GIEWS Country Brief: Malawi 11-March-2016

News and Press Release
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  • Below-average rains expected to result in reduced 2016 maize crop, with larger production declines forecast in southern districts
  • National average maize price at record high level in February 2016, reflecting tighter market supplies and poor 2016 production prospects
  • Food security situation in 2016/17 expected to worsen due to high food prices and expected lower cereal output

Reduced seasonal rains expected to result in production decrease for 2016 crops

Harvesting of the 2016 cereal crops is expected to begin in late April. Preliminary indications point to a lower cereal output in 2016, largely attributed to erratic rains since the start of the 2015/16 cropping season (October/June) that are associated with the prevailing, but currently weakening, El Niño episode. The southern districts, which account for a comparatively small amount of national cereal output, and parts of the Central Region have been the most affected by the unfavourable weather. Below‑average vegetation conditions in these areas indicate an increased likelihood of reduced yields. Furthermore, the delayed start of seasonal rains and subsequently reduced volumes are expected to result in a contraction in the area harvested compared to the previous year, further weighing down production expectations in 2016. Crop conditions are more favourable in northern districts and harvests in these areas may somewhat compensate for lower harvests in the south and centre. Overall, early forecasts point to a below‑average national maize crop of about 2.7 million tonnes in 2016, slightly below the 2015 output. For cash crops, tobacco production is anticipated to rise marginally from the reduced level of 2015, while by contrast, production of cotton is forecast to decline sharply in 2016.

Tighter supplies in 2015/16 marketing year

The 2015 maize output was estimated at 2.8 million tonnes, 30 percent lower than the record 2014 harvest. The decrease reflects severe dry periods that resulted in a drop in average yields by about one‑fifth compared to the high level of 2014, and the impact of floods. The Post Disaster Needs Assessment Report of March 2015 estimates that the floods resulted in USD 13.6 million of losses to the agriculture sector, including the damage to infrastructure. Overall, 2015 cereal production was estimated at a below‑average level of 3 million tonnes, nearly one‑third lower than the record 2014 harvest.

On account of the lower 2015 cereal harvest, both national and household stocks are estimated to be sharply reduced in the nearly‑concluded 2015/16 marketing year (April/March), with Malawi importing about 100 000 tonnes of maize from Zambia to boost national supplies.

Maize prices increased sharply, reaching new record levels in 2016

The national average maize price rose steeply at the start of 2016, reaching a new record level in February 2016. At MWK 241 per kg, maize grain prices were more than double their year‑earlier value. The main drivers behind the elevated level are the tight supply situation and poor 2016 production prospects, while the depreciation of the currency contributed to exacerbating the upward trend.

Food security conditions expected to worsen

Currently, an estimated 2.84 million people require food assistance in 25 districts, up from 640 000 persons estimated in 2014/15. The current food insecurity situation is a result of the overall decrease in food production in 2015 and the impact of the floods. Humanitarian assistance is being provided to the food insecure population and is expected to continue until the end of March 2016. Although the arrival of new supplies from the 2016 harvest will assist in improving the situation in the immediate period, overall food security conditions are expected to deteriorate in 2016/17, reflecting an expected second consecutive below‑average cereal harvest in 2016, and high food prices.