Lilongwe – The Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) estimates that ten out of the country’s 28 districts will be at risk of food shortage due to dry spells that occurred at critical phases of crop development and maturity during the 2010/2011 crop growing season. The committee says “late planted crops and local varieties were severely affected thereby reducing yields and consequently production.” It notes that the dry spells caused premature drying up of most crops especially maize, the country’s staple diet, and tobacco, Malawi’s major foreign exchange earner, as well as the flowering in cotton and pegging in groundnuts, some of the country’s cash crops. A report released by the committee observes that dry tolerant crops like cassava and sweet potatoes could not be planted during February and March due to moisture stress.
Droughts and mistimed rainfall have had large impacts on the southern African nation’s farmers, in loss of crop production and livestock. These events have spill over effects on non farm households as they harm consumers through increased prices of food commodities since many rural households are producers and purchasers of maize and other staple foods. They sell post harvest – due to factors such as liquidity and storage constraints- when prices are low but later buy during pre-harvest months which are more susceptible to price increases. MVAC conducted its annual vulnerability assessment and analysis in May 2011 and found that despite high production of maize at national level, there are localized food deficit areas, mostly in the southern parts of Malawi. The districts are Nsanje, Chikhwawa, Balaka, Blantyre, Chiradzulu, Mwanza, Neno ,Phalombe, Zomba, and Ntcheu. The committee warns that “the affected population will require support at different periods of the consumption year ranging from December 2011 to February 2012.” However, the national production levels as released by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MoAFS) projects a total production of 3,895,181 metric tonnes of maize for 2010/11 growing season. “This year’s maize production estimate is higher and above the national food requirement estimated at 2,687,242 metric tonnes resulting in a maize production surplus of 1,200,461 metric tonnes,” says the report.
The MVAC assessments looked at factors contributing to reduction in people’s crop production, income generating activities, trade and markets, and economic indicators such as food prices to determine individual household access to food and non-food needs during the current consumption year. Meanwhile the committee recommends cash transfers or public works in the affected areas to improve food access of the vulnerable groups through markets. “Malawi VAC also recommends ADMARC and private traders to stock enough maize in the affected areas to stabilize supplies and cushion against abnormal price fluctuations,” says the committee which comprises of Malawi government, FAO, WFP, Oxfam, World Vision, Unicef, UNDP and Fewsnet. “In the medium term, the Malawi VAC recommends the government and other development partners to continue promoting disaster risk reduction measures such as encouraging farmers to plant drought tolerant crop varieties, promote crop diversification, promote water harvesting strategies, promote re-forestation and encourage rural farmers to practice conservation agriculture,” it says adding “As a long term measure, the Malawi VAC recommends a need to start re-thinking on how to approach vulnerability issues in the affected areas because the problems are recurrent and beyond the traditional interventions which have been used to address the situations year in year out.”
Reports indicate that the current food situation in Malawi has been compounded the smuggling of maize to starvation hit east Africa. Other reasons that aggravate the hunger situation include the selling of governments farm input subsidies to improve on the farming families’ income with the intention to but other pressing household basic necessities.