Malawi

FEWS Malawi Food Security Report mid-Feb to mid-Mar 2003

Format
Situation Report
Source
Posted
Originally published


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Parts of the country experienced prolonged dry spells that adversely affected crop yields.

Most of the maize has reached maturity and in a very few cases farmers have started harvesting.

Generally good weather during the growing season, coupled with greater use of farm inputs, means that crop production will likely be better this season. The second-round crop forecast, to be released on March 28, will provide further details.

The government, through the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA), had about 266,000 MT of maize stocks by first week of March 2003.

Local market maize prices remain stable around the ADMARC fixed price of MK17/kg. The prices are also generally lower than last year at the same time.

Maize sales by private traders remain high despite the availability of maize in ADMARC markets.

Free food distributions may be extended for another one to two months.

1. FACTORS AFFECTING CROP PRODUCTION

a. Agroclimatic Conditions

Most parts of the country experienced low rainfall during the first ten days of March. Crops wilted in some parts of the country where long dry spells have occurred.

Generally good weather during the growing season and increased use of crop inputs means that crop production will likely be better this season.

Dry spells and low rainfall characterized the first ten days of March in most parts of the country due to cyclone Japhet, which, according to meteorological experts, passed through southern Mozambique and depleted air moisture over parts of northern Malawi. The rains have resumed in many parts of the country, but crops have wilted in some areas after an extended dry spell of about three to four weeks. Some of the crops, especially those planted later, may not recover, even after the resumption of adequate rains. The areas worst hit by the dry spell include low-lying areas of Nsanje, Chikwawa, Mangochi, Mwanza and Neno Districts in the Southern Region. In the Northern Region, parts of Mzimba, Rumphi and Karonga have also been affected.

The second round of crop production estimates will be released on 28th March 2003. With the exception of areas where fertilizers were not applied and where crops have been affected by the dry spell, prospects look good. The crop input programs that were implemented in the course of the season helped improve the input uptake and, coupled with generally good weather during the growing season, crop production is expected to be better than last season.

2. FOOD AVAILABILITY AND ACCESS

a. Official Maize Stocks and Sales

By the end of the first week of March 2003:

  • Government maize stocks stood at about 266,000 MT

  • Government-imported maize remained at about 233,000 MT

  • EU/NFRA purchases of maize within Southern Africa amounted to 21,000 MT

The National Food Reserve Agency's (NFRA) maize stocks rose slightly, from about 258,000 MT at the beginning of February to 266,000 MT during the first week of March 2003. This increase comes in the wake of a contribution by the European Union, sourced from within the SADC region, which totaled 21,000 MT. Government maize imports have remained at about 233,000 MT. Unlike last year, the government this year has adequate stocks for sale even if the harvest is not very good. The problem this year and increasingly, as households become more impoverished, every year, will be household purchasing power, or in other words, people's ability to afford to buy sufficient grain.

Until recently, ADMARC was the sole agent for buying and selling government maize, but in mid-February, amid concerns of low government maize sales, the NFRA prepared to sell 50,000 MT to the public. ADMARC had obtained 46,057 MT of maize from the NFRA by mid March 2003, of which, 34,015 MT had been sold. Although the present sales seem to be low, they will peak two to three months after harvest, when households begin to run out food from their own production and free food is no longer available.

b. Local Market Conditions and Prices

Average local market maize prices for February ranged from MK14.2/kg to MK22.4/kg. Most prices are about 25% to 50% lower than the same time last year.

Maize is still readily available in local markets. The majority of traders in these markets obtain their maize from either Mozambique or Tanzania. Very little maize comes in from Zambia, especially along the border in Mzimba and Rumphi districts. Some of the maize, though not very much, is carryover stock, which the traders were hoping to sell at higher prices around this time, as they did last season. However, price increases this year have been more moderate than last, and based on past experience, they are expected to start decreasing as households begin to harvest their crops. This has forced traders to sell their maize at the prevailing prices.


Table 1: Comparison of maize prices during February 2002 and 2003
Market
Feb-02
Feb-03
% Change
BANGULA
19.61
19.08
-3
CHIMBIYA
35.14
17.17
-51
CHITIPA
23.36
14.19
-39
KARONGA
19.23
15.22
-21
LIWONDE
38.82
19.49
-50
LIZULU
31.82
16.21
-49
LUCHENZA
28.17
16.84
-40
MCHINJI
42.64
22.36
-48
MITUNDU
35.72
19.60
-45
MZIMBA
32.69
15.10
-54
MZUZU
22.10
16.84
-24
NAMWERA
40.03
20.94
-48
NCHALO
21.20
20.05
-5
NTAJA
37.92
22.33
-41
NTCHISI
36.52
16.40
-55
RUMPHI
28.76
15.64
-46
SALIMA
43.11
19.56
-55
Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation

For the most part, February prices this season were about 25% to 50% lower than during the same time last season. All markets have registered a drop compared to last season. In general, the markets where prices soared last season have registered the large price decreases. This is a good development as high prices contributed to the food crisis last season, when the majority of the rural households could not afford the maize. Last season some of the markets such as Mchinji, Salima and Namwera registered prices above MK40/kg while this season no market has registered a price above MK25/kg.

Prices are not only lower this season, they are also stable, hovering around the ADMARC fixed price of MK17/kg. This differs from last year's experience, when prices were far above the ADMARC price around this time (see Figure 1). Prices are lower this year due to improved maize supply emanating from food aid, private traders' stocks and a large quantity of government imported maize. In addition, a lot of households heeded the warnings about the impending food shortage and kept whatever food stocks they had as long as they could, helping reduce the demand for maize.


Figure 1: Local Market Maize Prices (MK/kg) for Selected Markets in Malawi: 2001-2003

Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation


Contrary to expectations, the small private traders are not worried about the lower prices and are still able to compete with ADMARC. FEWS Net and WFP discovered during a recent joint field trip that ADMARC was selling hybrid maize while most private traders were selling local maize, which is preferred by local households. Households claimed that, in order to make the same amount of nsima (the country's staple food), one needs more of the hybrid maize than of the local maize, making the local maize a better deal. In addition, some households do not trust ADMARC and feel cheated in ADMARC markets due to their inability to read the scale. Another important factor is that, since many households have only small amounts of money at any one time, they prefer to buy small quantities from the local markets where measuring units of various sizes are used to suit everybody's pocket.

3. VULNERABILITY UPDATE AND INTERVENTIONS

Free food distribution may be extended to June 2003 at a reduced rate.

The donor-funded humanitarian operation, intended to address the food security problems this season, continues. By mid-March, 255,802 MT of the required 279,079 MT of food (July 2002 -- March 2003) had been resourced and confirmed. This is almost 5,000 MT higher than at the same time last month. (Maize makes up 184,136 MT of the total requirement, and maize meal comprises the remaining 3,310 MT.) In total, 171,947 MT had been received by mid-March, representing about 62% of the food requirement. Out of the food received, 132,653 MT and 6,413 MT were maize and maize meal, respectively. Figure 2 provides a comparison between the amount of food received and that required.

Out of the 171,947 MT of food received, 126,170 MT had been distributed to beneficiaries, leaving a balance of 45,777 MT. The balances will be used for the extension of the program to a reduced number of beneficiaries up to June. Implementing agencies argue that this would prevent some of the poorer households from harvesting their crops prematurely.


Figure 2: Comparison between requirements and Receipts for Some of the Commodities under the Emergency Operation (MT)

Source: WFP/Malawi