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Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) Country Brief – Malawi


  • Cereal production in 2020 estimated at bumper level, helping to bolster households’ food supplies and keeping national import requirements at below‑average level in 2020/21
  • Prices of maize decreased seasonally from March 2020, but remained higher on yearly basis as of June
  • Estimated 1.9 million people in need of food assistance in first quarter of 2020; food insecurity conditions likely to worsen due to effects of COVID‑19

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Cereal production in 2020 estimated at bumper level

Harvesting of the 2020 maize crop, which accounts for the bulk of the country’s cereal output, concluded in June and production is officially estimated at 3.7 million tonnes, about 25 percent higher than the five‑year average. The large output is the result of an above‑average planted area and high yields, underpinned by favourable weather conditions. Reports from the country indicate an increased use of fertilizers and hybrid seeds, supported by Government‑funded subsidy programmes, which have supported the increase in crop productivity. Production of other cereal crops, including paddy and sorghum, are also estimated to have increased in 2020. Overall, the total cereal output is estimated at a well above‑average level of 4 million tonnes.

Looking further ahead to the 2020/21 cropping season, the Government announced an increase in the number of households that will benefit from the input subsidy programme, up from 0.9 million in the 2019/20 season to 3.5 million.

Cereal import requirements below average in 2020/21

The aggregate cereal import requirement in the 2020/21 marketing year (April/March) is estimated at about 185 000 tonnes, virtually unchanged from the previous year’s low level and 40 percent below the previous five‑year average. The reduced volume reflects two years of above‑average maize harvests in 2019 and 2020, which have enabled the country to bolster stocks.

Prices of maize fell steeply from March 2020

Retail prices of maize declined significantly between March and April from their all‑time highs in February, mainly reflecting the boost to market supplies from the then ongoing harvest. In May 2020, prices of maize levelled off and, as of June 2020, they were slightly above their year‑earlier values.

In early April, the Government announced an increase in the minimum farmgate price for maize grain. The revised price was set at MWK 200 per kg compared to MWK 180 per kg in the previous year.

Prevalence of food insecurity expected to increase due to effects of COVID‑19

According to the last official estimates from SADC, an estimated 2.7 million people are assessed to be food insecure in 2020, of which 1.9 million live in rural areas and the remaining 800 000 people live in urban areas. This level is similar to the previous year. The high prevalence of food insecurity is mainly associated with the direct and indirect effects of the COVID‑19 pandemic, which are expected to curtail access to food, through both income losses associated with the economic slowdown and disruptions to the food supply chains.

While a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of the COVID‑19 pandemic on food security is still unavailable, the Ministry of Agriculture, partnering with FAO, collected data from farming households in April and May 2020 in 18 districts across the country and indicated that about 35 percent of the respondents have resorted to negative coping strategies in an attempt to try and maintain a stable food consumption during the COVID‑19 emergency. In addition, according to the results obtained from the Food Insecurity Experience Scale survey, 66 percent of the farmer households were estimated to be moderately or severely food insecure, of which 20 percent attributed their limited access to food to the effects of the COVID‑19 pandemic. A higher prevalence of the food insecurity experience and resorting to negative coping strategies was reported in southern districts, mirroring the results from the earlier IPC analysis.

As a measure to prevent a deterioration in food security conditions, the Government disbursed a one‑off grant of MWK 28 000 (USD 40) to nearly 300 000 rural households, aiming to bolster their ability to access food during the March to June period. For the July to October 2020 period, the amount disbursed to each rural household will be doubled. Regarding the urban population, the Government also announced a cash transfer programme targeting 185 000 households in the second half of 2020, which will deliver a monthly MWK 35 000 (USD 50) for four months.

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