FEWS Malawi Food Security Report mid-Apr to mid-May 2003

Situation Report
Originally published

The rainy season has come to an end for the most part, although some areas are still receiving end-of-season rainfall.

Crop harvesting has peaked, especially in the southern and central regions, resulting in an improvement in the household food security situation.

The free food distribution under the WFP Emergency Operation is expected to end this month, as planned.

The government, through the NFRA, had adequate maize stocks as of May 1. The major buyer of this maize has been ADMARC for onward sale to the general public.

ADMARC maize sales are declining as the number of households depending on their own harvest for food increases. ADMARC maize sales are generally lower than at the same time last season.

The government has imposed a ban on cattle and meat movement in the lower Shire Valley due an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.


a. Agro-climatic Conditions

The rainfall season has virtually come to an end except for a few showers in isolated cases.

Rainfall activity over Malawi has subsided following the shift of the main rain bearing systems northwards to Tanzania and Kenya. This marks an end to this year's rainy season, which extended beyond the normal period (October 1 through the end of March) into early April, allowing late planted crops to fully mature.

Although the rainfall season has come to an end for most of Malawi, a few areas in the extreme northern parts of the country bordering Tanzania continued to receive significant rain, benefiting from the rain bearing systems over Tanzania. The southern highlands and northern lakeshore areas experienced intermittent light rainfall due to moist south-easterly winds locally known as Chiperoni. The Chiperoni winds normally occur in the period from May through August and typically cause light rains in some parts of the country which help in the growth of winter crops. The Chiperoni winds are also associated with the cooler temperatures that characterize the country at this time of the year.


Agricultural production is more favorable this season than last.

Crop harvesting gathers momentum in the southern and central regions.

Most field crops have matured and are ready for harvesting. Harvesting of maize and other crops has gathered momentum, especially in the southern and parts of the central region, helping improve the household food security situation in these areas. The final crop production figures are tentatively scheduled for release on June 19, after which a detailed food balance sheet analysis will be conducted to determine whether the country has a surplus or deficit. However, early indications from the preliminary crop estimate figures are that this year is better than last year, and, at least at a national level, the country may not experience the same level of production-related food security problems as it did in the past two years. However, prolonged dry spells in parts of Nsanje, Chikwawa, Mwanza and Mangochi districts in the southern region and parts of Mzimba, Rumphi and Karonga districts in the northern region will undermine production prospects in these localized pockets.


a. Official Maize Stocks and Sales

Government maize stocks held by the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) remained high at about 258,000 MT as of May 1.

Government maize stocks held by the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) remained high at about 258,000 MT. These stocks are so high because, as a backlash to last year's shortages, the government imported 235,000 MT of maize, the EU contributed about 21,000 MT, and 28,000 MT were purchased locally or from the region; another 28,000 MT was carried over from the 2001/02 imports. These supplies total about 312,000 MT; however, the government sold 54,000 MT to ADMARC for sale to the general public, leaving a balance of about 258,000 MT by May 1. ADMARC figures show that maize sales stood at about 41,000 MT by May 2, which is 35 percent lower than sales levels compared to the same time last year. Lower sales this year are attributed to the improved household food security situation and ready availability of maize on the local markets. One of the important factors that led to an improvement in the household food security situation this year is the wide distribution of free food by government and non-governmental organizations. Private traders also imported a lot of maize informally, expecting to make the same profits they did last year; as a result, supplies in the local markets are higher this year than last, and prices are lower. Of the 41,000 MT of maize sold by ADMARC, 25,000 MT were sold in the southern region, 14,000 MT were sold in the central region, and the rest was sold in the northern region. This is a normal trend. The southern region registers the highest sales because it is the most densely populated and land holding sizes are the smallest, resulting in a lot of households failing to meet their food requirements from own production and resorting to the markets (including ADMARC) for food. ADMARC weekly maize sales have started declining as farmers are now harvesting their crops and becoming increasingly dependent on own food production.

b. Local Market Conditions and Prices

Local market prices begin to drop as the harvest increases, and market demand eases.

Average local market maize prices in April 2003 ranged from MK8.44/kg to MK18.98/kg. Prices are generally lower than at the same time last season.

Local market maize prices have started falling as the number of households who have started harvesting increases and market demand eases. Figure 1 shows the price trend in selected markets. A majority of the markets reported prices below the ADMARC fixed price of MK17/kg. While these declining staple prices are a good thing for those households still depending on the market for their food, they are not as good for ADMARC, whose sales will surely be affected in the short term. The ADMARC price is now considered to be very high and the only way ADMARC maize can sell in the short term is by lowering the price to be in line with the current market prices. However, this is not a simple matter, since ADMARC's price of MK17/kg is already subsidized, and further cutting the price will have far reaching fiscal consequences.

Figure 1: Local Market Maize Prices (MK/kg) for Selected Markets in Malawi: 2002-2003

Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation

April prices ranged from MK8.44/kg at Chitipa market in the northern region to MK18.98/kg at Ntchisi market in the central region. These prices are generally lower than at the same time last year and they are expected to drop further in May and June as harvesting reaches its peak across the country. This represents an improvement of the food security situation over last year at the same time.


Free food distribution to targeted beneficiaries expected to end this month.

The free food distribution, which has been occurring since July 2002, is expected to come to an end this month as planned. The final food distributions are being affected by transport problems due to competing demands from the tobacco industry, whose farmers are now transporting their tobacco to the auction floors. As of April 27, WFP had about 22,000 MT of food in stock for the emergency operation, of which approximately 12,000 MT consisted of maize, and 2,000 MT were maize meal. The rest was comprised of pulses, dried milk, likuni phala (fortified flour for feeding children in order to improve their nutritional status), sugar and vegetable oil.

Meanwhile, the government and other stakeholders are considering ways of assisting the most food insecure groups in recognition that although the general situation has improved, there are still households at risk of food insecurity. In addition, there are some spots in the country where crop production has not been favorable as discussed above.


Foot and mouth disease outbreak reported in the lower Shire.

Pasture and drinking water for animals are still readily available due to the favorable weather conditions.

An out break of foot and mouth disease in the lower Shire Valley has forced the government to impose a ban on cattle and meat movement from the lower Shire Valley. The lower Shire Valley is the major supplier of meat in the southern region and the ban will be felt by a lot of people in the ar