- As the rainy season has come to an end for the most part of Malawi, prospects are good for decent harvests and an end to years of food crises. The World Food Programme (WFP) is already planning to halt its free food distribution in Malawi at the end of the month.
The rainfall season has virtually come to an end except for a few showers on isolated spots in northern Malawi. This year's rainy season has been plentiful and extended beyond the normal period into early April, allowing late planted crops to fully mature.
All reports from Malawi agree that agricultural production is more favourable this season than last and crop harvesting now gathers momentum in the southern and central regions. Most field crops have matured and are ready for harvesting.
Early indications from the preliminary crop estimate figures are that this year is better than last year, and, at least at a national level, the country may not experience the same level of production-related food security problems as it did in the past two years, reports the US agency Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS).
Food security outlooks also are positive due to the promising harvests and government measures to keep high stocks. Government maize stocks held by the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) remained high at about 258,000 metric tons as of 1 May.
These stocks are so high because, as a backlash to last year's shortages, the Malawian government had imported large amounts of maize. Figures from the food reserve agency however show that subsidised maize sales are dropping, indicating that households now are improving their food situation. Further, there was a ready availability of maize on the local markets.
Local market prices thus have begun to drop as the harvest increases, and market demand eases, FEWS reports. A majority of the markets reported prices below the fixed price of 17 kwacha per kg from subsidised government maize. In some northern markets, maize prices had even dropped below 9 kwacha per kg.
The free food distribution, which has been occurring since July 2002, is therefore expected to come to an end this month as planned. While the WFP is stopping its emergency operations, the government and other stakeholders are however considering ways of assisting the most food insecure groups in recognition that - although the general situation has improved - there are still households at risk of food insecurity.
Also the overall situation for livestock in Malawi seemed positive. "Pasture and drinking water for animals are still readily available due to the favourable weather conditions," FEWS reports.
An out break of foot and mouth disease in the lower Shire Valley however has forced the government to impose a ban on cattle and meat movement from this area. The lower Shire Valley is the major supplier of meat in the southern region and "the ban will be felt by a lot of people in the area, especially in the urban areas of Blantyre," FEWS says.
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