Minimum Expenditure Basket in Malawi - Round 19 and 20: 28th December 2020 to 1st January 2021 and 11th to 15th January 2021: A look at Food Prices and Availability in Times of COVID-19

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• Increases in the prices of maize grain and pulses were observed, as the lean season approaches its peak.

• With the increase in maize prices, the current national average is MK 203/kg, almost at par with the five-year average.

• The price of all three types of pulses monitored (beans, cowpeas and pigeon peas) increased significantly during the 20th round of data collection.

Background and Context

The first week of January 2021 came with large numbers of people testing positive for COVID-19. The number of newly infected people exceeded 2,500 during the first 11 days of January, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 9,000 with more than 7,000 local infections as of the 12th of January 2021 when the president declared a state of the national disaster for COVID-19 for all districts of the country. The large uptick in the number of COVID-positive cases is likely a result of large gatherings that were held during the festive season (overnight church prayers, social gatherings) as well as brought in from people who came home for the holidays from highly infected neighbouring countries.

The year 2020 ended badly for many economies, including that of Malawi, following the ongoing outbreak of the corona virus (COVID-19). With restricted movements and hampered cross-border trade opportunities, many sectors including transportation, tourism, and manufacturing were heavily affected. Many of the sectors had to lay off staff, resulting in greater levels of economic insecurity, predominately in urban and peri-urban/boma areas. During the last few months of 2020, Malawi had not registered any admissions for people with COVID-19, and there was hope for economic recovery with the onset of the new year. That said, the recent restrictions enacted by the Government will likely adversely affect the economy even more. The headline inflation for December remained in single digits at 8.6%; however, if the situation does not improve, Malawi’s inflation may move to double digits in 2021.


The Minimum Expenditure Basket (MEB) is based on the triangulation of information about the needs, preferences, and demand behaviour of households to establish essential food commodities and non-food products that are found in local markets. Data for the construction of both the rural and urban area MEBs was collected using a WFP in-house call centre, reaching over 100 traders in some 70 rural and urban local markets. Contacted traders were asked to provide the market prices of available food and non-food items during the period of the 28th of December 2020 to the 1st January 2021 (Round 19) and the 11th to 15th of January 2021 (Round 20).

The Survival Minimum Expenditure Basket (SMEB) is the bare minimum amount a household requires to maintain existence and cover lifesaving needs.