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Country Briefs


Reference Date: 06-November-2020


  1. Planting of 2021 cereals ongoing under generally favourable weather conditions

  2. Large cereal output attained in 2020

  3. Cereal imports below average in 2020/21 marketing year

  4. Lower year‑on‑year maize prices

  5. Prevalence of food insecurity increased due to effects of COVID‑19 pandemic

Planting of 2021 cereal crops ongoing under generally favourable weather conditions

Planting of the 2021 cereals crops is underway and is expected to be finalized by the end of December 2020, with the harvest set to take place from the second quarter of 2021.

Heavy rainfall was recorded at the start of the cropping season in October 2020 and although this caused some localized floods and delays to planting operations, the abundant precipitation boosted soil moisture levels and had an overall positive impact on early crop development. Weather forecasts for the November 2020‑January 2021 period point to a slightly higher‑than‑normal probability of reduced rainfall in central and southern districts, a factor that could limit crop productivity.

To ameliorate farmers’ access to agricultural inputs, particularly in the context of the pandemic‑induced economic downturn and consequently lower incomes, the Government is implementing the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP). This intervention aims to provide 4.28 million smallholder farmers with accesss to fertilizers at a fixed subsidized price of MWK 4 495 per 50 kg, while farmers would also pay a subsidized price of MWK 2 000 for a 5‑7 kg bag of seeds (either maize, rice or sorghum). In the previous cropping season, an estimated 0.9 million farmers were targeted with an input subsidy scheme.

Large cereal output attained in 2020

Cereal production in 2020 is estimated at 4.1 million tonnes, 26 percent higher than the five‑year average. Most of this output is comprised of maize, with the harvest estimated at 3.78 million tonnes. The bumper output is the result of an above‑average planted area and high yields, on account of favourable weather conditions.

Cereal import requirements below average in 2020/21

Reflecting two consecutive years of large cereal outputs, import requirements are estimated at a below‑average level of approximately 200 000 tonnes in the 2020/21 marketing year (April/March). Most of this quantity is rice and wheat, which are produced in relatively small quantities compared to local needs.

Although national cereal stocks are also estimated to increase in 2020/21, on account of the bumper harvest, purchases of maize by the Government to buffer domestic strategic reserves have so far fallen short of the targets. This could limit the ability of the Government to provide subsidized maize during the lean period, typically starting in January.

Lower year on year maize prices

Retail prices of maize grain, the primary food staple, have remained generally stable since the start of the harvest in April 2020, rising by only 9 percent in the months up to October, compared to 39 percent in the same period in 2019. On a yearly basis, retail prices were also lower, owing to the adequate supply situation. At the subnational level, prices were generally higher in southern districts compared to the markets in the centre and north, reflecting the lower levels of production in the south.

Prevalence of food insecurity increased due to effects of COVID‑19

Based on the latest IPC assessments conducted in mid‑2020, 2.6 million people are estimated to be food insecure and in need of humanitarian assistance until March 2021, prior to the main harvest period. Nearly 80 percent (2.03 million people) of this population is located in rural areas and mostly in southern districts. The national figure marks a deterioration compared to the previous year, when 1.8 million people in the rural areas were assessed to be food insecure.

Although cereal production increased in 2020, resulting in average to above‑average staple food supplies at the household level, the effects of the COVID‑19 pandemic have driven up the current rates of food insecurity, particularly among the urban households which likely experienced more extensive job and income losses. In the rural areas, notably in the southern districts of Nsanje, Neno and Balaka, localized weather shocks that caused shortfalls in cereal production in 2020 are also key factors that stressed food insecurity. In addition, the high prices of maize grain during the last year in the south worsened the access to food. According to recent data from the Emergency Agriculture and Food Security Surveillance System (EmA-FSS), a survey conducted jointly by the Government and FAO, households in the south are also more reliant on food purchases and this factor is expected to exacerbate the effects of high grain prices on households’ food security.

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