Malawi expects another good harvest in 2011

By Emmanuel Muwamba – Good rains received in southern and central areas of Malawi for the 2010/11 agricultural season and the availability of Farm Input Subsidy Programme, which benefited an estimated 1.6 million smallholder maize farmers, has raised prospects of another good harvest in the country.

Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) provides farmers with access to inputs at a subsidized price.

Planting of the main maize crop for the 2010/11 season is complete in most areas of the country and in some areas the crop has already reached a knee high height and looking healthy.

Current meteorological reports indicate good crop growth throughout the country, with no major outbreak of pests or diseases, says GIEWS a global information and early warning system on food and agriculture in a statement released on Monday (January 3 2011).

The latest official crop production estimates for 2010 indicate a maize harvest of 3.4 million tonnes, lower than the record output in 2009, but still well above average; despite the mid-season dry-spell that severely affected the low producing areas in the Shire Valley. Millet, sorghum, rice and wheat production also fell relative to the previous season.

However, late rains in April and May, and an intensification of production under irrigation, led to a increase in the winter harvest of both maize and pulses; helping to boost food stocks of households who have access to irrigated land. Overall, the 2010 cereal harvest reached 3.6 million tonnes and domestic maize supplies, including carry-over stocks, will be more than sufficient to cover national consumption requirements in the 2010/11 marketing year (April/March), observes GIEWS.

“Imports of wheat and rice will continue to be required,” it adds.

On its assessment on tobacco and cotton, GIEWS says there were smaller harvests for some cash crops in the 2009/10 season; tobacco production is estimated to have fallen by 3 percent compared to the 2008/09 season.

The cotton output fell drastically – by about 60 percent below the previous season – mainly reflecting lower plantings as a result of a reduction in prices offered to farmers for the previous 2008/09 crop, as well as poor rainfall levels.

GIEWS says maize prices are lower than anticipated in Southern Malawi markets where dry spell was felt the hardest.

In the southern market of Nsanje – a maize deficit area– November prices remained low, although marginally higher than in October. The lower than anticipated prices in the south reflect the availability of maize supplies from surplus regions within the country as well as imports from Mozambique.

The selling price for maize established by the Government’s marketing agency, ADMARC, is currently considerably higher than the prevailing market prices and consequently ADMARC has a considerable stock of maize for which there is no demand domestically. To ease the situation, the Government has temporarily lifted the maize export ban, allowing 300 000 tonnes to be exported by private traders.

Furthermore, informal maize imports are continuing to flow in southern Malawi from the surplus producing regions in northern Mozambique. However, the cumulative quantity of imported maize into southern Malawi between April and October is approximately half the amount compared to the previous year for the same period; this is due to the good domestic supplies and smaller price disparities between the two countries.

The situation has improved food security situation in the southern part of Malawi. The latest report by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) issued in November 2010 estimates that 508 088 persons will require food assistance, down from 1.1 million estimated in June.

The reduction is a result of a combination of low maize prices, improved production of sweet potatoes and pulses, as well as a good harvest from the irrigated winter crops. The lower than expected prices this year has had a positive impact on poor households’ purchasing power and on the overall food security situation in southern food deficit areas.