Malawi continues to rely on maize for household food security. Policies to enhance food security continue to target maize production. Traditionally production and use of cassava was localized in lakeshore areas until the past two decades when maize production was increasingly affected by rainfall variability. Cassava as an alternate food crop has rapidly gained popularity and commercialization of the cassava sector is steadily taking off.
Policy and institutional support to diversify the food security basket and promote the diversified applications of cassava in non-food sector has propelled cassava production in nontraditional growing areas. Production has more than quadrupled over the last decade with production of sweet cassava rapidly expanding in nontraditional areas.
The main cassava production and marketing season occur concurrently between October and February. Farmers harvest cassava just before and during the rains in order to replant without losing seed. Farmers in the north tend to have a late peak season than in the southern and central regions where the rains start. The major market centers, where cassava converges from various supply zones, tend to experience extended cassava season than in the individual supply zones.
Increasingly more enterprises and companies are getting involved in the cassava value chain.
There are more than five active large farms producing cassava targeting industrial users. Four biscuit manufactures, over 10 large-scale bakeries and over 15 small-scale enterprises are substituting cassava flour for wheat flour in their businesses. The biscuit manufacturers substitute up to 10% wheat flour in the low budget biscuits. They increase the rate of substitution when high quality cassava flour is available. The packaging industry – the largest starch users – strives to substitute all the 450 tons of imported cornstarch with cassava starch.
Currently they only get less than 1% locally. It is estimated that over 8,000 tons of cassava flour and chips are absorbed in the food-processing sector with over 500 tons in the non-food sector. Over 80,000 tons of dried cassava chips are sold in the informal markets for food security.
In the informal sector, traders operating at wholesale and retail levels dominate the fresh cassava value chain. Over 4,500 traders operate in the major markets i.e., Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Blantyre, Zomba, and Kasungu and the assembly markets such as Mpamba, Namwera, and Bunda turn off. Between 25-40% of these are women who operate mainly during peak season selling boiled cassava strategically targeting schools, workplaces, and hospitals.
The highest cassava/maize substitution for food security occurs in drought years. In good maize years, double as much cassava flour is sold to make up for the deficiency in maize flour between December and February. During drought years, sales volumes for cassava flour for food security increases between 7-11times depending on the scarcity of maize. During such years, consumers use up to 50-100% cassava flour in making a traditional dish – nsima.
Cassava prices increase by 10 to 20% during lean maize period (December to February) when demand for cassava increases. In drought years, prices for cassava flour more than doubles depending on the scarcity of maize on the market.
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2 February 2011