FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission to Malawi


Mission Highlights
The production of maize, Malawi's most important staple crop, is estimated to have fallen by 14 percent in 2004 compared to last year, and 17 percent compared to the average of the past five years. A late start and early finish to the rains in the south reduced both planted areas and yields, resulting in national maize production of some 1.705 million tonnes and total cereal production of 1.813 million tonnes including milled rice. The high cost of fertilizers and agricultural credit coupled with relatively low maize prices also contributed to reduced production levels.

  • National production of cassava and sweet potatoes, on the other hand, is estimated to have increased by about 13 percent to 4.2 million tonnes (or 1.132 million tonnes in cereal equivalent), which may help reduce the cereal deficit to some extent, if substituted for maize.

  • Aggregate domestic cereal supply, including roots and tubers in cereal equivalent, for the 2004/05 marketing year (April/March) is estimated at 2.955 million tonnes. National utilization is estimated at 3.363 million tonnes, implying an import requirement of 408 000 tonnes.

  • This import requirement is estimated to be covered by food aid of 56 000 tonnes and the remaining 352 000 tonnes of formal and informal commercial imports by the government and the private sector.

  • It is estimated that a total of 1.34 million people, or about 11 percent of the population will experience a food deficit between June 2004 and the next harvest in April-May 2005. If maize prices increase above the projected prices of MK17 to MK 27 per kilogram, the size of total deficit and the number of people requiring food assistance will increase significantly. Up to 86 percent of those affected are located in the southern part of the country.


A late start to the rains in the south, followed by unsatisfactory rainfall distribution, prompted the Government of Malawi to request FAO and WFP to carry out an in-country assessment of the crop situation and food security prospects for the 2004/05 marketing year (April/March). An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission visited Malawi from 25 April to 15 May 2004. Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Food Security (MAIFS) accompanied the Mission, while representatives of the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS-NET), SADC, USAID, EU and DFID participated as observers.

The Mission interviewed the staff of MAIFS, the National Statistics Office (NSO), the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA), the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC), the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development (EP&D), UN and other international and bilateral organizations and NGOs. The Mission also collected extensive documentation on recent weather conditions, current crop assessments and forecasts, and reported food shortages prepared by government and non-government agencies, and most importantly, the NSO/MAISF Second-Round Agricultural Production Estimates released at the end of April. This information was cross-checked against information from extension officers, farmers, traders, staff from agricultural trading companies, poultry farmers, and local NGO and donor project staff as well as against remote-sensing data and imagery from early warning systems.

After initial briefing, the Mission split into two teams to cover as many areas as possible in the limited time available. Between them, they visited all of the country's eight Agricultural Development Divisions (ADDs) and all but two of its 27 districts (RDPs).1 The local situation was discussed with MAIFS and other government officials at each ADD headquarter and in each district with a view to assessing the continuing validity of forecasts in the Second-Round Agricultural Production Estimates. The teams also travelled extensively in the field in order to observe and evaluate standing crops; discussions were held with farmers concerning their experiences of the summer cropping season, their plans for the winter season, and their perceptions of levels of food security at present and for the coming twelve months. Markets were visited to observe the availability of agricultural produce and prices of staples; maize prices were also discussed with traders. All major border trading posts were visited to evaluate the nature and extent of cross-border trade between Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and the United Republic of Tanzania. Upon returning to Lilongwe, the Mission briefed the government and donor agencies on preliminary findings.

The Mission found the NSO/MAIFS estimates generally acceptable at ADD and national level, although there were some discrepancies in planted area (e.g. in Salima ADD) and in the yields of some crops between the NSO/MAIFS estimates and the estimates of the RDP/extension staff. This year, field surveys were constrained due to the reduced number of experienced enumerators and their ability to physically measure planted areas on sampled farms.

Planting of major crops was delayed throughout the country this year with rains beginning during the second dekad of December instead of during October/November. The season was characterized by generally inadequate, erratic rainfall, with some areas experiencing two or three dry spells. In many northern and central areas, the February rains were generally adequate, although parts of the west, especially southwest Kasungu, suffered from drier conditions. Rainfall in the south was very poor during December. The situation looked more promising by the end of January, but February brought some prolonged dry spells. In some upland areas the situation improved in late February and early March, but much of the maize in low-lying areas continued to be subject to damaging, dry conditions until tasselling and grain-filling stages. Unusually high rainfall in early April came too late for these crops.

Total maize production for the summer 2003/04 season including the forecast for the winter 2004 season is estimated at 1.705 million tonnes, about 14 percent below last year's harvest and 17 percent below the average of the previous five years. About 93 percent of all maize is produced by smallholders and the remainder on estates. Winter maize production is becoming increasingly important, and according to farmers' planting intentions and yield expectations, should produce about 192 000 tonnes or 11 percent of annual maize output.

Aggregate cereal production for 2003/04 including maize, rice (milled), sorghum, millet and wheat is estimated at 1.813 million tonnes, about 14 percent below last year's average level. Root crops such as cassava, sweet potatoes and Irish potatoes are gaining importance, seen in the estimated 22 percent increase in area planted and about 13 percent increase in total production over the previous year. Total production of cassava and sweet potatoes from the harvestable area (and therefore potentially available for the 2004/05 marketing year) is estimated at 1.132 million tonnes in cereal equivalent. It should be acknowledged, however, that there is a considerable uncertainty about the harvestable area, area that will be actually harvested and even the yields of cassava in Malawi. With the opening stocks of about 10 000 tonnes this gives a total domestic cereal and cereal equivalent supply of 2.955 million tonnes against a total consumption requirement of 3.363 million tonnes. If one commodity can be substituted for another in daily consumption, especially during a cereal-deficit year, then the cereal import requirement for Malawi for 2004/05 can be projected at 408 000 tonnes, about 86 percent in maize. In case the surplus root and tuber crops do not compensate for the maize deficit, then maize import requirements would rise by another 100 000 tonnes. It is therefore important that efforts be made by the government, farmers, donors and NGOs to encourage timely harvesting, processing and drying of cassava for marketing and transportation from cassava-surplus to maize-deficit areas.

Commercial cereal imports estimated at about 352 000 tonnes (with maize at 294 000 tonnes) are expected to cover most of the food deficit over and above the estimated food aid imports. The commercial imports would consist of government imports to achieve the NFRA stated food reserve stock, formal and informal imports by private traders and possible additional government imports for local markets in case private trade

does not materialize to the satisfactory level, possibly due to ambiguous policies regarding the role of ADMARC and maize consumer price subsidization. In all, 58 000 tonnes of wheat, generally used for bread-making, is expected to be imported commercially by the private sector.

With an expected maize surplus in northern Mozambique (in neighbouring Zambezia province) and in Zambia, informal cross-border trade is likely to be significant this year, possibly with a net inflow in the neighbourhood of 200 000 tonnes into southern and central Malawi. Given that WFP already has 15 000 tonnes of maize in stock the uncovered food gap for the 2004/05 marketing year, therefore, is anticipated to be about 41 000 tonnes of maize, which would need to be met through food aid from the international donor community.

It is estimated that a total of 1.34 million people, or about 11 percent of the nation population will experience a food deficit amounting to about 56 000 tonnes in maize equivalent between June 2004 and the next harvest in April-May 2005. In the worst affected areas in the southern part of the country, about 40 percent of the population will have a shortfall. The household deficit is due to a combined effect of the reduced availability of food from own production and low purchasing power to meet minimum dietary intake.

The greater part of the relief assistance will be required during the lean period between October 2004 to March 2005. However, in districts with the largest deficits, poor households will require food or cash assistance as early as July-September 2004 period. Between July-September 2004 period an estimated 1 720 tonnes will be required, 12 530 tonnes in October - December 2004 peaking to 41 780 tonnes in the January-March 2005 lean period.

Relief requirements are likely to increase if maize prices rise above the projected price range of MK17.00 and MK27.00 per kilogram. The size of the deficit and the number of people unable to meet food needs are likely to increase substantially. Monitoring of prices for early warning is therefore crucial.


1 For the purpose of agricultural administration, Malawi is divided into eight Agricultural Development Divisions (ADDs), 27 Rural Development Projects (RDPs) and 154 Extension Planning Areas (EPAs). The ADDs also serve as general administrative divisions, and the boundaries of the RDPs and the politically based Districts have recently been made to coincide with each other.

Malawi: Livelihood Zone Map and Description

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