Harvest improves rural food security, while COVID-19 reduces income for urban poor
Most rural households across the country are now consuming own-produced food at the peak of the harvests. In the southern region, harvesting of maize is complete; in the central and northern regions, farmers are still harvesting. Meanwhile, households continue to access income from crop sales as the country enters the peak crop selling season in May to August. As a result, most households have transitioned to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes, expected to persist through at least September 2020. However, some households in localized southern areas and in localized areas of the northern Karonga and Rumphi districts received poor harvests, with an increasing number likely to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes as food stocks are depleted between July and September. In Nsanje and Chikwawa, area-level Stressed outcomes are expected by September.
As of 28 May 2020, 203 cases of COVID-19 and four deaths have been reported in Malawi. This total includes 102 positive cases among Malawians who tested positive upon return from South Africa around May 25-28. Meanwhile, a national lockdown that the government had announced to start on 18 April 2020 collapsed after it was challenged in court. Despite the increasing number of cases and initial indications that the government was working toward meeting the court’s requirements for implementation, the lockdown is no longer the most likely scenario in the short term given the start of political campaigning leading up to the presidential elections set for late June or early July, as well as an implicit relaxation of enforcement on gathering and movement restrictions.
Poor and very poor households in urban and peri-urban areas – where most of the population depends on informal employment and small businesses – are facing reduced access to income as a result of the economic slowdown resulting from COVID-19 impacts, with Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes expected to persist through at least September. Most people employed in the trading sector and in private schools and colleges have been on half pay or no pay from April, while domestic workers and many casual labors have lost their normal livelihoods. Many of these households likely had little to no savings and would be expected to deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in the short term in the absence of assistance. The government and partners are currently planning an assistance program for these urban and peri-urban poor, but the program is still insufficiently funded.
Maize prices continue to follow seasonal trends, declining due to improved availability from the newly harvested crop. From March to April, prices of maize grain decreased by between 6 and 38 percent in most monitored markets. Despite this, maize grain prices remained 10 to 88 percent above their corresponding 2019 levels and 6 to 66 percent above five-year average levels. Maize grain prices are expected to continue declining between May and June following seasonal trends and given expectations for above-average maize production, though prices are expected to remain above five-year average levels. Prices of other cereals and pulses are expected to follow seasonal trends, declining between May and June before beginning to increase around July as household stocks start to dwindle and some start relying on markets.