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GIEWS Country Brief: Malawi 08-January-2020

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Favourable rains supported sowing operations and early development of 2020 cereal crops

Cereal production in 2019 estimated at above‑average level

Import requirements in 2019/20 marketing year estimated below average

Maize grain prices rose further in second semester of 2019

Nearly 1.9 million people estimated in need of food assistance due to localized production shortfalls and high food prices

Beneficial seasonal rains supported plantings of 2020 cereal crops

Planting of 2020 cereal crops concluded in December 2019 and the harvest is expected to start in April. Since the start of the cropping season in October, conducive weather conditions have resulted in adequate soil moisture levels, which supported planting operations and early crop development. For the January‑March 2020 period, seasonal weather forecasts point to an increased probability of average to above‑average precipitation across the country, raising the likelihood of a second consecutive above‑average cereal output in 2020.

Above‑average cereal production in 2019

Harvesting of the 2019 maize crop, which accounts for the bulk of the country’s total cereal output, was completed last June and production is estimated at about 3.4 million tonnes, 10 percent above the five‑year average. Localized shortfalls in maize production were registered in parts of the Southern Region, where about one‑third of the national maize harvest is produced, due to flood‑related crop damage and losses.

Production of other cereal crops, mainly rice and sorghum, was also estimated at above‑average levels as favourable weather conditions boosted the area planted and yields. Overall, cereal production in 2019 is estimated at 3.7 million tonnes, 12 percent above the five‑year average.

Cereal import requirements in 2019/20 estimated below average

Aggregate cereal import requirements in the 2019/20 marketing year (April/March) are estimated at about 200 000 tonnes. This volume is almost 35 percent below the five‑year average, reflecting the larger maize and rice harvests that lowered the import needs for these two cereals. Import requirements of wheat, which is only produced in marginal quantities, are estimated at an average level of 150 000 tonnes in 2019/20.

Maize prices increased further in second semester of 2019

Retail prices of maize have generally increased since May 2018. Following a brief decline during the main 2019 harvest period between April and June, prices continued to rise from July. As of November 2019, despite the larger domestic supplies following the bumper 2019 harvest, the national average retail price of maize grain was MWK 254 per kg, almost double the year‑earlier values. The elevated level mostly reflects heightened import demand from neighbouring countries, where cereal harvests in 2019 declined steeply. Additionally, localized shortfalls in production in southern districts led to tight supplies and resulted in prices that were well above the national average in these areas.

Institutional purchases to bolster the national strategic reserves have exerted further pressure and an increase in the price of fuel in early November is also likely to support price gains in the coming months.

Nearly 1.9 million people in need of food assistance

According to latest IPC analysis released in January 2020, the number of food insecure people in the November 2019-March 2020 period is estimated at 1.9 million people, about 40 percent below the high level of the previous year. This reflects the positive impact of the larger 2019 harvest on food availability for own consumption. The highest prevalence of severe food insecurity (IPC Phase 3) is in the southern districts of Balaka and Nsanje, and in northern Karonga District, due to localized shortfalls in cereal production, high food prices and reduced labour opportunities.