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Green harvests improve food availability as lean season draws to a close

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Southern Africa
  • April 2012
Green harvests improve food availability as lean season draws to a close

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  • Key Messages
  • Updated food security outlook though June 2012
  • Key Messages
    • The availability of a variety of foods, including green maize, squashes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and other seasonal crops, has greatly contributed to improved food security conditions across the region. On-farm availability of these foods has helped ease pressure on local markets, resulting in a gradual decrease in food prices, especially in areas where crop growing conditions have been favorable.

    • The end of the rainy season marks the end of the 2011/12 cropping season over most parts of the region. However, in some areas across the region (including parts of South Africa, Lesotho, southern Malawi, parts of southern Zambia and the southern half of Zimbabwe), crops are yet to reach full maturity because of late and erratic onset of rains, re-plantings, and flooding in January/February. Nonetheless, reports from most countries indicate that the season is generally progressing well with the early planted maize at maturity and the late /re-plantings at various stages of crop growth. 

    • Cereal production prospects for the 2011/12 cropping season vary across the region. Estimates vary depending on prevailing agro-meteorological conditions, farmer access to inputs and agricultural management practices, and the impacts of floods and extended dry spells on crop production. Overall, this year’s regional cereal production is expected to be less than last year’s above average production, mainly due to less favorable crop growing conditions across some of the main maize-producing areas (including South Africa’s maize triangle, and parts of Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia).

    • Cereal production prospects for the 2011/12 cropping season vary across the region. Estimates vary depending on prevailing agro-meteorological conditions, farmer access to inputs and agricultural management practices, and the impacts of floods and extended dry spells on crop production. Overall, this year’s regional cereal production is expected to be less than last year’s above average production, mainly due to less favorable crop growing conditions across some of the main maize-producing areas (including South Africa’s maize triangle, and parts of Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia).


    Updated food security outlook though June 2012

    As the lean season gradually comes to an end, an increasing variety of food, including green maize, groundnuts, squashes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, fruits, and other seasonal crops, is becoming available on both on-farm and local markets across the region. The end of the lean season is more apparent in areas where the onset of rains was timely and crop growing conditions have been favorable. Improved on-farm availability of food is helping to ease pressure on local markets, resulting in price stabilization or gradual decreases. Most markets are adequately stocked with staple foods from the green and early harvests, as well as last season’s stocks that are now being off-loaded onto markets in preparation for the new crop expected in April. These satisfactory conditions are expected to remain throughout the outlook period (through June).

    In areas that experienced a delayed onset of 2011/12 rains and erratic rainfall, flooding, or prolonged droughts, the green season foods are not readily available and affected households are still dependent on local markets for food. Households in these particular areas will likely experience an extended lean season as the green harvests are delayed and reduced. For these households the main harvests will come a month later (May/June), resulting in sustained high food price levels on local markets. Some of the affected areas include southern districts of Malawi; parts of central and southern regions of Mozambique, eastern and south-western Zimbabwe, and most parts of Lesotho, parts of Swaziland, the marginal production areas in southern Zambia, and parts of bimodal Tanzania.

    In areas identified as food insecure over the past (2011/12) consumption season, interventions by national governments, humanitarian agencies, and private trader participation have all contributed significantly to stabilize food security conditions for the most vulnerable households in the affected areas of southern Malawi; the semi-arid zones of southern Mozambique; parts of eastern and south-western Zimbabwe; and parts of central Tanzania. In some of these areas, food security conditions are likely to worsen over the next consumption season as they have once again been impacted by weather shocks (drought and floods) this season. 

    Markets and trade

    Cross border trade, both formal and informal, has played a major role throughout the year in the redistribution of food supplies from surplus to deficit areas within the region. Malawi, South Africa and Zambia all had significant surpluses of maize in the 2011/12 marketing season (1.59 million MT, 1.55 million MT, and 1.66 million MT respectively). Malawi and South Africa proceeded to implement aggressive export programs. In South Africa, the volume of exports (reported at 2.37 million MT at the end of March 2012) resulted in an unprecedented drawdown of national stocks below normal domestic pipeline requirements. Current projections indicate that South Africa will have only 593,000 MT of closing stock for the 2011/12 marketing season – one of the lowest levels on record-- which is about 70 percent below the past 7 year average of 2.06 million MT. In Malawi, the large volume of exports, and rising domestic prices, prompted the Government to take a precautionary stance and ban further exports. Prior to the ban, exports (formal and informal) in the 2011/12 marketing season were vibrant, and most traders targeted markets in Zimbabwe and East Africa. The export ban (and subsequent offloading of stocks by traders onto local markets) helped to contain the sharp price increases that had prevailed on most markets throughout the country since September 2011.

    Although Zambia also has sizable surpluses, exports have not been as significant on account of the uncompetitive prices locally when compared to South Africa and neighboring Malawi and Tanzania. As a result, only half of its exportable surplus of 1.66 million MT has been exported. The large maize stocks in Zambia have helped to support lower national prices and have benefited market-dependant households, especially in urban centers. In Tanzania, the maize export ban that had been in place since mid-2011 to safeguard national supplies was finally lifted in February 2012, allowing formal trade with neighboring countries to resume.

    Most markets across the region report adequate stocks of local staple foods due to increased availability of green harvests and offloading of old stocks by traders to prepare for purchases of new crop expected in May. Improved availability has tempered the price increases observed as the lean season peaked. Observed prices of maize, beans, and rice have stabilised and, in some cases, dropped, following improved household food supplies.

    Figure 2 presents the March 2012 white maize prices for selected markets and shows price drops across the board. While some prices are still above both the previous year and five-year average, in Zambia (Lusaka), prices are below both the previous year and the past five-year average, while in Zimbabwe (Harare), the March 2012 price is almost on par with average. Prices in Malawi (Lilongwe) have declined significantly, dropping 12 percent between February and March after rising steeply in September 2011. Similar patterns have been reported in most markets in Malawi, including the south where food deficits exist. The drops have been occasioned by the advent of the new crops, and the government ban on exports (which resulted in traders offloading excess stock onto local markets). However, price levels are not expected to fall below those of 2010/11 due to reduced harvest expectations, rising fuel prices, foreign currency shortages, and general increases in inflation rates.

    In South Africa, domestic prices of white maize (quoted on the South African Commodities Exchange – SAFEX) increased marginally by 2 percent after the 12 percent drop between January and February. Contributing to this increase was the release of the latest crop estimate for maize which indicated a 3 percent drop in production following reduced yield estimates as a result of extended dryness in the most productive areas. 

    Over the Outlook period, prices are expected to decline further as the new harvest begins in April. However, in areas facing yield reductions in the current season, price increases will likely be sustained for a longer period of time due to delayed and reduced green harvests. Normally the green harvest augments market purchases toward the end of the lean season in February/March. In such areas, a decrease in prices soon after the harvest in May may not be significant, and could be short-lived. Prices are likely to remain high when compared to the previous year and the 5-year average.

    Seasonal progress

    Analysis of rainfall from January 1 through March 31, 2012, suggests that the second half of the rainfall season was drier than normal in southern parts of the region, particularly northern South Africa, eastern Botswana, southern Zimbabwe, southern Mozambique, and Lesotho (Figure 3). This dryness impacted crop conditions to varying degrees among the affected countries. February was the driest month for many of these areas, including southern Malawi and parts of central Tanzania (Figure 4).

    The crop-specific water requirement satisfaction index (WRSI) anomaly for maize (Figure 5) estimates the extent to which rainfall patterns throughout the growing season may have affected yield expectations. This model also confirms the areas shown in Figures 3 and 4 as having experienced below-average soil moisture availability for satisfactory crop growth in the period ending March 31, 2012. These areas include central and southern Mozambique, southern and eastern Zimbabwe, the maize growing areas of South Africa, and eastern Botswana, parts of Lesotho and southern Swaziland. This analysis converges well with ground information. The below-average WRSI areas are the same areas that have been identified with reduced harvest prospects, and the average to above average WRSI areas are those with fair to good harvest prospects. 

    Current production prospects/outlook

    The diminishing rainfall regime marks the end of the 2011/12 rainfall season over most of the region, which is in line with normal seasonal patterns. However, this progression is not clearly marked in terms of crop stages since some crops are still at the vegetative stage due to late plantings because of the late and erratic onset of rains this season and/or the replantings that took place after the dry spells and or flooding experienced in January/February. Nonetheless, reports from most countries indicate that the season is generally progressing well with the early planted maize at maturity and the late /re-plantings at various stages of crop growth.

    Field reports indicate that Lesotho is expecting poor harvests this season, after dry spells affected the first part of the growing season, resulting in reductions in the area planted to maize and sorghum, as well as late planting of crops in many areas. The late planted crop – which has not yet reached maturity -- faces an increased risk of frost damage. Dry conditions reported in parts of southern and central Malawi are likely to result in reduced crop yields in some affected areas, especially in the south. More rains are still needed for the late planted crop to reach maturity. In the central and northern parts of the country, near‐normal production is expected. 

    Crops in northern Mozambique are reported to be in good condition. Many are in the vegetative and maturity stage, and good production is expected in the northern parts of the country if rains continue. In the central parts of Mozambique, crops are in the maturity stage, and some crops are already being harvested. Harvest prospects are fair to good in the central areas, despite the occurrence of dry spells. In the south, harvesting of early planted crops has begun. However, lower crop yields are expected in the arid and semi‐arid parts of the country, where replanting occurred due to irregular rainfall. Several tropical storms and cyclones passed near or through parts of Mozambique this season. Recent agricultural assessments indicate that close to 42,000 Ha of crop have been lost due to storms and cyclones. 

    Most parts of South Africa have thus far experienced below‐average rainfall for much of the season. The impact of the dryness was partially ameliorated by good soil moisture reserve built up from last season, but even this had been significantly depleted in many areas. Maize crops in many areas are still in the vegetative and flowering stage as a result of the low rainfall/ delayed onset. For these late planted crops, rainfall will be needed until April or May in order for the crops to reach maturity. A revised commercial production estimate of 11.3 million MT of maize was given in late March, down 400,000 MT from the February estimate, primarily due to impacts of the dry spell. In Swaziland, most of the maize crop is reported to be at maturity stage, with some of the crop already in the drying and harvesting phase. The crop in the Highveld region, a major maize growing area, is in good condition. Nonetheless, an erratic start of season, constrained access to inputs and draft power has led to reduced area planted. An early forecast puts the maize harvest at 10 percent below last year’s level.

    The good rains that fell in the central unimodal areas of Tanzania between February and mid-March were beneficial to crop development. Most crops, including maize, paddy, wheat, sorghum and cotton are reported to be in good condition, with the maize crop ranging between the emergence and flowering stage. Good rains also fell in the bimodal areas facilitating land preparation and planting activities for the masika or second season crops. Zambia has experienced a good season in most areas, although rains have been erratic and below normal in parts of southern Zambia, most of which are however marginal production areas. There were also reports of flash floods in a few localized areas which affected infrastructure mainly in the Mambwe district in eastern Zambia. These flash floods are expected to affect yield. Overall, the maize crop is reported to be at the grain filling stage in most parts of the country, and production is expected to be fair to good, though potentially lower than last year’s. 

    In Zimbabwe, the major crop‐producing areas of the country have had average rainfall performance, and crops in these areas are reported to be on average in very good condition. However, extended dryness experienced in the southern half of the country affected crops, resulting in permanent wilting of crops in some areas. Most parts of the southern half of the country are likely to have below‐average yields, and some localized crop failure has been reported. Compared to last season, the dry (marginal production) southern districts are expected to have lower crop yields, which is likely reduce overall national harvest expectations. The official crop forecast recently released by the Government indicates that the total cereal harvest, estimated at 1.08 million MT will be 33 percent below last year’s level of 1.61 million MT.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events Timeline

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events Timeline

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2. Retail prices of white maize on selected regional markets (USD per kg)

    Figure 2

    Figure 2. Retail prices of white maize on selected regional markets (USD per kg)

    Source: FEWS NET Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe

    Figure 3. Percentage of average rainfall, January 1 to 31 March 2012

    Figure 3

    Figure 3. Percentage of average rainfall, January 1 to 31 March 2012

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Figure 4. Greenness index for 21-31 March 2012

    Figure 4

    Figure 4. Greenness index for 21-31 March 2012

    Source: eMODIS, NDVI, USGS/FEWSNET

    Figure 5. Water Requirements satisfaction index (WRSI) Anomaly as of 31 March 2012

    Figure 5

    Figure 5. Water Requirements satisfaction index (WRSI) Anomaly as of 31 March 2012

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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