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Lean season peaks, but food security conditions remain favorable over most parts

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Southern Africa
  • February 2012
Lean season peaks, but food security conditions remain favorable over most parts

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  • Key Messages
  • Current food security context
  • Projected food security conditions (areas of concern)
  • Key Messages
    • Food security remains favorable over most parts of Southern Africa with most staple foods being readily available on local markets and in some cases, on-farm. Conditions are expected to remain stable, gradually improving as consumption of seasonal crops increases and the early season and main maize harvests become available.  

    • Nominal maize grain prices are rising seasonally as the lean season peaks, but market supplies and official stocks remain good. Due to economic instability, anomalous trends have been observed in Malawi markets where sudden spikes have occurred, especially in the deficit production areas where demand is high. 

    • Rainfall was generally below normal in many parts of the region in the month of January and in early February. Northern Tanzania, southern Mozambique, southern Zimbabwe, and eastern Botswana received significantly below normal rains, with the dryness in northern Tanzania having negatively affected the first-season crop in the bimodal areas.  Seasonal progress so far suggests mixed prospects (regionally and nationally) in terms of crop yields and harvests. 


    Current food security context

    Overview

    Food security conditions have remained favorable over most parts of Southern Africa with most staple food commodities readily available in local markets. As the lean season peaks, an increasing number of rural (and urban) households are increasingly relying on markets to access food as household food stocks are depleted, either through consumption or sales. However, conditions are expected to remain stable as the availability of early maize harvests and other seasonal crops increases and access to food improves especially for poor households that are dependent on crop production and agriculture laboring as a primary source for food and income.

    Nonetheless, localized food insecurity due to last year’s food production shortfalls remains a major concern, especially in the southern districts of Malawi, southern districts of Mozambique, northeastern and southwestern Zimbabwe, and central and bimodal areas in Tanzania. Affected populations in these areas are reported to be receiving some assistance through on-going humanitarian programs implemented by the government and partners. In Mozambique, in addition to programs targeted at populations facing food deficits from last season’s crop failure, temporary food insecurity (and other emergency needs) in flooded areas along the Limpopo and Zambezi Basins affecting over 33,000 households is being dealt with by the National Institute of Disaster Management (INGC) and partners. Similarly, in southern Malawi, over 6,000 flood affected households are receiving emergency assistance through the Department of Disaster affairs and its humanitarian partners. However due to the steep increases in food prices and the extended lean period due to a poor and erratic start of the agricultural season, there is a need to increase the number of beneficiaries and extend the food aid program to the end of April.                                                              

    Markets and prices

    Nominal staple food prices in most monitored markets continue to increase seasonally as the lean season peaks, and as household and market supplies become tighter.  In general, and with the exception of markets in Malawi, maize price increases have been within expected ranges, with no sudden/ abnormal spikes observed.  However, other food price trends (rice and legumes) have tended to show more variability due to the fact that market supplies for these commodities depend on flow volumes from source, which in turn are determined by trader activity, availability and transport logistics.  

    Due to the large maize surplus in Zambia, prices at most markets in this country have remained stable, trending below the 5-year average and last year’s price levels.   This is in stark contrast to trends in most major markets elsewhere where prices are well above both last year and the past 5-year average (Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe). In Malawi, prices were trending below last year and the past 5-year average until October 2011 when a combination of factors (including hard currency and fuel shortages and the devaluation of the local currency) combined to put upward pressure on prices resulting in large increases over recent months, despite the implementation of an export ban in December 2011 and the off-loading of large amounts of stocks by private traders.  The mediocre harvest prospects for the upcoming season mean that availability in the next season is likely to be tighter compared to the past 2 to 4 years. Thus food prices are likely to remain above last year and the average. Prices are highest in the food deficit areas of the southern region which are also facing the worst harvest prospects as a result of poor rainfall performance.

    In South Africa, maize stocks remain at unprecedented low levels due to an aggressive export program which has seen the country export over 2.23 million MT, with more than 80 percent destined for international markets.  In response, maize prices on the South Africa Futures Exchange (SAFEX) have been increasing steadily and remain well above both last year and the past five-year average.  Average spot prices between December and January for white maize rose 11 percent and the January level was 78 percent higher compared to January 2011. Nonetheless, all spot prices (white and yellow maize and wheat) declined significantly (between 12 - 13 percent) from January to mid February.  This was largely driven by the  strengthen of the rand against major currencies, and the positive supply prospects both globally and locally (the first production estimate for the 2011/12 maize crop, released on February 28  suggests a 13 percent increase over last year, while the wheat harvest is estimated to be 29 percent above last year).  The trend is expected to continue, though there is still a potential for upward movements especially as carryover stocks are at very low levels, and current season harvests are still unclear due to the erratic and poor rainfall performance in some of the country’s main maize growing areas.

    Over the period leading to and during the main season harvest, prices are expected to remain stable; following seasonal trends. In general prices will peak in February / March and are then expected to start decreasing thereafter as food from the green and then the main harvest becomes available.  However, in areas where planting was delayed, or in those impacted by weather related shocks (heavy rains, floods, cyclones) harvests may come in later than normal, extending the lean season and keeping prices higher much longer.  This same trend (delayed downturn) is also expected in markets situated in low-producing, high-demand areas where food shortages are already being alleviated through food assistance programs. In the case of South African prices of maize, the drop in prices (if sustained) is expected to help temper current levels of food inflation not only in South Africa but in grain deficit neighbor states that rely on South Africa maize imports.  While headline inflation has generally been on the increase in most countries, the food inflation component has spiked significantly, with January levels reaching as high as 12.52 percent (from 9.28 in December) for example  in Swaziland. It is expected that beyond the lean season, and as soon as green and main harvests become available, inflationary pressures will decrease.

    2011/12 Seasonal Progress

    Rainfall was generally below normal in many parts of the region in the month of January and in early February. Northern Tanzania, southern Mozambique, southern Zimbabwe, and eastern Botswana received significantly below normal rains, with the dryness in northern Tanzania having negatively affected the first-season crop in the bimodal areas.  An analysis of vegetative conditions in mid February indicates that poor rains during January and February have caused below-average vegetative conditions in northern Tanzania (Lake Victoria area – Figure 6) due to below-average rain during the end of January and beginning of February.  This is expected to have negative implications on the February/ March vuli harvest prospects in bimodal areas which had, till end of December 2011, appeared very good.  Similarly, conditions in north western parts of South Africa (including some of the key maize growing areas) seem to indicate below average vegetative conditions. Ground reports on current crop condition in these areas have been mixed across the area underlining the variable rainfall performance that has characterized the season since September 2011.

    Although preliminary estimates have not been released in any of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries for the upcoming staple food main harvest, indications from field reports suggest mixed prospects for most countries: good harvests in areas where rainfall performance has so far been moderate to good and average to below-average elsewhere.  The first indications of yield/production estimates are expected from March 2012 when most countries will have completed first round crop surveys.  Field reports from member States suggest that area planted to staple food crops has been influenced primarily by the erratic start of season (which has necessitated several replantings in some cases), as well as input availability (especially good quality seeds).  As the season progresses, and the rainfall outlook over most of the region remains mostly positive, it is likely that some of the earlier losses could be covered (though not fully) through late plantings and second season cropping in flood recession areas of Malawi and Mozambique where this is a normal practice.  


    Projected food security conditions (areas of concern)

    Existing food insecurity in localized parts of the region is projected to continue until after the main harvest in April/ May.  Areas of concern include several districts in southern Malawi; parts of southern Mozambique; parts of Masvingo and Manicaland provinces and parts of Gokwe North, Kariba, and Binga districts in Zimbabwe; districts in central, north, and northeastern Tanzania; most parts of Lesotho; and parts of the crop growing regions of northern Namibia. These areas were assessed through the post harvest national vulnerability assessments to be at risk of stressed food insecurity as a result of food production shortfalls triggered by weather‐related hazards.  Households in these areas (especially the poor) are expected to continue employing a range of normal and crisis coping strategies which they have increasingly intensified through the lean season at the risk of further erosion of already fragile livelihoods.

    Targeted assistance (including free food distribution through vulnerable group feeding schemes) provided by governments and their partners such as the World Food Programme (WFP), donors, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is expected to continue mitigating food insecurity through the lean season. Although the pace and coverage of these programs have not been entirely satisfactory in some places, the food assistance is helping beneficiary households cover some of their food needs. In most affected countries, plans are under way to secure adequate resources to continue and extend coverage of on-going programs taking into consideration increased case loads as a result of the recent shocks on production (floods, delayed onset) and the risk of an extended lean season.

    Since mid-January, heavy rainfall and a series of tropical storms and cyclones (tropical storm “Dando”, tropical cyclone “Funso”, and tropical cyclone “Giovanna”) have caused damage to homes, field crops, and infrastructure and affected hundreds of households in Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, and to a lesser extent in South Africa, Swaziland, Namibia, and Angola.  In Malawi, Nsanje District in the south was the worst affected - the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) estimates that over 6,000 people have been impacted. In Mozambique, tropical storm Dando brought heavy rains, inundation and flooding in Gaza, Maputo, and Inhambane provinces, while tropical cyclone Funso caused devastation in some provinces of the north and central regions, particularly Zambezia.  Mozambique’s Institute of Disaster Management (INGC) estimates that over 119,000 people have been affected.

    In Madagascar, tropical Cyclone Giovanna made landfall on February 14 on the eastern coast and traveled southwest across the center of the island. UN (OCHA) reports that the accompanying strong winds affected many densely populated areas, including the capital, Antananarivo, and caused significant damage to Brickaville and Vatomandry districts in central-eastern Madagascar.  Latest reports (February 20) from the Government / National Disaster Risk Management Office (BNGRC), the cyclone had resulted in at least 25 deaths, 90 persons injured, and 263,000 people affected.

    In all affected countries, emergency operations by the National Disaster Agencies and their partners especially the UN, are still underway including rapid assessments to determine extent of damage are on-going. Ministries of Agriculture are leading rapid assessments to estimate the impact on agriculture and lost cropped areas due to floods, strong winds, water logging and nutrient leaching. The results are expected to inform on-going emergency, relief and rehabilitation intervention decisions.

    With a February to April rainfall projection of normal to above-normal across most of the region (SADC Climate Services Centre), most areas in the flood plains of major rivers and other low-lying areas are still at risk of flooding – an event that is likely to negatively impact food security of households in those areas throughout the outlook period. The eastern portions of the region have the greatest chance of receiving above-normal rains.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events Timeline

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events Timeline

    Source: FEWS NET

    Retail prices of maize in selected markets (USD per kg) based on average prices in key markets in each country

    Figure 2

    Retail prices of maize in selected markets (USD per kg) based on average prices in key markets in each country

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

    White maize spot prices on the South African Futures Exchange (SAFEX)

    Figure 3

    White maize spot prices on the South African Futures Exchange (SAFEX)

    Source: SAFEX

    Percentage of Average Rainfall for 1 Oct 2011 to 20 Feb 2012

    Figure 4

    Percentage of Average Rainfall for 1 Oct 2011 to 20 Feb 2012

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Percentage of Average  Rainfall for 1 Jan - 20 Feb, 2012

    Figure 5

    Percentage of Average Rainfall for 1 Jan - 20 Feb, 2012

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Vegetation Index Compared to the Mean 01 - 20 February 2012

    Figure 6

    Vegetation Index Compared to the Mean 01 - 20 February 2012

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Water requirement satisfaction index as percent of Median 17 February 2012

    Figure 7

    Water requirement satisfaction index as percent of Median 17 February 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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