A  woman carries food aid distributed by the United Nations World Food Progamme (WFP) in Mzumazi village near Malawi's capital Lilongwe, February 3, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo

A woman carries food aid distributed by the United Nations World Food Progamme (WFP) in Mzumazi village near Malawi’s capital Lilongwe, February 3, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo

LILONGWE (Mabvuto Banda, Reuters) –More than half of Malawi’s population is in need of food aid after an El Nino-induced drought decimated crops, the minister of agriculture said on Wednesday.

The drought has ravaged much of southern Africa, but Malawi has been the worst-hit country with more almost half of its population of about 15 million affected.

“The results of this rapid assessment showed that close to 8.4 million people will need food because they have partially or completely lost their crops through El Nino induced dry spells,” Godfrey Chaponda told Reuters.

He said that in collaboration with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the government had conducted a rapid assessment to determine the impact of El Nino on crop production.

“The results further show that the affected population will require about 790,000 metric tons of relief food for a period ranging from April 2016 to March 2017.”

Prices for maize, the nation’s staple crop, have in recent months gone up more than 60 percent above the 3-year average for this time of the year, making it increasingly difficult for many people to buy food.

The minister said that in total, the country is projecting 1.2 million tonnes of maize will be needed to avert the growing hunger situation this season.

The second round of crop estimates, which government undertook between mid-Feb and March this year, estimates that maize production for the current season will be 2.4 million tonnes or a 12.4 percent decline compared to last season.

Chaponda said that in two years, Malawi has registered a cumulative 42 percent decline in maize output.

“To offset the huge maize deficit facing the country this year, government has laid out a plan to import about one million tonnes of white maize to fill the food gap,” the minister said.