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Erratic start of rainfall season hinders crop production and labor demand

  • Key Message Update
  • Malawi
  • December 2022
Erratic start of rainfall season hinders crop production and labor demand

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • The government and humanitarian partners are scaling up the humanitarian food assistance program to reach additional districts, and deliveries are expected to scale up further in January and continue through March. Based on the delivery plans, deliveries will gradually expand to cover most of southern Malawi; deliveries began in four districts and Blantyre city in November, with nine more districts and Zomba city reached in December. Given large ration sizes, food assistance is expected to increasingly improve food security outcomes in many districts, likely leading to Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes in much of the south through March. However, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are still expected to persist in some southern and central districts where assistance deliveries have yet to begin, and households experienced large crop and labor income losses earlier this year.

    • Food prices, especially for maize, continue to trend higher than last year and the five-year average despite adequate market food supplies. From October to November, maize grain prices rose by 23 percent, on average, across monitored markets; furthermore, prices ranged from 142 percent to 224 percent higher than the November five-year average. High food prices continue to reduce household purchasing power, especially among very poor and poor households who have depleted their food stocks and have low income to purchase sufficient food.

    • After a delay, the main rainy season (October-March) became fully established in December. However, rainfall distribution is still erratic across time and space, and most of Malawi has received cumulatively below-average rainfall since October. Based on FEWS NET’s analysis of historical crop production data, the shortened growing season for long-cycle crops is expected to reduce total crop yields by up to 10 percent. However, based on short-term rainfall forecasts, normal to above-normal rainfall in late December across most of Malawi is expected to drive recovery in cumulative seasonal rainfall totals. Overall, local, and global forecast models are pointing to a normal to above-normal rainfall season, with localized below-normal rainfall over southern and central Malawi.

    • Although the onset of the rains has seasonally increased farming activity and, therefore, agricultural labor demand, the erratic start of season and other factors are hindering this key source of income. Typically, very poor and poor households earn about 20 to 40 percent of their annual total income from labor. Due to high food prices and consecutive years of below-average crop production, however, labor demand and wage rates are below normal, as middle, and better-off households have fewer resources to hire labor, especially in central and southern Malawi. As a result, households have insufficient cash incomes from agricultural labor to purchase their food and basic non-food needs.

    This Key Message Update provides a high-level analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography. Learn more here.

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