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The start of humanitarian assistance is uncertain and high food prices prevail

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Malawi
  • October 2015 - March 2016
The start of humanitarian assistance is uncertain and high food prices prevail

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Key Messages
    • Between January and March, an estimated 2.5 million people will face acute food insecurity in 25 out of the 28 districts across the country. Assistance was originally planned to start in October, however Malawi’s 2015/16 emergency response assistance program remains underfunded. The start date for this assistance is unknown at this time.

    • Malawi has recorded very high maize prices since March/April of this year and prices are expected to continue to increase until the next harvest. Households that usually hire labor are expected to hire less over the next six months due to the poor production during the previous season and the likelihood of erratic or late rains from October to December due to the current El Niño. Increased competition among poor and very poor household for income opportunities, combined with maize prices that are well above average is expected to constrain food access. 

    • National production and food stock estimates for the 2015/16 season indicate that the country is facing low food supplies. Excluding projected imports, the food gap is over 300,000 MT. Despite the registered import increases, the volume of cross border maize imports is too low to significantly increase national food stocks.  

    National Overview

    Current Situation

    As the lean season begins, most very poor and poor households are relying on food purchases for their basic needs and are earning income from agricultural labor and self-employment. Some households with access to their winter/irrigated maize harvests, will be able to consume these stocks for the next 2-3 months. Food access through purchases is constrained due to the above average prices for maize. Prices for maize alternatives, including cassava and beans also showed significant increases ranging from 20 to 65 percent between August and September.

    Malawi’s informal imports between April and September were nearly double imports during the same period last year and well above the five-year average. September informal maize imports from Zambia were 76 percent higher than the five year average, which is an indication of shortages within Malawi. Despite the registered import increases, the volume of cross border maize imports is too low to significantly increase national food stocks. 

    Current Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) stocks are at 51,000 MT, a level that may not be adequate for this year’s high maize demand. In comparison to the poor 2014/15 production season, national crop production during the 2013/14 season was average and food insecure populations were a quarter of this year’s figure. Humanitarian response programs for 2014/15 used approximately 80,000 MT of maize. ADMARC also sold about 55,000 MT during that period.  

    An MVAC update seasonal assessment in October has confirmed that about 2.8 million people in 25 out of 28 districts will face acute food insecurity from October to March and will be in need of humanitarian assistance. Currently, only 30 percent of the funding needed for the response programming has been received.

    National Level Assumptions

    The Food Security Outlook for October 2015 to March 2016 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    Food Availability

    National production for 2014/15 season: During the 2014/15 production season, rainfed maize staple production was well below average and insufficient to cover domestic needs.  Production of alternative cereals including millet, sorghum, and rice were 14-20 percent lower than their five-year average, while legumes were approximately 26 percent lower than average. Irrigated/winter production for 2014/15 was much lower than expected because of dryness, translating into another 6 percent reduction in national production for the season. The national food balance sheet by the Ministry of Agriculture estimates that Malawi’s food gap of over 300,000 MT for the 2015/16 consumption year, excluding projected imports.

    Formal imports: Since June, FEWS NET monitoring has captured 46,000 MT of formally imported maize. Regional supplies of exportable maize this marketing year are at below average levels, so the additional imports needed to fill this gap will likely be limited by atypically high maize prices in the region between October and December.  

    Farm Input subsidy Program (FISP): the Malawi government has announced changes in the FISP input prices and targeting modalities. Prices for FISP inputs have increased from MWK 500 per bag of fertilizer to MWK 3500 per bag. For this year’s program, the names of beneficiaries will be randomly chosen by computer. All of these changes are expected to adversely impact input access for households that typically rely on this program. It is possible that these changes will indirectly contribute to lower income earning opportunities for poor households during the outlook and could have impacts beyond the October-March outlook period.  

    Food Access

    National food markets, price levels, and projections: In September, the national average price for maize was more than 50 percent above the three year average, national food supplies were low, market demand high, and inflation was increasing because of the depreciation of the Malawi Kwacha. Maize prices are expected to continue to increase in the coming months, but may stabilize in February and March. Prices for maize alternatives including other cereals, pulses, and cassava are expected to increase to about 20-40 percent above the three year average over the October to March period.

    National subsidized maize: ADMARC, the government grain marketing board that sells maize at subsidized prices has increased the retail price for the maize staple by about 38 percent (from MWK 80/kg to MWK 110/kg), but that price remains below the prevailing national average maize price. ADMARC is also rationing maize sales to only 20 kg per household per purchase. This price increase and rationing will likely maintain an upward pressure on maize prices in the parallel markets as ADMARC’s ability to stabilize prices between October and January lessens. ADMARC markets may run out of subsidized maize stocks during the peak lean period.

    Household income levels: During the October to March period, cash access for the poor wealth group will be limited due to a reduction in the volume of cash crop sales and significantly reduced sales of food crops. Key cash crops registered production reductions ranging from 30 to 60 percent. Key food crops that are sold for cash registered production reductions ranging from 14 to 50 percent. These decreases will adversely affect the ability for poor households to purchase food. For the middle and better off households, these reductions have reduced their capacity to hire normal levels of labor for the winter harvest and for land preparation for the 2015/16 season. Other forms of labor, including construction and brick making, will also be lower this year due to the lower levels of income accessible to the middle and better off households that usually hire for these services.


    A SMART survey conducted by the Malawi Government and UNICEF in June/July shows that among children aged 0 to 59 months <5 percent are suffering from Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM), which is within the acceptable levels. Since this survey was done during the harvest period, GAM will likely increase in the October to March period, in the absence of humanitarian assistance.


    The Nineteenth Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) regional forecast reported a high likelihood of El Nino conditions over Southern Africa. The forecast indicates that the northern half of Malawi will likely receive above average rainfall amounts during the October to December period. It also indicates that the southern half of Malawi would likely receive below normal rainfall during this same period. During the January to March period, rainfall in the south is expected to be below average. The seasonal forecast released by the Malawi Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services (DCCMS) on September 25th indicates a slightly more positive rainfall outlook for Malawi, with the chance of an erratic and delayed start to the season in the southern region. According to the DCCMS, normal to above normal rainfall amounts are expected in the south from October to March, along with some mid-season dry spells, and the possibility of floods in low land areas. According to both the SARCOF and DCCMS forecasts, weather events may affect farming activities during the October to January period and may delay or reduce the arrival of the green harvests in March.  

    Humanitarian Assistance

    The Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) has identified about 2.8 million people in 25 out of 28 districts who will require humanitarian assistance for periods ranging from 3 to 6 months during the October-March outlook period. Humanitarian assistance needs stand at a maize equivalent of 124,000 MT. Response plans intend to target 69 percent of those in need with in-kind food assistance and 31 percent with cash/voucher transfers. To date, only 30 percent of the necessary funding for this program has been obtained. The start date for this assistance is unknown at this time. Beneficiary registration has not started and there are no signs of when distributions will begin. Because there is insufficient information about the start of this assistance, FEWS NET has not incorporated it into the food security analysis.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    October to December: The majority of poor households in the drought and flood affected areas will have finished consuming their own production by October and will be relying on market food purchases. Households will have limited access to food and income from irrigated/winter cropping from October to November. Competition for labor is expected to also increase during this period. Food prices for maize and other foods will continue to rise. December to January is typically the peak period when labor is available for land preparation and weeding. However, middle and better off household demand for labor during this period are uncertain as an El Niño event is expected to take place at the start of the main season, possibly resulting in erratic or delayed start of the season. Households in 11 districts in the southern region1, five districts in the central region2, and three districts in the north3 will face acute food insecurity. Usually livelihood zones in the northern region are surplus producing areas classified as Minimal (IPC Phase 1), however drought conditions during the 2014/15 season drastically reduced production in maize, rice, millet, and tobacco. Across these areas, an estimated 1.5 million people will likely face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security outcomes, while approximately 1 million will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in the absence of assistance.

    January to March: This is the peak lean period in Malawi. Poor and very poor households will face livelihood protection and survival food deficits. If cultivation occurs on time, maize prices will be at their highest in January and February. Some green food consumption will be available in March. During this period, an estimated 2.5 million or more people will be facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food security outcomes in the absence of humanitarian assistance in districts in the south, central, and northern region.

    1Balaka, Blantyre Rural, Chikwawa, Chiradzulu, Machinga, Mangochi, Mulanje, Nsanje, Phalombe, Thyolo, and Zomba districts.

    2Mchinji, Dowa, Kasungu, Salima, and Dedza districts.

    3Rumphi, Mzimba, and Karonga districts.


    Figure 2


    Source: FEWS NET

    Current acute food security outcomes, October 2015.

    Figure 2

    Current acute food security outcomes, October 2015.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. National average maize price trends and projections (MKW/kg)

    Figure 3

    Figure 1. National average maize price trends and projections (MKW/kg)

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2.  Nsanje  maize price trends and projections (MKW/kg)

    Figure 4

    Figure 2. Nsanje maize price trends and projections (MKW/kg)


    Figure 5

    Figure 3. Phalombe maize price trends and projections (MKW/kg)

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 4.  Mchinji  maize price trends and projections (MKW/kg)

    Figure 6

    Figure 4. Mchinji maize price trends and projections (MKW/kg)

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 7


    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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