Reference Date: 10-February-2014
FOOD SECURITY SNAPSHOT
A near average cereal harvest expected in 2014
Prices of maize at record levels at the start of 2014
Approximately 1.9 million people are estimated to be food insecure, due to poor harvests and persistent high food prices
Overall satisfactory crop conditions in 2014
Harvesting of the 2014 cereal crops is expected to begin in April across most of the country. Despite a delayed start of seasonal rains in parts of the Southern Region, generally beneficial rains have been received across the country and crop conditions are reported to be satisfactory. Although planting estimates are not yet available for the 2014 crop, expectations of a near average national maize harvest are foreseen. However, an outbreak of armyworms in some southern districts may result in localised production losses. According to latest reports, approximately 2 500 hectares of crops were affected, which represents less than 1 percent of the area under cultivation at the national level. In response to the infestation, the government has carried out spraying of fields to prevent further spreading and limit crop damage. In addition, seeds and fertiliser were distributed to enable affected households to replant crops. Red locusts were also sighted in the southern area around Lake Chilwa and may cause damage to crops in the area.
As in previous years, the government continued to subsidise fertilisers, as well as other inputs, providing basal and top dressing at a fixed price of MWK 500 per 50 kg to approximately 1.5 million farmers. In addition to promoting traditional crops, such as maize, the government targeted increased investment in irrigation and legume production, with an aim to diversify the agricultural output and lessen the reliance of rain‑fed production. Some distribution delays were experienced and this could negatively impact yields if fertilisers were not applied in a timely manner.
Maize prices reach record highs
Maize prices continued to increase strongly at the start of 2013, notably in northern and central districts, where month‑on‑month gains of up to 50 percent were observed. Demand from southern deficit districts contributed to the strong price increases. However, in several markets, mainly in the Southern Region, prices declined moderately, benefiting from the sale of subsidized maize by the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC). ADMARC is releasing approximately 15 tonnes of maize per market each week, retailing at MWK 80 per kg, about 45 percent lower than the national average. The sale of subsidised maize is rationed to 10 kg per person. Informal imports from Zambia have helped to steady local supplies in some border districts, limiting further price gains in these markets.
Overall, prices remained well above their levels of the previous year and have reached record highs. The national average price, at MWK 147 per kg in January 2014, is nearly three times greater than in corresponding period in 2013. The depreciating national currency (kwacha), an increase in fuel prices at the end of 2013, which were subsequently revised upwards again in February 2014, coupled with localized production declines in 2013 contributed to the high price levels.
Food security conditions deteriorate
Updated results of the Vulnerability Assessment Committee’s (MVAC) 2013 evaluation in November, point to a deterioration in national food security conditions. Currently, approximately 1.9 million persons were assessed to be food insecure, up 27 percent from the figure released earlier in July. The largest numbers of food insecure persons are located in the districts of Mzimba (Northern Region) and Mangochi (Southern Region). The recently revised figures were based on a continuing increase in the price of food (as well as the generally high cost of living) and localised production shortfalls recorded in 2013. MVAC’s assessment assumes that the price of maize will not exceed MWK 200 per kg. Currently, prices have not reached that level, with the highest price recorded in Chiradzulu
district at MWK 181 per kg in January.
In addition, labour opportunities are reported to be reduced this year, following lower crop sales from the 2013 season which combined with the high maize prices resulted in a significant contraction in purchasing power. Approximately 54 percent of a household’s income is allocated to food purchases. Given the current high food prices and the large proportion of a households’ budget allocated to food purchases, close monitoring of the food security situation is warranted.