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Malawi: Malawi Agriculture Profile 2012






Malawi Agriculture Profile 2012

Reference Date: 25-May-2011



  1. Record maize crop harvested in 2011

  2. Prices of maize remain at low levels in most markets, reflecting abundant domestic supplies and good crop prospects

  3. Generally favourable food security conditions, but areas affected by floods and the dry spell remain a concern

Record maize crop estimated for the 2010/11 cropping season

Harvesting of the country’s main food crop, maize, commenced in April. The recently released second round crop assessment, conducted by the government in March, estimates a record maize crop for the 2010/11 cropping season at about 3.85 million tonnes, 13 percent larger than the previous season. Generally favourable rainfall over most of the country and assistance to farmers through the Government’s Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) that benefited an estimated 1.6 million smallholder maize farmers, supported the production gains. However, some southern districts were affected by a dry spell in February, particularly the late planted crops in areas along the Shire River between Mangochi to Nsanje. These areas also experienced production short-falls during the last agricultural campaign.


The Government announced the farm gate price for this season’s crops, with prices for maize set at MWK 25 per kg, compared to MWK 35 for the previous year. Given the good production estimates for the 2011 harvest, the country is anticipated to retain a significant surplus in the current 2011/12 marketing year (April/March).


With regard to cash crops, an increase in the price of cotton induced farmers to expand plantings and this is expected to lead to a higher output in 2011. Estimates point to about 52 000 tonnes, compared with just under 30 000 tonnes in 2010.

Low and stable maize prices across the country

As a result of the bumper maize crop, which has enabled the country to maintain significant stocks, low and comparatively stable prices have been sustained throughout the 2010/11 marketing year. In April 2011, the monthly average national price fell to MWK 29 per kg, its lowest level in the past three years, following modest seasonable increases in the previous three months. However, maize prices varied markedly across the country, with the lowest price observed in Mkanda in the south at MWK 11 per kg. By contrast maize grain was traded at a higher MWK 44 per kg in the northern city of Chitipa which may be attributed to the increasing prices in southern Tanzania during the beginning of the year. ADMARC (Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation), the Government’s marketing agency, reduced its selling price for maize to MWK 40 per kg in February, down from MWK 60 earlier in the season, which is still above the prevailing national price average. This adjustment is expected to contribute in maintaining low maize prices.

Localised flooding and dry-spell result in some crop losses

Conditions remain generally favourable in most areas of the country, due to a combination of lower staple food prices and generally good supplies. The maize harvest will further augment market and household supplies, improving food security conditions. However, recent heavy rains and flooding in the northern district of Karaonga has affected just over 5 600 households and caused localized crop damage, particularly to the cassava crop. Food and shelter have been provided to the affected households in efforts to alleviate the situation. In addition, production losses due to insufficient rains in some southern districts could negatively impact on households’ ability to replenish food stocks. The completion of the 2011 Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) report in the next month will provide further details on the level of food insecurity in the affected areas.

08/12/2010  Better than expected maize harvest for the 2009/10 season
The latest official crop production estimates indicate a maize harvest of 3.4 million tonnes, lower than the record output last year, but still well above average. Despite the mid-season dry spell, which severely affected the low producing areas in the Shire Valley, rainfall levels in Central and Northern regions supported a better than expected maize crop. Millet, sorghum, rice and wheat production also fell relative to the previous season. The drop in sorghum and millet production is attributed to low rainfall levels received in main southern producing regions. Overall, the 2009/10 cereal harvest reached 3.6 million tonnes, slightly below the record level achieved in the previous season. Nationally, maize availability, including carry-over stocks, will still be more than sufficient to cover domestic cereal requirements.

In addition to the lower cereal output, there were smaller harvests for both cotton and tobacco crops. The lower cotton prices offered to farmers last season, at about MWK 35 per kg down from MWK 60 in the previous season, and poor rainfall levels, are the main factors for the lower production levels, estimated at 29 165 tonnes. This represents a 60 percent decline compared the 2008/09 season.

Maize prices fall to their lowest levels compared to the previous two seasons
Conforming to seasonal trends and reflecting ample market supplies, maize prices began to fall from March across most of the country and since May/June price levels have been lower than the previous two seasons. In Lilongwe, prices in August at MWK 32.05 per kg were 24 percent lower compared to one year earlier. Similarly, in the southern market of Nsanje – a maize deficit area – prices are at a low level, MWK 37.43 per kg, having remained stable for the preceding four months. The selling price set by the Government marketing agency ADMARC, at MWK 60 per kg, is currently higher than the prevailing market prices.

The Government has temporarily lifted the maize export ban, allowing 300 000 tonnes to be traded. Furthermore, informal maize trade is continuing in southern Malawi, with maize being imported from the surplus producing regions in northern Mozambique. However, the price disparity between Malawi and Mozambique diminished this season compared to the previous year, and has consequently contributed to lowering the quantity of maize traded. Maize grain inflows recorded at the Milanje/Muloza border point dropped by 54 percent in June 2010 compared to the same month last year.

Large number of people in the Southern region affected by mid-season dry spell
Despite there being adequate supplies of maize at the national level, the latest report by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) issued in June estimates that 1.06 million persons, who were adversely affected by the mid-season dry spell, will require food assistance. All 13 districts in the Southern region were affected, as well as one district from the Northern and one from the Central region. In the Southern region, Chikwawa and Nsanje districts were particularly affected by the water deficits, with estimates indicating a drop in crop production between 80 to 100 percent in localised areas. Furthermore, the downturn in cotton production and lower market prices has negatively impacted households’ income and consequently their purchasing power.


Malawi’s agricultural production is derived from two sub sectors; the estate sector, which operates on freehold and leasehold land, and the smallholder sector, which operates under the customary land tenure system. An estimated 85 percent of the Malawian population practice subsistence farming as agricultural small holder farmers and rely on agricultural output either directly or indirectly for their livelihood.
Agricultural output generates over 90 % of export earnings, and 33 % of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), most of which is produced by smallholder farmers. The Government has placed high priority on the development of smallholder agricultural sector. In view of the importance of agriculture to the economy, increased agricultural production for both domestic consumption and export is the primary goal of the National Rural Development Programme (NRDP).
Area under crop cultivation
The total area under cultivation or under crop in the small holder agricultural sector in the 2006/07
season was 2.2 million hectares.
Land situation
More than three quarters of land used by agricultural smallholders was customary land. The majority of land was inherited, and was operated by male operators. Land area had mostly remained unchanged during the past ten years. Less than ten percent of the households had rented out land in the past agricultural season, and sales of land were very rare. Results show that 15 percent of households had a dispute over land and one out of five households feared that their land would either be encroached upon or taken away from them.
Land Size
There were a total of 2.5 million holdings in the small holder sector and 7.7 million parcels of which 2.8 million were for dwelling units only. In addition, there were 7.7 million plots. The average holding size was 1ha, average parcel size of 0.4ha and plot size of 0.3ha. Furthermore, three out of four holdings had an area of less than 1 ha. Consequently, parcels and plots are also small. About two thirds of the parcels and more than 80 percent of the plots had an area of less than 0.5 ha. Female headed households and female operators had less land than male headed households and male operators. Most parcels and plots were located within the village and also close to the dwelling area. Very little land improvement took place, whether it was building of terraces, construction of canals or digging of wells or dams.
Land conflicts
Almost half the villages (47 percent) had conflicts over land. Southern region had more land conflicts (49 percent) than villages in the other regions.
Provision of inputs ,ownership of equipment and farm structures
About half of the smallholder agricultural households had benefited from the fertilizer subsidy program.

Farming practices
Agricultural extension service reached out to a little less than one out of five households in Malawi in 2006/07 agricultural season. Almost all parcels had been used for cultivation at one point or another and one out of five parcels had been cultivated for 20 years or more. Crop rotation was only practiced on about one out of five parcels. Irrigation for both parcels and plots was very rare. In instances where irrigation took place, the most common method used was watering cans or flooding. Almost all farm activities, whether it be ridging, planting, weeding or harvesting were carried out manually, with or without the use of a hoe. Mechanized farming methods were almost non existent and pesticides were applied on a very small proportion of plots during the 2006/07 agricultural season. Almost all plots were weeded, and more than half of the plots were weeded twice. Inorganic fertilizer was applied twice to about one third of the maize plots.
The most common storage facilities for maize were granary and bags. Granary was commonly used for local maize while bags were widely used for hybrid maize. Post harvest treatment was common for hybrid than local maize but in more than half the cases, the hybrid maize was not treated. The most common method for treating maize was using actelic super. However, farmers still used traditional treatments such as ash, dust, sun or heat baked.
Food supply and sources
In January 2007 around 55 percent of households relied upon own produce for food in the last 7 days prior to the survey, while 66 percent relied on food purchased from the market. In June of the same year, 89 percent relied on own produce and 66 percent on the market. In September 2007, own produce and purchased food from the market were the most important food sources; 77 percent and 76 percent respectively.
Meals taken daily
In January 2007, about one out of three households took three or more main meals daily, during the last 7 days prior to the survey. About 62 percent of the households took two main meals while five percent took only one meal. In June, almost half the households took three or more main meals daily (47 percent).
Only two per cent took one main meal daily. In September, slightly more than 40 percent took three or more main meals, while the majority of the households (55 percent) took two main meals daily. In
general, poor households and female headed households were worse off.
Agricultural production
The yield and area for each crop presented in this report is based on pure stand crop, but for production, total production is considered; both pure and mixed stand. Farmers’ post harvest estimate was used to measure production, except for cassava where farmers’ pre harvest estimate was used. Production of maize in the 2006/07 agricultural season was about 2.1 million tons, the overall yield was 1726 kg/ha, and the total area planted with pure stand maize was about 1.1 million hectares. Among maize varieties, local maize occupied the largest area (560 000 ha) and provided the biggest production (870 000 tons). Hybrid maize occupied 400 000 ha with a production of about 760 000 tons. Hybrid maize had the highest yield, 1,907 kg/ha as compared to local maize, 1,372 kg/ha.
For all maize varieties, plots operated by male operators gave a higher yield than those operated by
female operators. The yield for fertilized maize plots was consistently higher than the yield for unfertilized plots, and also consistently higher was yield for plots where fertilizer was applied twice. For example, the yield for hybrid maize plots fertilized once was 1,740 kg/ha and 2,342 kg/ha for those fertilized twice. Very few maize plots were not weeded. Maize plots weeded twice had a higher yield than those weeded only once. For the other staple crops, production was as follows: Rice, 68 000 tons; sorghum13 000 tons and millet, 7 000 tons. Close to 250 000 tons of beans, pulses and ground nuts were produced. On root crops, cassava production was 407 000 tons (fresh weight), sweet potatoes, 247 000 tons and 12 000 tons for Irish potatoes were produced.
A very small proportion of the small scale agricultural farming households had received credit, about three percent. Except for insecticides acquired by about 10 percent of the households, the use ofchemicals was almost nonexistent. About half of the households had bought seeds for the 2006/07 agricultural season. This was almost exclusively maize seeds, and most often hybrid maize seeds. Almost every farming household in Malawi owns at least one hoe, otherwise, the most commonly owned equipment was an axe, panga knive, sickle, watering can and slasher. A small proportion of households owned ‘modern’ equipment like tractors and generators. Granary was the most commonly owned structure for agricultural use. More male headed households than female headed households had acquired inputs, owned equipment and farm structures.

Fruit trees
About three out of four small holder farming households had at least one fruit tree on their holding.
Mango trees were commonly found, and in total about 10.7 million mango trees were owned by small holder agriculture sector.
Impact of HIV/AIDS on agriculture.
In a majority of households, care for chronically ill persons took place both at home and in a clinic. In 80 percent of the households who gave care to sick persons at home only, or combined with care at a clinic, care was given by female household members. About one third of the households with chronically ill persons had to sell produce because of illness. A significant proportion of households got credit, or sold assets to care for the sick. Due to caring for the sick, one in five households had no time for land preparation and about one third had no time for weeding while one in five households did not harvest in time.
Deaths in households and communities
About 7 percent of the households had experienced at least one death within the household during the 2006/07 agricultural season, while more than three out of four households had experienced at least one death in their community..Of households which experienced one or more deaths in the community, more than three out of four households reported that farming activities had to be postponed due to deaths while one out of five households were not affected.
Orphan care
More than one out of every four farming households had orphans in the household. Female headed
households had more orphans (35 percent) than male headed households (24 percentResults further indicate that 36 percent of households reported that orphans provided farm labour and half of the households reported that orphans provided help with household chores. One third of the households mentioned that they had to look for food instead of farming. One in five households said they had to look for school fees instead of farming and 40 percent of the households said they had to spend time to care for orphans who were sick.
Almost 60 percent of households in Malawi owned or kept livestock or poultry. Furthermore 6 percent of owned at least one head of cattle, 24 percent owned at least one goat, two percent owned at least one sheep, 9 percent owned at least one pig, while almost half the households owned at least one chicken.
There were no differences in the ownership of sheep and goats across the regions. However, households in the northern region were more likely to own cattle, pigs and chickens as compared to households in the Central and Southern regions. At the time of the census, there were 884,130 heads of cattlein the small holder sector, 2,623,000 goats, 76,600 sheep, 792,300 pigs and 7,558,000 chickens. There were 14,000 donkeys, 167,500 rabbits , 34,000 Guinea pigs, 429,200 ducks, 281,500 guinea fowls, 610,500 pigeons and doves and 61,000 turkeys.
Village information
At village level, most villages had a foot path or track passing through the village, while only about one in three had a gravel road passing through and even much fewer (8 percent) had a tarmac road passing through. Results also show that 72 percent of villages were located at a short distance of less than 5 kilometers to local and mobile markets. In more than half the villages, produce was brought to the selling point on head. In about one out of three villages, a bicycle was used to ferry produce to the market point. The Census results further show that 82 percent of the villages had access to tap water, with better access in the Northern and Southern regions as compared to the Central region. About one out of three villages had some households moving away from the village during the past 12 months before the census. In villages where households had moved away, land scarcity was the most important reason, followed by looking for paid work. Results also show that 42 percent of the villages had received new households to the village during the past 12 months.