There were concerns that the new crop of maize would not be ready for harvesting until June because of late planting in most parts of the country.
"We are in dialogue with the government, donors and our implementing partners to assess what really needs to happen after March. The key concern is that the crops are not harvested too early. In a crisis situation there is a tendency to harvest maize before it matures, but then this means that farmers do not produce a full crop," WFP emergency officer Amy Horton told IRIN.
There have already been reports of desperate villagers harvesting and eating green maize.
The latest Southern African Development Community (SADC) vulnerability assessment estimates some 3.5 million Malawians (31 percent of the population) will require about 173,000 mt of emergency food aid through March 2003 - mainly due to drought.
Horton said a rapid crop assessment would be conducted later this month which would determine the scale of the needs across the country after March.
"Instead of general distribution, WFP intervention would likely target the most vulnerable populations, for example people living with HIV/AIDS who are too weak to get a crop for themselves," WFP regional spokesman Richard Lee told IRIN.
Lee added that negotiations to extend WFP operations across the six countries in Southern Africa most at risk from crop failures were underway.
Over 15 million people across the region face hunger through a combination of drought, poverty, the HIV/AIDS epidemic and alleged government mismanagement.
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