Malawi's Food-Insecure Population Expected to Grow

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For the second year in a row, Malawi is facing a national maize deficit. In the 2016-2017 marketing year, the maize supply gap is expected to be 953,000 MT, according to a new Food Security Outlook from FEWS Net.

In response to this deficit, according to the report, the government of Malawi plans to import an estimated 400,000 MT of maize from Zambia, Asia, and South America. In addition to these formal imports, around 40,000-50,000 MT of maize is expected to enter Malawi this year through informal trade with Zambia and Tanzania; informal trade from Mozambique is expected to be lower this year than previously due to drought in the region. FEWS Net reports that both formal and informal maize imports will not be enough to satisfy Malawi’s domestic consumption needs.

Both food access and incomes have been negatively impacted by ongoing dry weather and reduced agricultural outputs. Among very poor, poor, and middle-income households, competition for both agricultural and non-agricultural labor opportunities has increased due to low crop sales. FEWS Net also reports that labor wages have often been below the average asking price, putting more pressure on vulnerable populations. Households have also engaged in desperate livestock sales, with lower terms of trade; in some cases, households earned only one-third the usual amount of grain for their livestock sales.

Food security outcomes in Malawi are expected to deteriorate through January as the lean season peaks and households engage in detrimental coping strategies. Food prices are at records high and FEWS Net expects them to remain well above average for the rest of the consumption year. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) food insecurity is being predicted throughout the south and central regions of the country; the situation is expected to improve starting in April and May as harvests begin and households can once again access their own production.

Agricultural production for the 2016-2017 season is expected to be normal due to average to above-average rainfall; however, a continuing lack of access to seeds and fertilizers may result in a continued reduction in yields and area planted. This lack of inputs is due in large part to the fact that many households have used much of their livelihoods to access food this season and thus did not keep money for future input purchases.  

In addition, FEWS Net also reports that this season’s coverage of Malawi’s Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP) will be too low to encourage adequate production in the upcoming season, leading to further concerns about future food availability. FISP plans to reduce the number of households participating in the program from 1.5 million to about 900,000.

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

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