variable factors that influence acute food insecurity, definitive predictions are impossible. Scenario Development is the methodology that allows FEWS NET to meet decision makers’ needs by developing a “most likely” scenario of the future. The starting point for scenario development is a robust analysis of current food security conditions, which is the focus of this section. 

    Key guiding principles for FEWS NET’s scenario development process include applying the Disaster Risk Reduction framework and a livelihoods-based lens to assessing acute food insecurity outcomes. A household’s risk of acute food insecurity is a function of not only hazards (such as a drought) but also the household’s vulnerability to those hazards (for example, the household’s level of dependence on rainfed crop production for food and income) and coping capacity (which considers both household capacity to cope with a given hazard and the use of negative coping strategies that harm future coping capacity). To evaluate these factors, FEWS NET grounds this analysis in a strong foundational understanding of local livelihoods, which are the means by which a household meets their basic needs. FEWS NET’s scenario development process also accounts for the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework; the Four Dimensions of Food Security; and UNICEF’s Nutrition Conceptual Framework, and is closely aligned with the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analytical framework.

    Key hazards 

    El Niño weather conditions and prolonged dry spells: Malawi was impacted by El Niño-induced severe dry spells for over one month during the critical period of crop development from January to the end of February 2024. According to Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MoAFS) reports available in late April 2024, over one million hectares of cropped land were impacted, with most of the country receiving unevenly distributed rainfall in lower amounts compared to the same time last season, leading to reduced production of major food and cash crops. Furthermore, some low-lying areas were hit by storms, localized flooding, and hail, destroying 1,374 hectares of cropped land. The dry spells created favorable conditions for the multiplication of pests, especially fall armyworm, with MoAFS second-round production estimates, in May 2024, reporting about 700,000 hectares countrywide attacked by fall armyworm, further decreasing seasonal production. These disruptions have compounded the impacts of previous natural disasters, especially Tropical Cyclone Freddy, which led to over 3 million people registering Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food security outcomes in the April 2023 to March 2024 consumption season.

    Poor economic conditions and high food and commodity prices: Poor economic conditions have led to increased inflation, with food and basic commodity prices more than doubling in a period of three years, thereby reducing households’ purchasing power and limiting food access for very poor and poor households. In particular, maize staple prices have been increasing steeply since 2023, when the MWK was devalued. May 2024 retail prices in FEWS NET–monitored markets were trending at around 160 percent above the five-year average. 

    Reduced income access: Incomes accessed by households especially in southern Malawi will be below average due to reductions in crops that are offered for sale to raise incomes. MoAFS production estimates show reductions in key cash crops such as cotton by 70 percent and soybeans about 30 percent below the five-year average. These are the key high-income crops for households in southern Malawi. FEWS NET assessments in April also showed that income-earning opportunities from livestock sales, labor exchange, and self-employment activities would be reduced because of consecutive acute food insecurity years. FEWS NET Off-Own-Farm Income survey conducted in April 2024 has shown that the main sources of income were fetching lower incomes with households reporting reduced quantities and wages for petty trading, agriculture labor harvest and second cropping, non-agriculture labor, charcoal sales hence reducing their purchasing capacities. 

    Analysis of key food and income sources

    Households in rural Malawi mainly obtain their food from own crops, labor exchange, and market purchases, with a small amount from humanitarian assistance and bush products for households in chronically food-insecure areas. Households’ main income sources are crop sales (food and cash crops), small livestock sales, labor exchange, and self-employment activities such as firewood collection and charcoal production. 

    Crop production: Malawi has registered reductions in production of most key crops compared to the five-year average, mainly due to the prolonged dry spells that lasted over 30 days in February 2024, induced by the El Niño weather conditions. Production of key food crops across the country decreased by an average of 18 percent against the five-year average. Only sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, and pigeon peas registered production increases averaging 13 percent. The national production of maize has decreased by 23 percent against the five-year average; southern Malawi registered the highest decrease of 42 percent, while maize production decreased by 17 percent in central Malawi and increased by 10 percent in northern Malawi.

    Food availability: Food stocks for most households in southern Malawi will be significantly below average owing to reduced food production. Food stocks in most central and northern Malawi households will be close to the five-year average. The central and the northern are surplus areas that sell part of their produce mainly to southern Malawi districts. On a national level, Malawi national food reserves are below average, thereby threatening availability of maize for subsidized sales by the Agriculture Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) and for humanitarian assistance by the Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR) and National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA). In June 2024, the NFRA reported having only 15,000 MT maize stocks in the SGR, with ADMARC reporting having purchased 6,000 MT to date. Even after this year’s procurement, NFRA and ADMARC are likely to end up with well below-average stocks. The NFRA has reported a target of 82,000 MT in maize purchases for SGR stocking. This is compared to the target of 217,000 MT that the government and partners have set as the minimum SGR requirement in a consumption year. NFRA and ADMARC are facing lower funding allocations for maize purchases, with the government allocating 22 billion MWK to NFRA for restocking and the World Bank allocating an additional 30 million USD to ADMARC and NFRA. Another funding stream is through drought insurance payout with Africa Risk Capacity, which will buy an additional 11,000 MT of maize.

    Cash crop production: Major cash crops for Malawi households include tobacco, cotton, and pulses, mainly soybeans, groundnuts, and pigeon peas. Some households also sell food crops such as maize and rice. Apart from tobacco, groundnuts and pigeon peas, which have registered average production, other cash crops have registered production reductions against the five-year average. For example, cotton production has decreased 70 percent compared to the five-year average, while soybean production is 31 percent lower (Figure 3). While tobacco and cotton require high investment and are common among the middle and better-off wealth groups, the production and value chain provide incomes to the very poor and poor wealth groups through labor hiring. The decreased production of cash crops, especially in southern Malawi, will reduce incomes from crop sales. Reduced labor opportunities resulting from below-average production will also affect food access, as poorer households obtain 8 to 20 percent of their food needs from labor exchange, with agricultural labor being the major source. On the other hand, tobacco production, which is dominant in central and northern Malawi, increased 16 percent compared to last year and 10 percent compared to the five-year average. Furthermore, sales are currently trending at 26 percent above last year’s level, which will generate more income for farmers and increase foreign exchange levels for Malawi. Increased tobacco production will increase incomes for very poor and poor households who engage in tobacco-related labor, enabling them to meet their food and non-food needs. 

    Figure 3. 2024 Round 2 maize production variance against five-year average, April 2024
    2024 Round 2 maize production variance against five-year average, April 2024

    Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security

    Labor incomes: Very poor and poor households obtain about 20 to 40 percent of their income from labor, which enables them to purchase about 20 to 30 percent of their food. In-kind food payments cover a further 8 to 20 percent of their food needs. Given that agriculture-related activities are households’ predominant source of labor, the recorded reductions in agricultural production are expected to reduce labor incomes by 20 to 30 percent compared to average. FEWS NET field assessments in April and the FEWS NET Off-Own-Farm Income survey conducted in May showed a decrease in labor access and income. Respondents attributed the reductions to the poor cropping season, below-average harvest, lack of income for those who hire labor, and reductions in irrigated farming due to poor water availability.

    Off-own farm income (OOFI). The FEWS NET OOFI survey results, May 2024, also showed that most respondents registered reductions in other sources of income, with 80 percent reporting reduced levels of petty trade, 50 percent reporting reductions in firewood sales, 40 percent reporting reductions in charcoal sales, 65 percent reporting reductions in brick making, 65 percent reporting reductions in construction labor, and 20 percent reporting reductions in self-employment opportunities. The results show a likely significant reduction in all key income-earning sources, which will lead to deficits in household food and income access.

    Food prices: FEWS NET technical projections are showing that prices of the maize staple are trending above average, with May 2024 retail prices averaging 610 MWK/kg in FEWS NET–monitored markets as compared to a five-year average of 263 MWK, a more than 130 percent increase. Peak prices in January 2025 are projected to reach an average of more than 1,000 MWK/kg, as compared to 435 MWK/kg, representing a 135 percent increase above the five-year average (Figure 4). This will further exacerbate food access constraints for very poor and poor households that are already registering low-income access.

    Figure 4. Maize price projections for Mitundu market
    Maize price projections for Mitundu market

    Source: FEWS NET

    Humanitarian food assistance

    Humanitarian food assistance—defined as emergency food assistance (in-kind, cash, or voucher)—may play a key role in mitigating the severity of acute food insecurity outcomes. FEWS NET analysts always incorporate available information on food assistance, with the caveat that information on food assistance is highly variable across geographies and over time. In line with IPC protocols, FEWS NET uses the best available information to assess where food assistance is “significant” (defined by at least 25 percent of households in a given area receiving at least 25 percent of their caloric requirements through food assistance); see report Annex. In addition, FEWS NET conducts deeper analysis of the likely impacts of food assistance on the severity of outcomes, as detailed in FEWS NET’s guidance on Integrating Humanitarian Food Assistance into Scenario Development. Other types of assistance (e.g., livelihoods or nutrition assistance; social safety net programs) are incorporated elsewhere in FEWS NET’s broader analysis, as applicable. 

    Humanitarian assistance: Typically, humanitarian interventions take place in the lean period starting from October to March based on identified needs and estimated period of intervention. In this analysis period, no humanitarian assistance program has been officially released. After the declaration of a state of disaster in March 2024 due to the El Niño-induced drought, the government has made an appeal for humanitarian food assistance to an estimated 9 million people impacted by the drought.

    Current acute food insecurity outcomes as of June 2024

    Based on the analysis of food security conditions, FEWS NET then assesses the extent to which households are able to meet their minimum caloric needs. This analysis converges evidence of food security conditions with available direct evidence of household-level food consumption and livelihood change; FEWS NET also considers available area-level evidence of nutritional status and mortality, with a focus on assessing if these reflect the physiological impacts of acute food insecurity rather than other non-food-related factors. Ultimately, FEWS NET uses the globally recognized five-phase Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) scale to classify current acute food insecurity outcomes. In addition, FEWS NET applies the “!” symbol to designate areas where the mapped IPC Phase would likely be at least one IPC Phase worse without the effects of ongoing humanitarian food assistance.

    All southern Malawi districts are registering Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food security outcomes due to production shortfalls and reduced income access, in addition to erosion of resilience caused by back-to-back disasters in the past five years. Southern Malawi is a deficit area in terms of food production but has the highest population among Malawi’s three regions. The region accounts for about 44 percent of the national population, yet its production of the maize staple contributes only about 30 to 35 percent to the national total. As a result, it depends on inflows from the center and north. Below-average availability is expected to result in reduced food consumption. In the FEWS NET assessment conducted in April 2024, households reported already cutting their meal frequency to two or even one meal per day due to reduced access.

    In most districts of southern Malawi, cotton is the primary cash crop. However, over the past decade, cotton production has faced significant challenges related to inputs and marketing, leading to substantial decreases in output. Another key cash crop in Malawi is tobacco, but southern Malawi accounts for only about 10 percent of the tobacco sold, as most of it comes from estates and has a minimal impact on the incomes of very poor and poor households. 

    During FEWS NET’s assessment in April, focus group discussions with community members revealed that most very poor and poor households are consuming only one to two meals per day. Their diet primarily consists of maize meal with pulses, small fish, and vegetables. This represents a reduction in consumption, as households typically consume two to three meals per day in the immediate preharvest period. The assessment also found that very poor and poor households are experiencing reduced income-earning opportunities, leading to decreased food purchases and lower expenditure on other livelihood activities. Affected households have begun implementing crisis coping strategies, such as reducing the number and size of meals, migrating to urban areas or to Mozambique to find work, and, in extreme cases, selling productive assets, cutting back on agricultural investments, or taking children out of school. Additionally, there are reports of widespread food theft, particularly of crops in the field.

    Most central Malawi districts are currently registering Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes, with the exception of four districts that were severely impacted by El Niño: Lilongwe, Mchinji, and Nkhotakota, which face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes, and Salima, where Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes persist. The central region is a surplus-producing area for both food and cash crops, including being the top producer of maize and the primary cash crop, tobacco. According to Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) baseline reports, the central region has the lowest population density in the country, and households in this region have been less affected than those in other parts of Malawi by severe weather hazards, such as the recent Tropical Cyclone Freddy and El Niño-induced dry spells. Despite a reduction in food commodity production due to El Niño, households are still expected to have adequate food stocks, generate income from cash crops like tobacco, and access sufficient labor and other income sources to meet their food and non-food needs. Additionally, the central region has historically recorded lower global acute malnutrition (GAM) rates than the national average. 

    Northern Malawi: Most northern Malawi districts are experiencing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes, with the exception of part of Karonga district, which faces Stressed (IPC Phase 2). In proportion to its population size, the northern region is a surplus-producing area in terms of food production and cash crops. Furthermore, northern Malawi has a diverse diet that includes cassava, rice, and plantains used as alternative staples, so reduced maize production does not significantly affect household food consumption. The northern region, particularly Mzimba and Rumphi districts, is a high producer of tobacco and maize. Districts like Nkhatabay, Rumphi, and Karonga also produce significant amounts of cassava and rice, which enhances access to food, provides labor opportunities, and increases income from crop sales. According to FEWS NET reports, the northern region consistently records the lowest proportion of food-insecure populations annually, with mostly recording overall Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes. Despite reductions in food commodity production due to El Niño, households in the northern region are expected to maintain adequate food stocks, generate income from cash crops like tobacco, and access sufficient labor and other income sources to meet their food and non-food needs.

    Urban areas, including major cities and towns, are grappling with slow economic growth. Wages are not keeping pace with the rising cost of food, compounded by limited income-earning opportunities. This diminishes the purchasing power of poor and very poor households, who are expected to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes.

    Nutrition: In the most recent SMART nutrition survey conducted in selected districts in April 2024, GAM rates in southern Malawi ranged from 1.7 percent to 6.1 percent, compared with a national average of 3.1 percent. Several districts are just below the 5 percent threshold for acceptable levels, with one district already at the 6 percent alert level during the harvest period. This indicates that, despite food access typically being better in the harvest period and despite households recently having benefited from a humanitarian assistance program, malnutrition levels remain high and are likely to worsen during the lean period.

    Key assumptions about atypical food security conditions through January 2025

    The next step in FEWS NET’s scenario development process is to develop evidence-based assumptions about factors that affect food security conditions. This includes hazards and anomalies in food security conditions that will affect the evolution of household food and income during the projection period, as well as factors that may affect nutritional status. FEWS NET also develops assumptions on factors that are expected to behave normally. Together, these assumptions underpin the “most likely” scenario. The sequence of making assumptions is important; primary assumptions (e.g., expectations pertaining to weather) must be developed before secondary assumptions (e.g., expectations pertaining to crop or livestock production). Key assumptions that underpin this analysis, and the key sources of evidence used to develop the assumptions, are listed below.

    National assumptions

    The most likely scenario from June 2024 to January 2025 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • 2022/23 crop production: The main and irrigated harvests are expected to be below average due to the combined effects of El Niño–induced prolonged dry spells and low access to fertilizers. Second-round Ministry of Agriculture crop production estimates are showing production reductions in most key crops, with some areas, especially in southern Malawi, registering severe losses in key food and cash crops. 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 likely be significantly below average, given below-average production in both food and cash crops.
    • 2024/25 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, are indicating an elevated likelihood of an above-average October 2024 through January 2025 precipitation season based on La Niña weather phenomenon. This is likely to increase labor availability and access in the October 2024 to January 2025 period.
    • Livestock conditions and prices: Livestock conditions will be poor, and livestock holding sizes will likely be below normal until November to December, when the next rains will improve the availability of water and pasture. Prolonged dry spells have led to low pasture and water recharge for livestock. Additionally, households have been overselling livestock to increase income for food purchases since the 2023/24 lean season, and this is likely to continue into the 2024/25 preharvest period as significant numbers of households, especially in southern Malawi, harvested nothing.
    • Income from labor sales: From June to September, agricultural labor incomes will be reduced, especially in southern Malawi, as agriculture-related activities such as crop harvesting and processing have been reduced due to the below-average production season. Furthermore, irrigated cultivation, which provides additional labor opportunities, will be reduced due to the prevailing dry conditions. Labor access is likely to improve in the next agricultural season from October 2024 but continue to trend below average. While Mozambique provides migratory labor opportunities for some households, labor opportunities are reported to be below average due to the impacts of El Niño and the increased numbers of people competing for the same labor opportunities.
    • Maize imports and trade flows: Throughout the outlook period (June through January), informal cross-border maize imports are expected to increase due to shortages of maize in Malawi markets. According to Ministry of Agriculture production estimates, Malawi will likely produce about 2,900,000 MT of maize against a requirement of around 3,500,000. This will lead to traders filling the gap through informal imports, especially from Tanzania. Another driver for increased imports will be the higher prices that maize fetches in Malawi markets compared to markets on the Tanzanian side. The government has also hinted at filling gaps in its stocks through formal imports.
    • National maize stocks: Stocks of maize in government institutions such as the ADMARC and NFRA are expected to be lower than average. Low production and lower government buying prices may prevent government institutions from procuring enough maize for SGR and subsidized sales. Low funding is also a limiting factor. The NFRA reported intentions to purchase about 82,000 MT of maize, which is far below the 217,000 MT minimum threshold set by the government. 
    • Maize prices: Prices of the maize staple are expected to remain atypically high during the June through January 2025 period. Market assessment during a FEWS NET food security assessment in April 2024 shows that maize prices have already almost doubled as compared to the same time last year, as well as the five-year average. Similarly, the highest projected peak prices around January 2025 are expected to trend at 135 percent above the five-year average. This will further exacerbate food access constraints for very poor and poor households.
    • 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 reserves. Currently, Malawi’s foreign exchange levels are being boosted by tobacco sales, with the Reserve Bank of Malawi reporting that Malawi’s import cover has improved from under one month in March to 2.4 months as of early May 2024. Further increases are expected but may not reach the 3.9 months’ cover level due to the lower volumes of tobacco produced.
    • Acute malnutrition: GAM rates for children under five will be higher throughout the outlook period. A SMART nutrition survey conducted by UNICEF and Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) in April 2024 shows high GAM rates, with a national average of 3.1 percent, up from under 2 percent in the previous three surveys. Southern Malawi districts are registering high GAM rates, mostly ranging from 2.5 to 6.1 percent. 

    Humanitarian food assistance

    National assumption

    • Government and partners will likely implement a humanitarian assistance program targeting food-insecure households in southern Malawi through the lean season response. Typically, the program starts around October and rolls out to more areas until March. However, the humanitarian assistance program is uncertain as MVAC has not yet released numbers of populations in need, and planned program and funding information is currently unavailable.
    • Humanitarian food assistance is unlikely to have an impact on households facing food insecurity in the June to September period. Currently, no consistent humanitarian assistance program has been planned or funded as the country awaits the MVAC assessments and analysis to determine the number and locations for households requiring food assistance. Despite some households harvesting nothing, the 2023/24 lean season response humanitarian assistance program was curtailed in March/April 2024. 

    Table 1. 

    Key sources of evidence FEWS NET analysts incorporated into the development of the above assumptions

    Key sources of evidence:

    FEWS NET Malawi Outlook Reports


    FEWS NET Off-Own-Farm Income Survey, May 2024


    FEWS NET pre-outlook food security assessment (Unpublished) 

    FEWS NET Malawi Price Bulletin, June 2024


    Reserve Bank of Malawi Exchange rate data 


    Bridgepath Capital Malawi Economic Report, February 2024


    Ministry of Agriculture Second Round Production Estimates Reports, April 2024 Tobacco Commission Production and Sales reports  

    Projected acute food insecurity outcomes from June 2024 to January 2025

    Using the key assumptions that underpin the “most likely” scenario, FEWS NET is then able to project acute food insecurity outcomes by assessing the evolution of households’ ability to meet their minimum caloric needs throughout the projection period. Similar to the analysis of current acute food insecurity outcomes, FEWS NET converges expectations of the likely trajectory of household-level food consumption and livelihood change with area-level nutritional status and mortality. FEWS NET then classifies acute food insecurity outcomes using the IPC scale. Lastly, FEWS NET applies the “!” symbol to designate any areas where the mapped IPC Phase would likely be at least one IPC Phase worse without the effects of planned—and likely to be funded and delivered—food assistance. 

    Southern Malawi: Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will persist from October to January, with the number of households facing Crisis outcomes expected to increase as the country enters the lean period. In the current consumption year, most households in southern Malawi face worse acute food security outcomes compared to the previous 2023/24 consumption year. Food consumption is expected to deteriorate, with many households likely consuming only one meal per day and having a less diverse diet, while others significantly reduce their food consumption. Incomes will be lower than average due to a reduction in labor opportunities, which will reduce the amount of food households are able to obtain through purchases. Furthermore, most households will prioritize food purchases over farm-related costs, non-food items, and children's school fees. Malnutrition levels, which are already high in southern Malawi, will likely increase beyond 5 percent to reach the alert level.

    According to FEWS NET assessments in April, severe dry spells have resulted in irrigable land lacking adequate water for irrigated crop production, which is critical for farmers to supplement their food supply. In areas that have high irrigation potential, such as the Lower Shire livelihood zone, irrigation farming typically contributes about 60 percent of total household food and income sources. The below-average irrigated production will worsen food availability and access to income, thereby maintaining Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. Furthermore, reduced incomes from other sources will contribute to maintaining Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. FEWS NET’s OOFI survey is also showing reductions in quantities of off-own-farm income opportunities. Hence, acute food insecurity is expected to increase as the country enters the lean period. While the start of rainfall around October 2024 marks the beginning of the next agricultural season and is expected to boost labor opportunities for poor households, middle and better-off households — affected by Tropical Cyclone Freddy in 2023 and the 2024 dry spells — are likely to have below-average capacity to hire labor. 

    Central Malawi: From October 2024 to January 2025, central districts in Malawi are expected to experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes, with the exception of Lilongwe, Mchinji, Salima, and Nkhotakota districts. These areas have mainly suffered from severe dry spells, with Nkhotakota also experiencing localized flooding. While most districts in Malawi faced prolonged dry spells and production decreases, central Malawi was less affected. The region has several districts with surplus production, much of which is sold to parts of the country with deficits. Despite some reductions in production, households will still have adequate food stocks from their own production to meet most of their consumption needs.

    Additionally, tobacco, the dominant cash crop in central Malawi, has achieved production levels above the five-year average. Tobacco prices in the 2024 marketing season are 30 percent higher compared to the previous season and the five-year average. Sales of tobacco and other cash crops, along with related labor incomes, will enable very poor and poor households to earn sufficient income to meet their food and basic non-food needs.

    Northern Malawi: Northern Malawi districts are expected to face Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes from October 2024 to January 2025, except for Karonga district, which is likely to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes due to drought and localized flooding in the recently concluded production season. Northern districts are high producers and sell surplus food in deficit areas. Moreover, the region was less affected by the impacts of El Niño-induced dry spells. Despite some reductions in crop production, households are likely to secure adequate household food stocks from their own production to have sufficient food for their consumption needs. Furthermore, sales of food crops, tobacco, and other cash crops, along with related labor incomes, will enable very poor and poor households to earn sufficient income to meet their food and basic non-food needs.

    Urban areas, including major cities and towns, are expected to experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) due to ongoing slow economic growth. As the lean season intensifies, staple food prices are anticipated to rise significantly, impacting a majority of residents who heavily rely on markets for food access. Moreover, wage rates are not increasing sufficiently to offset the above-average food prices. With declining purchasing power, residents are likely to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) conditions.

    Events that may change projected acute food insecurity outcomes

    While FEWS NET’s projections are considered the “most likely” scenario, there is always a degree of uncertainty in the assumptions that underpin the scenario. This means food security conditions and their impacts on acute food security may evolve differently than projected. FEWS NET issues monthly updates to its projections, but decision makers need advance information about this uncertainty and an explanation of why things may turn out differently than projected. As such, the final step in FEWS NET’s scenario development process is to briefly identify key events that would result in a credible alternative scenario and significantly change the projected outcomes. FEWS NET only considers scenarios that have a reasonable chance of occurrence.


    Event: Late and poor start of the rainfall season 

    Likely impact on acute food insecurity outcomes: A late start of the rainy season and reduced rainfall amounts would lead to worsening acute food insecurity outcomes for households not targeted by humanitarian assistance, especially in southern Malawi. The start of the rainfall season typically increases access to agricultural labor opportunities in the lean period, the major source of income for households. Lack of income and in-kind food payments from agricultural labor in the October to January period can push some households that are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) into worse acute food insecurity. The late start of the rainfall season can also impact water availability for human and livestock use, which is already below average in many areas. 

    Event: Further devaluation of the Malawi Kwacha

    Likely impact on acute food insecurity outcomes: Since May 2022, Malawi has experienced steep devaluation and depreciation of the local currency, 824 MWK/USD before May 2022 to 1,750 MWK/USD in June 2024, representing about a 110 percent loss of value. This has led to high inflation, especially for food items, significantly reducing low-income households’ purchasing power. Given that very poor and poor households depend on market purchases for food for three to six months of the consumption year, this has exacerbated food insecurity in both rural and urban centers. Further depreciation of the MWK would likely further increase inflation, which stood around 33 percent in May, with food inflation at 40 percent. The elevated food and non-food prices would be expected to increase the number of households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, especially in southern Malawi and a few central Malawi districts. 

    Lakeshore, Shire River Valley, and other low-lying areas

    Event: Cyclones, stormy rains, and localized flooding 

    Likely impact on acute food insecurity outcomes: Cyclones, stormy rains, and localized flooding around the shores of Lake Malawi, along the Shire River, and in other low-lying, flood-prone areas across Malawi would likely result in below-average crop production and loss of household assets, exacerbating acute food insecurity. Historically, La Niña weather conditions are associated with periodic heavy rainfall and localized flooding. For instance, rainstorms and flooding due to Tropical Cyclone Freddy in March 2023 destroyed over 200,000 hectares of crops, displaced about 660,000 people, killed 679 people, and left over 1.6 million people food insecure. With a third consecutive year of weather hazards following Tropical Cyclone Freddy in 2023 and El Niño-induced dry spells in 2024, more households in southern Malawi would be expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse food security outcomes.

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Malawi Food Security Outlook June 2024 - January 2025: Crisis (IPC Phase 3) persists in south due to below-average crop production, 2024.

    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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