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Forecast average rainfall for 2021/2022 is likely to result in a third consecutive favorable harvest

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Malawi
  • October 2021 - May 2022
Forecast average rainfall for 2021/2022 is likely to result in a third consecutive favorable harvest

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • In large part due to above-average 2020/21 crop production, most rural poor households have adequate access to food and income and are not facing acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 1). Most of the country is likely to remain in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) throughout the projection period. However, poor households in Nsanje and Chikwawa districts of the Lower Shire livelihood zone will deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) around November/December due to below-normal production. While it was previously thought Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes would prevail in Chikwawa through October 2021, updated analysis indicate a transition to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) starting in November. Poor households who faced income losses associated with the pandemic are recovering and will be in None (IPC Phase 1), though some worst affected households in urban centers will experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes.

    • Since September 2021, the retail prices of maize have trended below last year and the five-year average. While maize price increases were recorded in half of the monitored markets between August and September, prices remained stable in the other half. Prices are also below the government-set minimum farmgate price of 150 MWK/kg and far below the newly set retail price by the government owned Agriculture Development and Marketing Cooperation (ADMARC) of 205 MWK/kg. Based on FEWS NET’s integrated price projections, maize prices are likely to remain average to below average throughout the projection period, despite seasonal increases.

    • Forecast models indicate La Niña conditions are likely during the outlook period, driving average rainfall with the possibility of above-average rainfall. This forecast coupled with good access to fertilizers and seeds for subsistence farmers through the government’s Affordable Inputs Program (AIP) suggest a third consecutive above-average agricultural production year is likely in 2021/22. 


    Current Situation

    Overall, food availability across the country is high due to above-average production in the 2020/21 agricultural season. According to crop estimates from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MoAFS), Malawi produced about 4.6 million metric tons of the maize, 46 percent higher than the five-year average and 27 percent higher than the estimated national requirement.  At the start of the 2021/22 consumption year, Malawi also registered maize carryover stocks (on-farm stocks, private traders’ stocks, and government stocks) that were 80 percent higher than the five-year average. However, some pockets in the Lower Shire livelihood zone of Southern Malawi, in the districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje, recorded below normal production due to poor rainfall. Affected poor households are relying more heavily than usual on market purchases, and market supplies in these areas are above average.

    Informal cross border imports of maize grain increased by 25 percent in September 2021, at 1,776 tons, relative to August, at 1,420 tons, but are still 33 percent below the five-year average. Conversely, informal cross border exports increased by 14 percent from 5,113 tons in August to 5,830 tons in September, with over 90 percent of the exports going to Tanzania through the Mbirima border. With ADMARC maize procurement facing several challenges in Chitipa, farmers have opted to just take their produce across the border to Tanzania where there is a ready market.

    Between August and September, month-to-month prices of maize remained stable in 50 percent of the monitored markets and increased by between 6 to 10 percent in the rest. Compared to September 2020, the prices were trending at levels 10-32 percent below their corresponding previous year prices. And compared to the five-year average, the prices were trending at levels 9-31 percent below five-year average mostly on account of significantly higher than average supplies from an above-average production. The increase in prices is primarily attributed to increased demand from ADMARC as it entered the market purchasing maize at the government-set price of 150 Malawi Kwacha (MWK)/kg, allowing producers to sell at higher prices than those being offered by private traders, pushing prices upward. Maize grain prices were highest in Southern Region and lowest in the Northern Region, with minor differences between Northern and Central.

    In rural areas, poor households are currently earning income from agricultural labor (especially land clearing and ridging) as the country enters the peak agricultural labor period. Poor households are also earning income from petty trade and self-employment activities, some non-agricultural labor, and the sale of irrigated crops. Overall, households nationwide are earning enough income to meet their food and non-food needs, except for poor households in the Lower Shire Livelihood Zone who have started facing lower access to food and income relative to normal, as of September 2021.

    COVID-19 positivity rates that peaked around June to August 2021 have substantially reduced through October, prompting the government to ease up some preventative restrictions. While the poverty rate remains high (at 50.8% according to the Poverty report released in August 2021), COVID-19’s economic impacts have reduced, and employment and business earnings among urban populations are returning to pre-pandemic levels.

    Despite some increases in volumes sold and incomes earned from tobacco sales, Malawi continues to face forex shortages at a time when forex availability is seasonally high. In the 2021 marketing season, Malawi sold 123,681,669 kgs of tobacco at an average price of 1.59 USD/kg, earning over 197 million USD. Although higher than last year, the tobacco volumes sold are still 21 percent below the five-year average and the incomes earned are roughly 20 percent below the five-year average. The MWK continues to atypically depreciate with the middle rate reported to have depreciated from 784 MWK/USD in April 2021 to 815 MWK/USD at the beginning of October. The Kwacha would normally be stable or appreciate during the peak of the tobacco marketing season. The continued depreciation is due to declining foreign reserves (the Reserve Bank of Malawi attributes to higher demand for foreign currency at the time tobacco earnings and donor inflows are lower than normal (IMF has not yet released funds under Extended Credit Facility) and a widening trade deficit. Continuous depreciation of the currency is creating a scramble for limited reserves, putting upward pressure on the prices of imported commodities such as fertilizer, crop chemicals, fuel, and cooking oil.

    The total merchandise export value in USD has been trending downwards. Production of tobacco (and subsequently exports), which earns more than half of Malawi’s foreign exchange, continues to decline. Owing to the reduction in the value of exported goods, the trade balance gap has continued to increase.

    The annual headline inflation rate rose to 8.9 percent in September from 8.4 percent in August, the highest inflation increase since June 2021. The increase in headline inflation rate in September 2021 is due to an increase in food prices while non-food inflation remained steady in September.

    Following above-average 2021 harvests, most rural poor households across Malawi are still consuming food from own production, with Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes widespread. However, in Lower Shire livelihood zone which registered below-average production, poor households are now running out of own-produced food and are becoming reliant on market purchases. In these areas, access to income is likely insufficient to meet all essential non-food needs given increased competition for available income-earning opportunities (as due to the weather shock) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes present in Nsanje from October 2021, while in Chikwawa Stressed IPC Phase 2 outcomes will emerge in November 2021. Chikwawa production prospects are better than Nsanje due to more access to irrigated farming along the Shire River Valley.

    Although no recent nutrition surveys have been conducted in Malawi, it is assumed that the prevalence of global acute malnutrition (GAM) among children under five is low. The national GAM prevalence was recorded at 0.5 percent (0.3-1.0%) in July 2019 and 1.9 percent (1.2-3.0%) in November/December 2020, and with Malawi having experienced two consecutive above-average production and most households accessing adequate food, it is expected that overall malnutrition will be within acceptable levels (GAM<5%) according to WHO classification.

    National Assumptions

    The Food Security Outlook for October 2021 to May 2022 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • According to FEWS NET’s science partners at USGS/NOAA/UCSB CHC, the Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF), and Malawi Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services (DCCMS), Malawi is forecast to receive average rainfall during the October 2021 to March 2022 season, with the potential for above-average rainfall. The rainfall is expected to facilitate a normal agricultural production season, though localized rainfall variation in terms of amounts and distribution is likely and – as such – localized flooding or dry spells are anticipated.
    • Overall, very poor and poor rural households are expected to access adequate inputs (particularly seed and fertilizer) for the 2021/22 agricultural season given the government subsidy program (AIP), which will allow all rural farmers to buy fertilizer and seeds at a subsidized price. The government announced 3.7 million rural farmers (similar number to last year) will continue to benefit from subsidized inputs in the upcoming agricultural season. Middle and better-off households – which produce most of the surplus food and cash crops – will not have access to AIP and will face higher fertilizers costs, but this will have only a minor impact on their production as most will adjust expenditure patterns to purchase fertilizer or shift to crops that do not require fertilizer such as legumes.
    • Given the current rainfall forecast and expectations for access to subsidized inputs for poorer households, above-average 2021/22 production of maize and other staples is expected, the third consecutive year of above-average production. As a result, food, and income access from own crops and crop sales in the 2022 marketing year (April to June) is expected to be above average.
    • The production of main cash crops, namely tobacco and cotton, will likely increase in 2022 from the current levels, based on trends, anticipated market demand, and a favorable 2021 marketing season that incentivized production. The production and sale of other cash crops such as soya beans and pigeon peas will likely also increase owing to favorable prices. Increased production and reasonable prices will increase earnings for the country and households. This is also anticipated to allow middle and better-off households to hire more labor and offer better wages to poorer households.
    • The national average price of maize is likely to remain average to below-average owing to above-average market supplies and household stocks, reducing market demand. 
    • Informal cross-border imports of maize grain (mostly from Mozambique and Zambia) are expected to remain below-average throughout the consumption period due to high supply levels and below-average prices in Malawi. Informal cross-border maize exports mainly into Tanzania are anticipated to remain above average for the same reasons.
    • National maize grain and other food supplies will be above-average owing to two consecutive years of favorable production and high carryover stocks. According to the Ministry of Agriculture’s food balance sheet for the 2021/2022 consumption season, Malawi will have a 1,356,000 MT maize surplus; ADMARC and NFRA/SGR stocks are lower than the government-intended minimum buffer, but with higher availability in local markets, these stocks are adequate for current needs.
    • FEWS NET anticipates livestock prices will remain average to above average given favorable rainy seasons and above-average crop production which has prevented households from needing to atypically sell livestock. An increase in livestock herd sizes is expected during the projection period with more births and fewer sales. Overall livestock conditions will be above average across the country apart from the Lower Shire livelihood zone districts of Nsanje and Chikwawa, which experienced localized rainfall deficits in the 2020/21 rainfall season and where pasture availability is poorer. With average to above-average rainfall expected across Malawi, it is assumed that livestock will access adequate pasture and water, including in Lower Shire starting at the end of 2021, and households will obtain average to above average incomes from livestock sales.
    • In rural areas, petty trade, and self-employment (including charcoal, firewood, and handicraft sales) are expected to be available at normal levels throughout the outlook period across most of the country. However, overall income levels earned from these opportunities are expected to be below average in the Lower Shire livelihood zone where poor households will seek to expand this income source due to lower crop production, putting downward pressure on prices.
    • Incomes for poor households in urban areas will likely be near average, as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and as the economic impacts were lower during the recent third wave than in the first and second waves. Households, businesses, and workplaces have adapted to operating with COVID-19 precautions and work and business places are slowly moving back to near normal working capacities.
    • Overall, agricultural labor availability and wages will likely be above average in most areas as the country enters the peak agricultural labor period from October to January and due to two consecutive above-average production years where households realized above-average incomes from crop sales and other sources. Middle and better off households will have adequate incomes and food to pay for labor in cash and in-kind. Non-agricultural labor access, wages, and incomes will likely be above average for the same reasons. Only poorer households in the Lower Shire livelihood zone are expected to earn lower than normal incomes throughout the outlook period.
    • Typically, households identified as food insecure by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) receive humanitarian food assistance by the government and partners, typically composed of 50 kg maize bag 10 kgs of legumes and 2.5 liters of cooking oil per household, or a cash equivalent of this food basket. However, because funding is not yet known and targeting plans are not yet available, FEWS NET’s analysis is done in the absence of humanitarian food assistance (please see events that could change the scenario for more details on the potential impact of assistance).  
    • The COVID-19 pandemic will likely continue throughout the outlook period and periods of spikes are anticipated given the low vaccination rates in Malawi. As a result, periodic enactment of preventive measures that will impact working hours, business operating hours, public gatherings, border restrictions, and public transport capacity are expected. However, the business, work, and general economic environment will continue improving as most people, companies, and institutions have adapted to operating within the confines of COVID 19-related restrictions.
    • Due to below-average tobacco export earnings during the 2021 marketing season, the availability of foreign currency is likely to be constrained through the outlook period. Despite tobacco foreign currency earnings and recent development partners’ (especially the IMF) monetary injections, the MKW is likely to continue to depreciate against major currencies including the USD.
    • The Malawi international trade balance gap will likely increase during the outlook period. Although total merchandise imports decreased from 2019 to 2020, an increase is projected for 2021. Global prices for fertilizer, one of Malawi’s top imported commodities, increased by more than 70 percent, and prices are likely to remain high in 2022.
    • FEWS NET assumes that the headline inflation rate will increase in the outlook period. Food prices, which account for over half of the inflation weighting, will rise seasonally up to the next harvests in March 2022. Additionally, the recent fuel price increases will likely result in increases in prices of food and non-food commodities which will increase headline inflation rates. Overall, headline inflation will still trend at rates higher than last year, but below five-year average.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected to persist through at least May 2022 across most of the country due to adequate availability of food and income following a second consecutive above-average production year and the forecast favorable 2022 harvests. However, very poor households in the Lower Shire livelihood zone districts of Nsanje and Chikwawa will have exhausted their food stocks in the October 2021 to March 2022 period and will not have enough incomes for food and basic non-food needs through March 2022. Poor households in this livelihood zone realized below average production which typically contributes about 70 percent of their total food and income needs. While staple food prices are below average, they will be unable to purchase sufficient food to make up for crop losses because income earning activities will be below normal. Poor households will be unable to sell livestock to help meet their basic food needs because they hold very small herds and consecutive food insecure years makes restocking difficult. As such, poor households will face slight to moderate food consumption gaps.

    In urban areas, poor households who lost income as a result of COVID-19 related restrictions have started recovering as most businesses and workplaces have now been adapting to operate within the COVID-19 period and they will likely face Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes. Even with periodic restrictions to movement businesses and work environments are expected to recover, further spurring livelihoods activities back to near normal levels.

    The prevalence of GAM among children under five is expected to remain low and within “acceptable” levels— defined as a GAM by weight-for-height z-score (WHZ) less than 5 percent. This will be supported by above-average availability and access to food for most rural households across the country. Malnutrition in the Lower Shire livelihood zone may worsen alongside typical seasonal trends but is also expected to remain under the WHO acceptable threshold based on past trends.


    AreaEventImpact on food security outcomes


    Declining economic conditions that result in sharp food price increase

    Malawi is recording declining economic conditions characterized by shortages of foreign exchange and increases in commodity prices. These trends are expected to continue in the most likely; however, if there were to be a sharper increase such that food prices also start to increase to above average levels. While area-level classifications would likely remain as projected in the most likely scenario, the percentage of the population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse would increase.


    Extreme weather events

    Although the most likely forecast calls for average rainfall, above-average rainfall is possible amid the La Niña conditions. Extremely heavy rainfall could lead to flooding that could negatively affect crop conditions in flood prone areas of lakeshore areas, Middle Shire areas and Lower Shire valley areas. Depending on the scale of crop loss, this could drive Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.

    NationalHumanitarian food assistance distributed to populations in Lower ShireWhile funding and targeting plans are not yet known, historical trends have shown that the distribution of assistance to populations in need could be expected. Should assistance reach at least 25 percent of the population with a ration of 25 percent or more, and adequately reach those most in need, it is likely area-level outcomes for affected areas would improve to Minimal! (IPC Phase 1!) or Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!). 

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



    Figures Title: Malawi seasonal calendar
Description: Rainy season is from mid-October until April. Planting is from November until J

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar for typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Figure 1

    Source: Interbank OANDA/FEWSNET FDW

    Figure 3

    Figure 2

    Source: Source: National Statistical Office, Malawi

    Figure 4

    Figure 3

    Source: National Statistical Office, Malawi

    Figure 5

    Figure 4

    Source: MoAFS data (observed) and FEWS NET (projected)

    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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