- While most of Malawi has recovered from the food crisis hitting until last year, the country's southern provinces soon again could experience a food deficit. A national crop assessment indicates that maize production, which is still harvested, will drop by 13 percent this year, with particular shortfalls in many parts of southern Malawi.
Harvests are ongoing throughout Malawi, ending the 2003/04 agricultural season. Generally, the season has not been bad at all and acceptable harvests are secured almost all over the country. With the main rainfall season now over, dry conditions extended throughout most of Malawi, thus facilitating harvest activities.
According to the latest monthly Malawi report by the US agency Famine Early Warning System (FEWS), maize production nevertheless is expected to have dropped by 13 percent nationwide, compared to last year's good harvest. Results from the second round of the Malawian government's national crop assessment were indicating a drop in production for most of crops compared to last season.
Maize production is now estimated at 1,700,000 metric tonnes, 13 percent lower than last season's production. Maize, which is grown and consumed everywhere in Malawi, is the country's major staple food and an important source of income for most farmers. "Maize production is, therefore, a major determinant of food security in the country," the FEWS report warns.
Rains had come late this growing season. While Malawi's south and central parts normally start receiving rains in late October to early November, most parts of the country this season received planting rains around mid-December, with some areas, especially in the south, forced to wait until mid-January to plant. Further, a prolonged dry spell early occurred at the critical flowering and cobbing stages, lowering maize yields, particularly in the south.
Also rice, another crop that requires much water, was severely affected by the dry spells. In some areas, farmers failed to plant any of the crop at all. According to the government's latest forecast, rice production is expected to drop by 25 percent compared to the last season, reaching 66,000 tonnes this season.
These cereals production cuts are however somewhat outweighed by a 44 percent increase in cassava production, reaching 2,500,000 tonnes this season. Cassava, which is more drought resistant than maize and rice, had been planted as weather conditions looked bleak. The government registered an almost 40 percent increase in area planted with cassava this season.
As the numbers of this season's agricultural production become more accurate, FEWS warns of the foreseen long-term effects on household food security. For the moment, however, household food security has significantly improved with increased supplies from recently harvested crops.
- However, in most parts of the southern region the poor harvest will translate into potential food shortages, with harvested stocks running out as early as July/August instead of the normal November/December, FEWS warns. "It is already clear that these areas will require food aid, but just how much food and for how many people will be determined in the coming month," the agency adds.
A Vulnerability Assessment Committee composed of Malawian government officials and foreign specialists is now preparing its final analysis on the food security situation in Malawi. This will assist the Lilongwe government and potential donors in planning the food aid that will become necessary in southern Malawi later this year.
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