FEWS Malawi Food Security Report mid-May to mid-Jun 2002

Originally published


Planting of winter crops is ongoing in areas with residual moisture or irrigation facilities.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation released its final crop production estimates for the 2001/02 production year (October-September) on June 20. Maize production dropped slightly (1 percent) from the second round estimate and 6 percent from last year to 1,603,271 MT.

The drop in maize production from the level last year, a below-average year, means that the food security problems this season will be worse if appropriate actions are not taken timely. Many households overstretched their coping mechanisms last year, reducing their resilience and increasing their vulnerability in the face of continued food shortages.

In mid-June the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) received the last consignment of maize from South Africa for the 2001/02 marketing/consumption year (April-March). Of the 150,000 MT contract, Malawi received a total of 136,000 MT, the difference due to rising maize prices after the contract was signed.

Local market maize prices continued to drop between April and May due to improved household supplies as a result of the current harvest. Many markets have registered maize prices below the ADMARC price of MK17/kg.

Donors, NGOs, government and other stakeholders are engaged in various emergency response planning activities in order to avert another food crisis in the 2002/03 consumption year (April-March).


a. Agroclimatic Conditions

Most parts of the country continue to experience dry conditions coupled with cold weather. A few areas, especially along the lakeshore and in the Southern highlands, experienced some showers which are good for cultivation of winter crops.

Most parts of the country are now experiencing dry conditions and cold temperatures, especially at night. This is characteristic of the winter season in Malawi, which lasts from around May to July. A few parts of the country, particularly in the Southern highlands and along the lakeshore areas, experienced showers which are normally caused by the inflow of moist south-easterly Chiperoni winds from the Indian Ocean coast of Mozambique. These rains are generally good for the growing of winter crops.

b. Farm Inputs Availability

Winter maize production is expected to increase significantly due to improved input use as a result of the targeted input distribution by the government. Winter maize production is estimated at 166,228 MT, almost double the average winter maize production for the past three years.

As pointed out in the May Monthly Food Security Report, the government’s Targeted Input Program has been distributing farm inputs to some 300,000 households for winter cultivation. These inputs include 2 kgs maize seed, 2 kgs legume seed (groundnuts, soy beans, pigeon peas or beans) and 5 kgs basal dressing fertilizer (23;21;0+4s), sufficient for 0.1 hectare. It is hoped that this distribution, now complete, will boost winter crop production, especially that of maize, as one way of improving rural household food security.

According to the final crop production estimates from the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, winter maize production for 2001/02 is projected at 166,228 MT, 17 percent higher than the estimated 141,479 MT during the second round and just about double the average winter maize production for the past three years of 83,470 MT. Unlike the summer maize crop, which is weighed during the final round to determine the yield, the winter crop is just being planted. Hence, it remains to be seen whether this production level will be reached.

The anticipated increase in winter maize production this season is mainly attributed to increased availability of seed and fertilizer from the Targeted Input Program. In addition, there is a lot of enthusiasm among farmers for growing winter crops, as all are aware that they may face another food shortage this year.


The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation released the final 2001/02 crop production figures on June 20. The maize production estimate has been revised downward slightly from the second round to 1,603,271 MT. This final estimate represents a drop of 6 percent from last year’s production of 1,713,064 MT.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation released its final crop production figures on 20th June, following preliminary estimates in January and April. The following paragraphs briefly discuss the production figures for the main staple food crops.


The final crop production figures for this year put maize production at 1,603,271 MT, only 1 percent less than the second round figure of 1,625,985 MT, but 6 percent less than the final figure of 1,713,064 MT in 2000/01. However, the current figure is about 28 percent below the 5-year average (1996/97 to 2000/2001).

The maize production figures include three sets of data: production from the smallholder summer crop (1,319,044 MT), smallholder winter crop (166,228 MT) and production from the large-scale estate sector (117,999 MT). The final smallholder summer crop production figure represents a drop of 176,420 MT, or 13 percent, from last year’s figure of 1,495,464 MT. As the smallholder summer maize crop is the major source of food for most of the Malawians, this drop should be a matter of concern to decision makers.

Some of the farmers who live near areas that have residual moisture after the rainy season have the opportunity of growing winter crops. Normally, the Southern Region is by far the highest producer of winter maize. For the first time, however, the Central Region is expected to produce more winter maize (86,753 MT) than the Southern (69,583 MT) and Northern Regions (9,892 MT). Winter maize production is expected to increase by 77 percent, or 72,255 MT, compared to last year and reach 166,228 MT, almost double average production for the past three years. As indicated, the winter maize figures are only projection and appear to be overoptimistic in some areas, especially the Central Region where winter production is expected to increase by 195 percent (nearly triple) compared to a 29 percent increase in the Southern Region and a 6 percent drop in the Northern Region

Moreover, winter maize production is projected to be higher than estate maize production for the first time. These high expectations for the winter maize crop this year may provide false hopes about its contribution to food security. In addition, a good portion of the winter maize will be consumed or sold green, thereby adversely affecting the final harvest outcome and household food security.

Figure 1 shows the trend in winter maize production by region and projections for 2001/02.

In contrast to the expected expansion of winter maize, estate maize production is estimated to have dropped by 5 percent from 123,627 MT in 2000/01 to 117,999 MT in 2001/02. Most of the estates grow maize to feed their workers or tenants, not in large quantities. Most of these estates are in Kasungu District, making Kasungu Agricultural Development Division (ADD), the largest producer of estate maize. This year, for instance, Kasungu ADD estate maize production is estimated at 76,622 MT followed by Salima ADD in distant second place with just 12,882 MT. Kasungu’s maize production in 2001/02 is almost the same as the 76,639 MT produced in 2000/01. This is worrisome, bearing in mind that it was in Kasungu ADD where estate workers were among the worst affected by the food shortage last December - February.


Paddy rice production for 2001/02 is estimated at 94,215 MT, up slightly from 93,150 MT the previous year. Most of the rice is produced in Karonga, Salima and Machinga ADDs. These ADDs together accounted for about 80 percent of the rice production in 2001/02. Rice production is not enough to meet national demand and as a result, Malawi depends on imports to meet the shortfall. The imported rice is mainly sold and consumed in urban centers. The current rice production is about two-thirds of the national demand.

Cassava/Sweet Potatoes

In response to wide accusations about the overestimation of cassava last year, the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation organized a multisectoral team, including FEWS Net, to reassess cassava and sweet potato production. The team discovered that production had indeed been overestimated due to inappropriate use of the methodology. The team estimated final cassava production at 1,540,307 MT as opposed to the initial estimate of 3,126,163 MT. Similarly, sweet potato production is estimated at 1,082,308 MT rather than 2,783,307 MT as reported at the final crop estimates meeting. The risks of overestimation were manifested last year when the production figures for these crops in maize-equivalent terms appeared to have offset the maize deficit for the 2001/02 consumption year - which proved to be untrue.


a. Food Availability

Harvesting is largely completed but still on-going in some parts of the Central and Northern Regions. These harvests have provided temporally relief to rural households from the food security problems they have been going through.

Food balance analysis based on the final crop estimates figures shows that the country will face a deficit of 572,054 MT of maize equivalent.

Harvesting of crops, including maize, is complete except for some parts of the Central and Northern regions where it is still on going. The current harvest has provided temporally relief to the households that were hit by the food shortage problem.

A food balance sheet prepared jointly by FEWS Net and the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation shows that Malawi will experience a food deficit of 572,054 MT of maize-equivalent for the 2002/03 (April- March) consumption year. The analysis was based on maize, rice, sorghum, millet and cassava, all crops that are considered staple foods in different parts of the country. The cassava figures used in the analysis are from the multi-sectoral reassessment mentioned above.

In terms of maize only, the annual deficit stands at 632,874 MT. As seen in Appendix 1, showing the details of the food balance, the minor sorghum/millet surplus and the larger cassava surplus helped somewhat to offset the maize and rice deficits, accounting for the lower deficit in maize-equivalent terms.

b. Market Conditions and Food Access

The NFRA has received the final consignment of South African maize, bringing total deliveries to 136,000 MT of the original contract for 150,000 MT.

Local market maize prices continue to drop, with many markets registering prices less than the MK17/kg ADMARC price.

The National Food Reserve Agency has now received all the maize that it had contracted to import from South Africa to address the food security problems stemming from the poor crop production in the 2001/02 consumption year. The final tonnage received is136,000 MT, instead of 150,000 MT as originally planned, because the rising delivered price of maize later in the season reduced the amount of maize the funds could purchase. However, the amount of maize available in NFRA stocks was not available at the time of writing. The NFRA indicated that they were also receiving some maize from Tanzania but further details were not available.

The government through the NFRA intends to import 250,000 MT of commercial maize to avoid another food crisis. The NFRA is awaiting cabinet approval to borrow funds for this exercise.

The NFRA has already awarded tenders for the local purchase of 15,200 MT of maize using funds provided from the European Union for the local purchase of 40,000 MT to assist the NFRA replenish the Strategic Grain Reserves. The NFRA has launched the tender for the local purchase of the remaining 24,800 MT. These tenders could attract additional informal imports of maize from Tanzania and Mozambique.

Local market maize prices continued to drop in most of the markets in May as market demand slackens in the post-harvest period and households consume their own crops. However, these price drops will be short-lived as many households did not produce enough for themselves in 2001/02. Figure 2 shows the unprecedented rising price trends over the past 12 months that peaked in February-March.

Maize prices in May ranged between MK11.65/kg at Chitipa market to MK25.03 at Ntchisi market. A lot of the markets have now registered maize prices below the ADMARC fixed price of MK17/kg.

Perhaps the most interesting case is that of Salima market which has registered the greatest drop (69 percent) from MK38.10/kg in April to MK11.84/kg in May. Although prices have dropped, they are still much higher than what they were at the same time last year. May prices were 42 percent to 227 percent higher than at the same time last year, with the majority of markets recording prices more than double last year’s prices.


WFP has developed an Emergency Operation as one way of addressing the food security problems that Malawi faces.

Donors, NGOs, government and other stakeholders are developing various strategies to avert problems associated with hunger this season.

Malawi faces a second successive year of widespread food insecurity, of which the drop in maize production is only one cause. Household coping strategies have been strained in recent months, weakening household resilience to continued food shortages. Food insecurity will worsen unless appropriate steps are taken now to mitigate its worst effects

Different stakeholders, including government, are developing various strategies to alleviate suffering from hunger. The World Food Program has developed a short-term Emergency Operation (EMOP) for Malawi that will run for four months (June 1 to September 30). This EMOP will distribute 54,426 MT of food commodities to 2.1 million targeted beneficiaries. Food distribution started on June 17 in Mchinji District followed by Dowa District.

The European Union is providing 55,000 MT of food aid to assist Malawi cope with its food shortage. Of this, 15,000 MT will support the existing nutritional safety net program for vulnerable groups, broken down into three components: 3,000 MT for production of Likuni Phala (a blended, nutritionally fortified food) for distribution to 475,000 under-five children by September 2002; 5,000 MT to be fortified and distributed to 100,000 pregnant and lactating mothers; and 7,000 MT for distribution to under-five children, the elderly and lactating mothers during the second half of the year. Some 30,000 MT will directly respond to the government’s appeal for emergency food aid; and the remaining 10,000 MT will be held in the form of a financial reserve for buying maize grain later.

The US government is assisting Malawi with about 45-50,000 MT of maize. This maize will be distributed to vulnerable groups in various parts of the country through a consortium of NGOs formed to carry out this task. These NGOs have already started laying the groundwork to ensure the smooth running of the operation. About 16,900 MT of US maize have already arrived in the country. In addition, the government of Malawi will use about $14.6 million in balance of payment support from the US to import 36-40,000 MT of maize to be sold by bid through the NFRA to wholesaler traders and ADMARC.

'To date the US government has committed itself to assisting Malawi with 19,940 MT of maize for shipment through the World Food Program and for distribution to vulnerable groups through a consortium of NGOs formed to carry out this task. These NGOs have already started laying the groundwork to ensure the smooth running of the operation. The initial deliveries will be distributed to an estimated 5% of the target population in July and August. About 16,900 MT of this maize have already arrived with the rest expected by the end of August. USAID/Malawi Mission hopes that an additional 60-80,000 MT will be delivered prior to the December rains. These deliveries would increase the total contribution to the World Food Program-NGO Consortium effort to at least 80,000 MT.

The government is also redirecting some of the USAID funds for balance of payments support to import about 40,000 MT of maize which will be sold by the NFRA through existing commercial channels.'

Towards the end of May, the Church Aid for Relief and Development (CARD) with assistance from the German government donated 810 MT of maize to households that were affected by floods and dry spells in Nsanje District.

According to the food balance sheet, Malawi has a maize deficit of more than 630,000 MT. However, the deficit is slightly reduced to just over 570,000 MT of maize equivalent when other foods such as rice, sorghum, millet and cassava are taken into account. A number of measures are already in place to address the shortfall. Through the NFRA, the government plans to import 250,000 MT of maize while the FAO/WFP assessment mission recommends that 208,000 MT are needed as emergency food aid. This still leaves Malawi with a deficit of more than 100,000 MT to be met by formal and informal trade. Importing such volumes of maize in the remaining 9-10 months of 2002/03 will greatly tax the capabilities of the government and private sector, raising doubts whether all of this maize will be imported before the next main harvest in April-May. FEWS NET will track all imports closely each month.

Interviews with some of the rural people about the effect of the last year’s food shortage indicated that contrary to conventional wisdom, the worst affected were men and children rather than women and most deaths due to hunger-related causes were those of men and children. The possible reasons, according to those interviewed, were that men traveled about a lot looking for food to feed the family, weakening them physically and that women and children were given priority whenever food was available. These reasons require further investigations.


The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation released its livestock estimates on June 20. The estimates show that there were nearly 750,000 cattle, 1.67 million goats, 115,000 sheep, 456,000 pigs and 7.3 million chickens at the time the census was conducted, December 2001.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation released livestock figures at the same time it released the final crop production figures, in response to numerous requests. The figures were obtained through the livestock census conducted in December 2001 to update the census of December 2000.

At the time of the census, there were 749,029 cattle in the country. The potential annual beef production from this herd of cattle was estimated at 21,656 MT. Milk was estimated at 9,659,000 liters while hides/skins stood at 200,938. Compared to the previous census in December 2000, the number of cattle dropped by 2 percent and is expected to have dropped further as most of them were sold for slaughter during the hunger season. In general, few households own cattle.

The national goat population stood at 1,669,669, representing potential meat production of 9,557 MT. The goat population only dropped slightly (1 percent) from December 2000. Ownership of goats is more widespread than cattle. Many goats were sold during the hunger season.

The census also estimated 7,348,450 chickens in the country with a potential annual egg production of 2,148 MT and 9,310 MT of meat, an increase of 4 percent from December 2000. The increase is attributed to increase in local production of chickens as a result of temporally ban on chicken importation. However the number of chickens should have dropped significantly due to overselling at the peak of the hungry period in January-February. In addition, the national chicken industry was also adversely affected by the shortage of maize, a key component in the production of chicken feed, which lowered chicken and egg production. This forced the government to lift the ban on chicken imports. While ownership of chickens is common - each household having 1 to 3 chickens on average - many households sold their chickens and other livestock, leaving them with few or no animals to fall back on.

It is important to note that these data were collected in December before the January-February peak of the hungry season when many desperate households sold their animals to buy increasingly expensive maize and other food staples. It is generally believed that the livestock numbers should be significantly lower. The Agricultural Estimates Committee agreed that this annual census should take place around April/May when the final crop estimates exercise is conducted. This simultaneous availability of information on crop production and livestock ownership would be extremely useful for assessing household food security prospects by area or livelihood group at the outset of each marketing year.


The value of the Malawi Kwacha remains stable at an average of about MK76/US$.

The value of the Malawi Kwacha remained relatively stable at about MK76/US$ between mid-May and mid-June, 2002. Contrary to expectations, the on-going tobacco sales, the country’s major source of foreign exchange, have failed to help the Kwacha to appreciate against the US$. However, the expected influence of the increased foreign exchange earnings on the value of the local currency is probably compromised by the slow inflow of hard-currency from donors. The exchange rate trends are critically important, especially this year when the country expects to import large quantities of maize and other food.

The stability of the local currency, coupled with the drop in food prices, resulted in a slight drop in the annual inflation rate from 17.5 percent in April to 17.1 percent in May.

Appendix 1. Food Balance Sheet for the 2002/03 Consumption Year (April-March)

Sorghum/ Millet
Maize Equivalent (ME)
Gross Production
Adjustment Factor (%)
Post-harvest losses (percent)
On-farm stocks (MT)
Official stocks (MT)
SGR stocks (MT)
Food Use (ME)
Seed Requirement
Seed Requirement (ME)
SGR Replenishment (ME)
Project/Program Food Aid Imports
Known Emergency Food Aid Imports
Contracted Exports

Explanatory Notes for Appendix 1

(i) The projected mid-year population for 2002/03 is 11.44 million, as provided by the National Statistics Office (NSO).

(ii) An adjustment factor of 4 percent was used to account for widespread premature maize consumption occurring in March 2002. This adjustment factor is based on a) the annual maize per capita requirement of 169.4 kgs, b) a one-month premature consumption period (March), and c) an assumption that 50 percent of the population in the Southern and Central regions met their maize consumption requirement from immature maize. This calculation resulted in an adjustment factor of 4.65 percent, rounded down to 4 percent for consistency the adjustment factor used by the joint FAO/WFP crop production and food supply assessment mission in Malawi.

(iii) The kilocalorie contribution of each of the main food staples to the total kilocalorie intake follows: maize (72.8 percent), rice (3.4 percent), sorghum and millet (1 percent each) and cassava (10.9 percent), as derived from the Integrated Household Survey by the NSO, 1998.

(iv) The figures for cassava are expressed in dry weight (30 percent of gross weight).

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