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Another challenging year for Malawians in terms of food supplies

NewsDay (Zimbabwean newspaper) contains an interesting article today which includes snippets about the progression of Malawi’s agricultural production.

It covers the 1960’s, when the country had been experiencing food shortages, and moves through to the late 2000’s where production of key commodities such as maize had increased. Despite this growth, limited progress was made in reducing poverty in this time.

The near-term estimates for major agricultural commodities such as maize, suggest that 2019 will most likely not bring any change to Malawi’s food system. The country’s maize supplies will remain tight, which could lead, somewhat, to an increase in maize prices, and could in turn add pressure to consumers.

The International Grains Council (IGC) forecasts Malawi’s 2018/19 maize production at 3.0 million tonnes, down by 14% from the previous season due to prospects of unfavourable weather conditions. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) paints a slightly gloomier picture, putting Malawi’s 2018/19 maize harvest at 2.8 million tonnes – see Figure 1 below.

One might say using the word ‘gloomier’ is a bit excessive, but let me explain briefly. Data from the USDA suggests that Malawi’s ending stocks are quite tight—roughly 50 000 tonnes—compared to levels of over 300 000 tonnes in the period between 2006 and 2015.

Given that the country’s annual maize consumption is at about 3.0 million tonnes, if IGC’s production estimate materialises, the country might not need imports to supplement consumption, but stocks will be tight nonetheless. But, if the USDA’s estimate materialises instead, Malawi might need to import roughly 200 000 tonnes this season. This will be a challenge as key regional maize exporters such as South Africa and Zambia are facing a possible decline in production.

Anyway, it is still early in the year to be certain about the crop outlook, and there will surely be more information to come which will help in shaping my view in the coming months. But for now, the outlook for Malawi’s maize production is relatively dismal.

Follow me on Twitter (@WandileSihlobo). E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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