Saturday, April 18, 2015



It is well known that maize is the strategic grain crop in Malawi and grown in all the parts of the country. It accounts for more than 60 percent of the total national food production and over half (54 percent) of the caloricintake of households (FAO, 2009).

Maize is also known for its versatility as it suits wide range of agro-ecological zones. Nevertheless, it is a sensitive crop to moisture stress especially around the period oftasseling and cob formation. Furthermore, it needs optimum moisture conditions at the time of planting.

Therefore, maize is tricky crop to produce in the face of prevailing climate change conditions.Although there have been various initiatives to help households diversify their food production to other crops such as cassava, millet and potato as a means to hedge against food insecurity, little has been achieved and most Malawians still allocate the largest share of their land to maize production.

To make matters worse, most farmers are still cultivating unimproved varieties that are less productive and resilient to climate change. The recent floods that have hit half of the countries’ districts, have been a wakeup call to farminghouseholds and indeed all the stakeholders in the country to rethink the heavy reliance on maize for staplefood needs.

In its February Food Security Outlook, FEWSNET estimated that one million households have been affected by the floods and approximately 105000 Metric Tons of cropped maize has been washed away across the country due to the floods. Further, the maize prices in the hit areas were reported to have increased to as much as K130 – K140/kg in January and February especially in the southern part of Malawi.

Corroborating these findings, Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) indicated that anestimated 615,837 people will need assistance in flood affected areas for 2 to 5 months from March 2015onwards, requiring an equivalent of 23,750tons of maize. With 2014/ 2015 national crop estimates recentlyreleased by Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET) indicating that maize production will drop by at least 30 percent this year, tougher times lie ahead for Malawians.

As the urban population mostly relies on the rural maize production for its daily consumption, the impacts of these floods will be equally felt in urban areas. The CfSC Urban Basic Needs Basket survey which is conducted on monthly basis in Karonga, Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Blantyre, Zomba and Mangochi indicated that the average maize prices in these towns increased from K91/Kg in December, 2014 to K96/Kg in January, 2015, representing a 5.5 percent increase.

The price changes between January and February were marginal and insignificant. However, the recent findings in the month of March for the four major cities of Lilongwe, Zomba, Blantyre and Mzuzu show that the average prices have soared to K126/Kg from K99/kg in January, 2015 signifying an increase of 27 percent.

This is in sharp contrast to last year during the same period for the four cities when prices declined by 22.5 percent. In particular, maize is most expensive in Mzuzu City as it has skyrocketed to an average of K152/kg in March from K108/kg in January.

Considering that we are approaching the harvest season very soon and prices are rising by this high margin instead of declining as normally expected, this is unusual and indeed heralds serious hunger for Malawians in few months to come.To safeguard the livelihoods of Malawians from economic wide effects of the floods and erratic rains, CfSCbelieves that there is need for collaborative efforts by all stakeholders to institute and implement pragmaticshort, medium and long term strategies that will ameliorate peoples’ suffering and ensure food security at allthe times.

Efforts to provide farmers in the flood affected areas with early maturing maize seeds, cassava cuttings and sweet potato vines already undertaken by various stakeholders should be stepped up so that farmers can make use of residual moisture and also engage in winter cropping.

However, there is need that government take up a leading role in this task and ensure that necessary extension advisory services are available since in most areas government extension workers are virtually none existent.Furthermore, the government should also consider introducing Income Generating Activates (IGAs) in the flood affected areas so that the people are empowered to recover their livelihoods and be weaned off from the handouts which they are relying on currently.

Another short term measure that ought to be seriously considered by government is to contract the Illovo Sugar Group to produce maize that can cover part of the deficit instead of using much of the already scarce forex for maize importation. Serious investment in food crop diversification and irrigation farming should also be highly encouraged such that the Green Belt Initiative be prioritized by government as it is one of the key strategies that promise to solve Malawi’s perennial food insecurity issues.

Currently it is just a slogan used by the politicians but nothing concrete has taken shape on the ground.The launch of National Disaster Risk Management Policy and Disaster Risk Management and Communication Strategy is a step in the right direction; nonetheless, government should ensure that the policy is implemented to its entirety.Currently, most private traders are still withholding their maize stocks waiting for maize to be exhausted from the market so as to sell theirs at exorbitant prices.

Therefore, the government should not release its stocks in large quantities to the market now but rather wait for private traders to exhaust their supplies and release it when the maize will become scarcer and farming households should be encouraged to keep their maize harvest and not sell it to the vendors immediately after harvesting.

Additionally, the government should consider setting up maize price floors and ceilings this year so that the poor and vulnerable households will be protected from prices shocks due to the impending food shortage.

Finally, ADMARC which has well-established market structures across all the parts of the country including the most remote rural areas deemed inaccessible by private traders, should be strengthened to ensure that it has enough capacity to distribute food to all the parts of the country during the period of maize scarcity.

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