Minimum Expenditure Basket (MEB) in Malawi: A look at Food Prices and Availability in times of COVID-19, Round 2: 4th-8th May 2020


Background and Context

Almost two months have passed since Malawi declared a State of Disaster due to the global health pandemic, COVID-19, and immediately began to implement mitigation measures to combat its spread. The measures have already impacted and continue to adversely affect the population in different ways and across many sectors of the economy.

A look at the local markets shows that there have been disruptions in the demand and supply of key food and nonfood commodities due to restrictions on movements, partial shutdown of markets, and limited business opportunities. To better understand the adverse effects of these mitigating measures on Malawi’s economy, WFP continues to collect information on the prices and availability of key commodities.

Minimum Expenditure Basket Objectives

The Minimum Expenditure Basket (MEB) module consists of what a typical household requires in order to meet its basic needs.

The objective of this indicator is to collect price and availability information for food and non-food commodities to better understand the movements and magnitude of the minimum expenditure of a typical household. This information is vital, as it could be used to support Government and partners’ decision-making processes vis-à-vis the values of basic food and non-food commodities.


The design is based on the triangulation of information about needs, preferences, and demand behaviour of households to establish the 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 simultaneously using an inhouse call centre from over 150 traders in 71 rural and urban local markets who were asked to provide the market price of available food and non-food items during the period of May 4th-8th, 2020.

Constructing the Survival MEB (SMEB)

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

There are several ways in which to construct an MEB. For this analysis, WFP has elected to construct a Survival Minimum Expenditure Basket (SMEB), which is defined as the bare minimum amount a household requires to maintain existence and cover lifesaving needs. This is done in-line with a rights-based approach based on previously assessed needs.

To do this, WFP began by reviewing existing expenditure data that was collected in late 2019 and 2020 as part of its regular monitoring to better understand the typical expenditure (starting with food), then bringing elements of the household’s needs/rights, thus looking at essential non-food items.

The food commodities selected to calculate the SMEB are those that make a typical rural and urban survival diet and include cereals, roots and tubers (cassava and sweet potatoes), pulses, oil, vegetables, fish, eggs, sugar, and salt. Using the Nutval, a spreadsheet application for planning and monitoring the nutrition content of food found on the local market, WFP determined a ration that meets the basic energy requirement of 2,100 kilocalories kilocalories per person per day. Of the total energy, 12%