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Country Briefs


Reference Date: 12-September-2023


  1. Cereal production falls to below‑average level in 2023

  2. Maize prices at near‑record levels

  3. Food insecurity projected to worsen significantly in 2024

Cereal production falls to below‑average level in 2023

With all 2023 cereal crops harvested by August, total production is pegged at about 3.8 million tonnes, 3 percent down from the previous five‑year average. Out of this quantity, maize production accounts for the largest proportion and is estimated at a below‑average level of 3.5 million tonnes in 2023. The low maize outturn primarily reflects a downturn in yields, and secondarily localized crop losses and damage in southern districts due to flooding caused by the passing of Cyclone Freddy in March.

Weather conditions were generally favourable in the main cereal‑producing Central and Northern regions, but access to fertilizers and other agricultural inputs was constrained by their high prices, limiting crop productivity. In the Southern Region, according to official estimates, Cyclone Freddy damaged about 28 000 hectares of maize (about 5 percent of the planted area with maize in the Southern Region covering 13 districts), whilst cash crops, such as sugarcane and tea, were also affected. Moreover, the cyclone caused damage to irrigation infrastructure, particularly in Chikwawa and Phalombe, and this could have a negative impact on 2024 production.

In addition, the prevailing El Niño event is expected to bring drier‑than‑normal weather conditions between October 2023 and June 2024, posing a downside risk to 2024 cereal production. Preparations to mitigate the potential impact should be implemented in the forthcoming months.

Maize prices at near‑record levels

The nominal average price of maize grain rose to a record high in March 2023 (MWK 697/kg), following some of the steepest price increases seen in the last ten years. In the subsequent months, prices declined seasonally as the newly harvested 2023 crops alleviated supply pressure, but prices began to rise in June and July, and by August were more than double the level of the previous year. Currency weakness has been a key contributor to the high food prices in general (annual food inflation was estimated at 39 percent in July), as import prices of essential commodities used in the production and distribution of food products, in particular fuel, have risen rapidly in 2023. The low maize output and tighter national supplies are also a factor underpinning the high prices.

At the subnational level, comparable to previous years, maize prices were highest in the structurally maize deficit southern districts, where the damage caused to the agriculture sector and transportation infrastructure by Cyclone Freddy has exerted additional upward pressure on prices.

Food insecurity projected to worsen significantly in 2024

Food insecurity between October 2023 and March 2024 during the height of the lean period, is foreseen to worsen compared to the same period in 2022/23. The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) assessment projects that 4.4 million people will face acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 [Crisis] or above levels) in this period, affecting 600 000 people more than the figure in the preceding year. In absolute terms, this number is the highest in the last five years and the expected sharp deterioration in food insecurity reflects the impact of the low 2023 cereal production, particularly in southern areas due to cyclone damage and sluggish economic growth combined with high prices of staple foods that are constraining people’s economic access.

However, there are additional downside risks to food insecurity that could amplify current projections. The El Niño event is foreseen to result in lower‑than‑average rainfall amounts during the forthcoming rainy season, with likely adverse impacts on agricultural production in 2024. In addition, the uncertain prospects for national economic growth and the foreseen sustained inflationary pressure for the remainder of 2023 continue to be a significant concern.

Disclaimer: The designations employed and the presentation of material in this information product do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of FAO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

This brief was prepared using the following data/tools:
FAO/GIEWS Country Cereal Balance Sheet (CCBS)

FAO/GIEWS Food Price Monitoring and Analysis (FPMA) Tool .

FAO/GIEWS Earth Observation for Crop Monitoring .

Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) .