Food Security Outlook

The already large population of food insecure will continue to grow as the lean season peaks

October 2016 to May 2017

October 2016 - January 2017

Malawi October 2016 Food Security Projections for October to January

February - May 2017

Malawi October 2016 Food Security Projections for February to May

IPC 2.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
National Parks/Reserves
Would likely be at least one phase worse without current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.

IPC 2.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
National Parks/Reserves
Would likely be at least one phase worse without current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.

IPC 2.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3+: Crisis or higher
Would likely be at least one phase worse without
current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.
FEWS NET Remote Monitoring countries use a colored outline to represent the highest IPC classification in areas of concern.

IPC 2.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

Presence countries:
1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
National Parks/Reserves
Remote monitoring
countries:
1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3+: Crisis or higher
Would likely be at least one phase worse without
current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET Remote Monitoring countries use a colored outline to represent the highest IPC classification in areas of concern.

Key Messages

  • Outcomes between October and January will continue to deteriorate across most of the country as food consumption gaps widen and households continue to engage in irreversible coping strategies into early 2017. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) areas and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) populations are projected throughout the south and parts of the central region, at the start of the peak of the lean season. By February, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) areas outcomes are expected. Between April and May outcomes should improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) for most areas as households begin to access their own production. 

  • FEWS NET expects that food prices will be at record highs and will remain significantly above average throughout the remainder of this consumption year. In addition, very poor, poor, and middle income households across most of the country continue to have difficulty earning income needed to make basic food and non-food essential purchases. Recent field assessments indicate that households have depleted their livelihoods and have very little or no resources to invest in production for the upcoming 2016/17 season. Coverage for the farm input subsidy program (FISP) this season will be too low to spur adequate production, adding to concerns about the next production season. 

  • In October the national drought response continued to distribute food and cash assistance to 2.77 million people in 11 districts in southern and central Malawi. In the presence of this assistance, acute food security outcomes are Stressed (IPC Phase 2!), while several other areas in the south and central regions are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Beyond October, the cash transfer portion of the response is not fully funded, there is very limited information about import plans for the commodities needed for the rations, and very little information about the availability of funds for logistics and transportation of the commodities. 

National Overview

Current Situation

MAIZE AVAILABILITY
  • For a second consecutive year Malawi faces a national maize deficit. During the 2015/16 marketing year, the national cereal supply gap was about 300,000-400,000 MT. This marketing year, the deficit is estimated to be 953,000 MT.
  • Plans have been announced for the government to import an estimated 400,000 MT of maize mainly from Zambia, Asia, and South America. According to trade information collected by the South African Grain Information Service (SAGIS), between early September and October approximately 800 MT of white maize has been exported from South Africa to Malawi. An estimated 40,000-50,000 MT of maize through informal trade with Zambia and Tanzania is expected this consumption year. Most years Malawi receives considerable informal flows of maize from Mozambique, but due to the drought these flows have stopped. Current formal and informal maize imports are not adequate to satisfy national needs.
INTERNAL TRADE AND MARKET FUNCTIONING
  • Internally, the Malawi National Food Reserve Agency that manages the Strategic Grain Reserves (SGR) have reported internal maize procurement of about 94,000 MT of maize. ADMARC, the government parastatal that sells subsidized maize to poorer households reported local procurements of about 100,000 MT out of a planned 250,000 MT. Limited information is available about any import plans for ADMARC. It should be noted that during the 2015/16 consumption year many ADMARC posts experienced long queues and stock-outs due to the extremely high demand and in total around 110,000 MT of maize was sold.
  • The government recently announced that ADMARC posts will be opening in late October and that the selling price will be MWK 250/kg, which is more than double the price during the previous marketing season (MWK 110/kg).
  • Based on the information above, FEWS NET expects that ADMARC will not play a major role in stabilizing maize prices this marketing year.
HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE
  • In response to the drought, the distribution of food and cash assistance continues to be rolled out in the southern region. Currently, targeted households in Balaka, Blantyre Rural, Chikwawa, Chiradzulu, Machinga, Mwanza, Neno, Nsanje, Ntcheu, Phalombe, and Salima districts are receiving assistance. In accordance with the national response plan, a total of 2.77 million people are expected to receive assistance for the month of October.

CURRENT FOOD SECURITY

  • Very poor, poor, and middle income households across most of the country continue to have difficulty earning income needed to make basic food and non-food essential purchases. During FEWS NET’s field assessments in September, focus group and household interviews revealed that many households made very little or no income from their crop sales last season, which has led to increased competition in seeking both non-agricultural and agricultural labor opportunities so that households can earn income for food purchases. One of the reasons why the competition for labor is so intense is because opportunities are typically low during the off-season. During the assessments FEWS NET also learned that labor wages being offered were below the average asking price.
  • Desperate livestock sells were also recorded during the field assessment. Terms of trade were reported to be particularly lower than normal; earning only a third of the usual amount of grain.
  • Households in areas that normally rely on irrigated crop cultivation to increase food and cash access also experienced reduced production because of the continued dryness and lack of residual moisture. Community interviews and district agriculture reports showed that irrigated cultivation was only 60-70 percent of average levels.
  • During interviews and focus group discussions, households expressed uncertainty about the impact of two consecutive years of shocks because of depleted livelihoods. There were reports of depleted livestock, which is an asset for raising incomes for both food and non-food purchases. Of greatest concern for households was the lack of resources for accessing seeds and fertilizers for the upcoming season. Based on these findings, FEWS NET believes that depleted livelihoods in some areas could jeopardize the cropped area and yield for the upcoming season.
  • The results of the Household Economy Approach (HEA) outcome analysis conducted by FEWS NET in September 2016 indicate that approximately 6.7 million people will face livelihood protection deficits (IPC Phase 2 or higher), while out of this total population about 5 million people will experience survival deficits (IPC Phase 3+) this consumption year. Peak needs are expected during the January - March 2017 period. The geographic distribution of the population facing a survival deficit is greatest in south, followed by the central region.
REFUGEES
  • In April, FEWS NET reported that about 12,000 refugees arrived from neighboring Mozambique were receiving shelter in Luwani camp in Mwanza district, in addition to a transit camp in Nsanje district. At that time the re-opening of Luwani had put pressure on local resources among the surrounding areas in the southern region. Currently, the number of refugees has declined in recent months and there are anecdotal reports that about 1,500 refugees remain in Luwani.

National Assumptions

The Food Security Outlook for October 2016 to May 2017 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

Prospects for the 2016/17 main agricultural season: With a normal to above normal rainfall forecast for most of the country, the 2016/17 agricultural production season is likely going to be normal, in the context of each areas’ rainfall patterns. However, other factors such as lack of access to inputs including seeds and fertilizers may lead to reduction in yield and area planted. During FEWS NET field assessments in September, most households had depleted their livelihoods and did not keep money for input purchases or reserve any recycled seed for the next planting season. In the face of improved rainfall but reduced inputs, it is expected that the season will lead to average production at the national level. 

Market functioning and subsidized commodities: Malawi continues to face a cereal gap for the 2016/17 consumption season, but market functioning will continue. ADMARC was able to locally procure about 100,000 MT out of a planned 250,000 MT of maize this season. There is limited information available about any import plans for ADMARC. The government recently announced that ADMARC posts will be opening in late October and that the selling price will be MWK 250/kg, which is more than double the price during the previous marketing season (MWK 110/kg). Based on the information above, FEWS NET expects that ADMARC will not play a major role in stabilizing maize prices this marketing year.

Internal trade: Private traders have readily available maize stocks and a network of maize suppliers both within the country and in neighboring countries. In the past, traders have purchased maize during the harvest, stored it, and then release it during the lean season. This is expected to occur again during the peak of the lean season from January-March, but due to the long distances that traders will have to travel to source the maize, prices are expected to be very high.

Imports: The status of planned formal imports is unknown at the moment. With the recent extension of Zambia’s export ban, and taking into consideration long transit periods of up to four months for grain imported from overseas, and the weak transportation infrastructure (especially during the rainy season), it is unclear to FEWS NET if the planned importation of 400,000 MT of maize will be available to help fill some of the gap between October and March. Additionally, information about imports for the current and ongoing humanitarian response plan is limited, so these figures are not incorporated into the national cereal balance sheet. Earlier informal trade estimates provided by FEWS NET projected that 40,000-50,000 MT of maize would be imported, however based on recent trends FEWS NET is now estimating that about 100,000 MT of maize will be imported informally during the marketing year. Overall, based on the limited formal import information available, it is uncertain how the remaining food gap will be covered.

Farm input subsidy program (FISP): This year the government has reported plans to reduce the number of households to benefit from the farm input subsidy program from 1.5 million (for 2015/16 season) to about 900,000 in the 2016/17 production season. This is about a third of the estimated 3 million small-holder farmers in Malawi that contribute to about 90 percent of national production. This season farming households will receive coupons so that they can make purchases through private traders. This is different than in previous year when the government procured fertilizer. FEWS NET expects that households will receive coupons during the November to December period. 

Macroeconomic conditions: The worsening macroeconomic environment which has led to the depreciation of the Malawi Kwacha are likely going to have a negative impact on cereal and fertilizer imports between October and December. The Malawi Kwacha has depreciated by about 20 percent from around MWK 612/1 USD in April to around MWK 723/1 USD in Mid-September 2016 despite this being the time when the Malawi Kwacha normally gains value as the country sells tobacco, the main foreign exchange earner. Earnings from tobacco sells are to be around 30 percent below last year. This will threaten the country’s ability to import food to fill the national cereal gap and inputs for the farm input subsidy program. This could have a direct impact on crop production levels for poor households. Low tobacco earnings and low uptake of tobacco by buyers has also affected income availability for middle and better off households who rely on tobacco earnings to pay for labor and purchase inputs for the next farming season. Low Kwacha value may also lead to high import price parity for the formally and informally imported maize and commercial fertilizers leading to constrained access for consumers.

Prices: Food prices will be at a record high and will remain significantly above average throughout the consumption year. In September, national average prices for the maize staple were at MWK 220/kg compared to MWK 224 recorded the previous month. This price stability can attributed to an early start of the humanitarian assistance program, which is providing food aid and/or cash transfers to households affected by the 2015/16 drought. This is reducing the number of people relying on the market for food purchases hence reducing pressure on market supplies. Another factor that may be contributing to the price stability is the earlier than normal stocking (prepositioning) of maize by ADMARC in its unit markets in preparation for the commencement of sales for 2016/17 marketing year. Many private traders started off-loading most of the maize onto the market after having noted that ADMARC has started sending maize to most of its unit markets in early September, an indication that it will soon start selling maize at these markets. Despite this price stability, the September average price is significantly high, 171 percent higher than the five-year average and 68 percent greater than the average price in September 2015. In the October 2016 to March 2017 period, maize prices are expected to follow normal trends, but will remain abnormally high due to a huge gap existing in the national food balance sheet. Maize prices will start decreasing  during the harvest in the April to May period following seasonal trends, but will  likely remain over 100 percent above the five-year average.

Incomes: During the October to March period households normally rely on saved incomes from crop sales, sale of reserved crops, land preparation labor, planting and weeding labor, in addition to other non-agricultural labor such as house construction and thatching related labor. However, for the 2016/17 consumption year households have reported reduced income access from all of these sources. In the October to December period, agricultural and non-agricultural labor prospects are expected to be reduced by about 25 percent as competition for labor increases. From December to January, very poor and poor households will benefit from an increase in planting and weeding labor as the agricultural season comes to a peak. The households will also likely benefit from harvest labor during the March to June period. However, worsening terms of trade will result in reduced buying power from these income sources.

Nutrition: According to the 2014 MICS survey, the national Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) prevalence across Malawi was 3.8 percent, which is considered “acceptable” according to the WHO Crisis threshold. In seven recent nutrition surveys conducted using the Standardized Monitoring and Assessment of Relief and Transitions (SMART) methodology, the prevalence of GAM among children between the ages of 6-59 months remained under the 5 percent threshold across most of the country, with the exception of the Lower Shire zone, where a GAM prevalence of 6.6 percent (CI: 4.3-9.9) was recorded. These nutrition surveys were completed during the harvest period in May 2016. The GAM level in Lower Shire shows a deterioration of acute malnutrition that could be linked to the prolonged drought experienced in the southern region since 2015 and its effect on household food intake as a result of low or no crop harvests, loss of income, and increases in food prices. During the outlook period the level of acute malnutrition is expected to remain above 5 percent in the Lower Shire during the months of October-March because of the effect of drought and the anticipated food access challenges that poor and very poor households will face, especially during the peak of the lean season (January-March). Another SMART survey is planned in November 2016.​

Humanitarian assistance: The current humanitarian response plan is based on the findings from the annual Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) outcome analysis. This analysis identified that 6.5 million people will face food insecurity during the peak of the lean season. Under the response plan, about 72 percent of targeted beneficiaries will receive in-kind assistance and 28 percent will receive cash. For the month of October 2.77 million people or 504,000 households will be assisted and the available information fulfills FEWS NET’s criteria (planned, funded, and likely) for inclusion in the food security analysis. Beyond October, although donors and stakeholders are optimistic that funding for the response will come through, the cash transfer portion of the response is not fully funded, there is very limited information about import plans for the commodities needed for the rations, and very little information about the availability of funds for logistics and transportation of the commodities. Since there is currently not enough information about these issues, FEWS NET has not incorporated assistance into the food security analysis between November 2016 and March 2017.  As more information becomes available about funding, commodities, and contingency plans this assumption will be revised. 

Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

October-January: Households that produced very little maize, sorghum, and millet crops during the 2015/16 season harvests have been depending on food purchases in order to meet their food needs for several months. Access to food through purchases is expected to continue for this period and the remainder of the consumption year. Middle and better-off households are increasing the sale of any remaining livestock to supplement incomes for food and basic non-food purchases. In the October to December period, agricultural and non-agricultural labor prospects for the poor and very poor are expected to be reduced by about 25 percent as competition for labor increases. From December to January, very poor and poor households will benefit from an increase in planting and weeding labor opportunities as the agricultural season comes to a peak, assuming a timely start. Because of the extremely high food prices expected during this period, most people will not make enough to cover their food needs and will experience food gaps. ADMARC posts will be opening in October, but will likely experience frequent stock-outs and long queues. Poor and very poor households that have depleted most of their assets will continue to engage in crisis coping mechanisms due to the below-average incomes they are earning from labor and the very high food prices that are expected. Areas in parts of the southern and central region will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) with some populations in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) in the absence of humanitarian assistance. 

February-May: Very poor and poor households will continue to search for weeding and other agricultural related labor. In addition to this, households will be exploiting natural resources such as the collection of firewood and making charcoal for sale. There will be an increase in IPC Phase 4 populations in areas in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and an increase in the number of areas facing Emergency (IPC Phase 4) acute food insecurity outcomes, in the absence of humanitarian assistance. Middle and better-off households will continue engaging in desperate livestock sales to gain incomes for food and non-food purchases. With a seasonal forecast for normal to above normal rainfall, households may start accessing green crops for consumption between late February and late March, which would substantially improve their food access. Between April and May outcomes should improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) for most households as they begin to access their own production.                                                                        

These projected outcomes are in line with the results of the Household Economy Approach (HEA) outcome analysis conducted by FEWS NET in September 2016. The analysis indicates that approximately 6.7 million people will face livelihood protection deficits (IPC Phase 2 or higher), while out of this total population of about 5 million people will experience survival deficits (IPC Phase 3 or higher) this consumption year. Peak needs are expected during the January - March 2017 period.

About Scenario Development

To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

About FEWS NET

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network is a leading provider of early warning and analysis on food insecurity. Created by USAID in 1985 to help decision-makers plan for humanitarian crises, FEWS NET provides evidence-based analysis on some 28 countries. Implementing team members include NASA, NOAA, USDA, and USGS, along with Chemonics International Inc. and Kimetrica. Read more about our work.

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