Blantyre, Malawi - Despite corn imports from neighbouring countries, Malawi's acute food shortage is expected to worsen in the coming months, according to a report.

The survey, set to be released on Monday by the charity World Vision International, reports that at least 78 percent of Malawi's rural population will be in desperate need of food by December. The rural population accounts for 90 percent of the 11 million people in this desperately poor southern African country.

The survey also showed that up to a quarter of all Malawian children under the age of five will be severely malnourished because of the food crisis.

The hunger in Malawi follows two years of devastating floods in southern Africa that swamped a vast area of farmland in the region.

The Southern African Development Community warned in August that grain-importing countries in the 14-nation trading bloc faced a collective shortage of 3,87-million tons of grain, with harvests down 25 percent from last year.

In Malawi, the poor have borne the brunt of the food shortage, with most of them scavenging for corn husks, wild fruits and roots.

About 10 000 tons of the 150 000 ton of corn the government has ordered from South Africa has arrive, National Food Reserve Agency General Manager Henry Gaga has said.

Distribution of the food is scheduled to end by December, before rains turn most country roads into impassable swamps.

However, at R120 for a 50kg bag, the maize is out of reach for many Malawians, whose average salary is less than R270 a month.

President Bakili Muluzi told Parliament last week that the government would distribute free food to people in desperate need.

World Vision's local relief manager, Elton Ntwana, said southern Malawi, greatly damaged by the floods, is the most severely affected by the food shortage.

The survey's findings will be distributed to the UN World Food Program and the government to help in the creation of a national plan to ease the effects of the crisis.

Ellard Malindi, the top administrator in the ministry of agriculture, said that from November to February Malawi traditionally suffers its worst food shortages.

The situation eases up by March when some crops start ripening, he said.

Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Aleke Banda said the distribution of free seeds and tools to about 1-million farming families was under way. With the packs, which also includes fertilizer, farmers could produce up to 10 times as much corn on the same amount of farmland, he said. - Sapa-AP