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Urgent humanitarian food assistance is needed to prevent the persistence of already ongoing acute food insecurity across southern Malawi

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According to ReliefWeb, crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are present in much of southern Malawi and are expected to persist through March 2024. Poor households in these areas are facing difficulty meeting their basic food needs following the widespread destruction of crops and a related sharp increase in staple food prices as a result of Tropical Cyclone Freddy. The early half of the projection period coincides with the peak of labour demand; however, agricultural labour opportunities are likely to be lower than normal due to forecasted below-average October to March rainfall. Many poor households will also enter the 2023–2024 season with limited agricultural inputs. Urgent humanitarian food assistance is needed to prevent the persistence of already ongoing acute food insecurity across southern Malawi.

Of deepest concern are some impoverished households in the southern districts of Chikwawa, Nsanje, Phalombe, Balaka, and parts of Mwanza, Neno, Zomba, and Blantyre, where Cyclone Freddy drove significant crop losses and labour opportunities are sparse due to reduced areas of cultivated land. Available information suggests that many are selling a high number of livestock to cope, which erodes their livelihoods and future coping capacities. Among these worst-affected populations, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected during the peak of the lean season around December to February.

Global, regional, and national rainfall models forecast the persistence of the already ongoing strong El Niño through early 2024. FEWS NET science partners at USGS, UCSB, and NOAA indicate the 2023/24 rainy season will be below-average in southern Malawi, while average to above-average rainfall is expected in central and northern Malawi. The El Niño event is also likely to cause a delayed onset of rains, reducing agricultural income-earning opportunities for poor households who rely on this source during the lean season to purchase food. Overall, the 2024 maize harvest is expected to be 20 to 30 below average due to the combined impacts of the previous cyclone, the forecasted below-average and delayed rains, and limited access to agricultural inputs.

Based on a field assessment conducted by FEWS NET in September, the national maize stock in both local and Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) markets has significantly decreased, with traders reporting access to less than half of their required stocks. Moreover, the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) held only around 56,000 MT in mid-October, relative to their target of 217,000 MT and the Department of Disaster Management Affairs’s estimated need of 164,000 MT for humanitarian assistance during the lean season. Equally concerning are maize prices, which have reached their highest point in the recent five-year record, at 120 percent higher than the same period last year and 250 percent higher than the five-year average across FEWS NET-monitored markets.

Farming households with access to irrigable land in Malawi typically harvest their crops between September and November, with irrigated production providing almost 20 percent of the annual national maize production. However, recent impacts of Tropical Cyclone Freddy, particularly in southern Malawi, suggest lower-than-normal irrigated production is highly likely. Community interviews conducted during a FEWS NET food security assessment indicated that total irrigated production was expected to decrease by over half in southern Malawi. This reduction in irrigated production will likely keep maize prices elevated because there won’t be a significant addition of irrigated stocks to boost supplies.

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