- Increasing numbers of households in southern Malawi are running out of their own stocks of food from the last year's poor harvest. Food prices are rising at the same time. While most of Malawi has avoided the regional drought, large tracts of the country's south however increasingly depend on food aid.
- The number of households in need of food assistance will continue to increase until the next harvest in March 2005, today states the US agency Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS). In its monthly Malawi food security report, the agency in particular warns that food prices are rising earlier than usual, regarding the agricultural year.
The situation was expected to become serious mainly in parts of Malawi's southern region, where crop production was mostly affected by adverse weather, and where people have little means of coping with the production failures. The FEWS report repeats that humanitarian assistance is required to address some of the food deficits.
As households in southern Malawi are running out of own stocks, more and more are turning to the market to meet their basic food needs. "At the same time, prices in local markets are starting to rise, decreasing the amount of food people are able to buy with their limited incomes," the FEWS report notes.
According to the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee assessment (MVAC) results, households in the worst affected areas will not be able to buy enough food to address the poor production this year, and will be "left with cereal deficits of up to 60 percent." Poor households in these areas were said not to have "the livelihood options or resilience to address shortfalls of this magnitude."
Food aid is already being delivered to parts of the country where needs were assessed. "Distributions will increase monthly from now through the end of the year, reflecting the increasing deficit faced by poor households," according to FEWS. The government of Malawi is currently buying maize on international markets, obtaining some support from the European Union (EU). Maize is also imported from Zambia by private traders.
While the Malawian government is taking steps to address the current food security problems, it is also reported to consider steps to increase crop production next year and beyond. One of the prominent factors blamed for a decline in crop production in recent years has been lack of access to inputs, especially fertilizer. This has come in wake of rising fertilizer prices, which have more than doubled in a period of about five years.
The government is said to be moving away from free handouts of fertilizer under the previous starter pack and targeted input programmes to subsidies. Malawi's government is expected to spend about Kwacha 2.5 billion (euro 19 million) for the programme, targeting about 2 million farming households.
Other government schemes to increase food security in Malawi have proven rather successful. In the past few years, authorities have been encouraging "winter crop production" through various means and this has resulted in a steady production increase. "Winter crops" are to be harvested in October-November, the Malawian summer, and may offer a possibility to ameliorate some of the existing food gaps.
However, according to the FEWS report, the winter wheat crop is "likely to be less productive than last year, given the unfavourable residual moisture following on from an erratic main rainy season." Malawi's National Statistics Office is currently predicting that this year's winter maize production will be around 225,500 tonnes, which is almost the same as last year's output. FEWS however expects it to be lower.
- Although the coming in of winter harvest around October to December would help improve the aggregate national food availability situation, the improvements for small holders in the southern region will be short lived, and a majority of the households will continue to rely on the markets for food, the US agency concludes.
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