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Rainfall deficits close in Southern Africa

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Southern Africa
  • January 2012
Rainfall deficits close in Southern Africa

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Food Security Conditions
  • Projected food security conditions (areas of concern)
  • Key Messages
    • Currently, most parts of the southern Africa remain food secure. Nonetheless, as the lean season peaks, access is increasingly constrained.  Rising levels of food insecurity remain a concern among households receiving inadequate assistance in areas facing moderate levels of food insecurity in Malawi and Mozambique. 

    • Although most of the northern and central areas of the region received normal to above-normal rains, much of the southern and eastern areas received below-normal rainfall during the first half of the season. Since January, normal to above-normal rains have reversed the moisture deficits that were developed in the first half of the season. 

    • Recent heavy rains in Mozambique, southern Malawi, and South Africa caused widespread flooding that resulted in the loss of lives, damage to infrastructure, and negatively impacted crop production. These downpours have also raised river levels, with some stations in the Incomati and Zambezi River basins in Mozambique already above the alert levels – indicating a high risk of flooding. 

    • Crop damage and losses from floods and heavy rains might result in an extended lean season in affected areas due to delayed or reduced green harvests that normally augment food supplies at this time. Where complete crop failure occurs, conditions could deteriorate rapidly, especially in areas (such as southern Malawi) where the previous season’s crops also failed. 


    Current Food Security Conditions

    Food security conditions for most households in southern Africa have remained stable, with most staple food commodities readily available on local markets, despite this being the peak of the lean season. This is largely due to the generally good harvests by the majority of rural households in the 2010/11 cropping season. A significant number of rural households had more stocks on hand, which has enabled them to consume food produced at the household level for slightly longer than normal. Nonetheless, across many rural areas an increasing number of households are now purchasing food from markets, as many have almost depleted their household food stocks either through consumption or sales. Adequate on-farm and market supplies have thus far contributed to relatively stable food prices, but prices have been rising seasonably - as is normal over the lean season. Nonetheless, available information suggests that prices in surplus production areas (as in Zambia) have remained below last year’s levels, and trend quite close to the five-year averages.  Price trends in deficit regions (as in southern Malawi) however display steep spikes between November and December, indicating greater pressure on available supplies.

    Reports on national food stock availability still indicate that there are adequate staple food supplies that will be sufficient enough to meet regional requirements up to the next harvest and to carry over into the next marketing year. In 2011, South Africa, Zambia, and Malawi produced significant exportable maize surpluses for which all three countries have been aggressively exporting to regional and international destinations. However, both Malawi and South Africa may have been too aggressive in their export programs. The Malawi government has initiated an export ban as a precautionary measure to ensure national food stock levels remain sufficient for domestic consumption.  South Africa’s stocks are now at unprecedented low levels, and has had to import both white and yellow maize for its domestic market. The South Africa Grain Information Service (SAGIS) reported s that by January 20, 2012 a total of 2,164,404 metric tons (MT) of maize had been shipped 83 percent of which went overseas.  Current projections indicate that the country will have only 448,000 MT of closing stock for the 2011/12 marketing season – the lowest level since the drought year of 1992/93.  In response, maize prices on the South Africa Futures Exchange (SAFEX) have been increasing (despite the drop in global commodity prices) and remain at levels well above both last year and the past five-year average (Figure 2).

    Although Zambia has sizable surpluses, exports have not been significant on account of the uncompetitive prices when compared to South Africa and neighboring Malawi and Tanzania.  As a result, not much of its declared exportable surplus of 1.66 million MT has been exported. Concerns remain that failure to export much of this maize may lead to spoilage of some stocks held by the Food Reserve Agency (FRA), some of which have been carried over from the previous two bumper seasons. The large maize stocks have helped support lower price levels in-country, benefitting market-dependant households, especially in urban centers.

    Although national stocks remain satisfactory in Malawi, the government took a precautionary stance by banning further exports.  Prior to the ban, exports (formal and informal) in the 2011/12 marketing season were vibrant; most traders targeted markets in Zimbabwe and East Africa.  This exerted pressure on supplies countrywide, which together with factors such as fuel and foreign currency shortages resulted in steep price increases, especially in the country’s food deficit regions. By mid-January, maize prices in southern markets had more than doubled, and are about 50 percent above the government (ADMARC) selling price of MKW60/kg (Figure 3).  Although exports have been banned, the impact on local trader activity, and hence prices, has so far been minimal as this comes at the tail end of the marketing season. Most traders have completed their purchase programs and are likely to hold on to their stocks for sale next season.

    In Mozambique, where the 2011 national harvests of staple foods were also reported satisfactory, food security conditions have remained generally stable including the semi-arid, arid, and remote areas identified as requiring close monitoring. Food prices, especially for maize and rice, have been relatively stable this year in response to the free flow of food commodities from surplus to deficit areas. This stability in prices is expected to prevail throughout the remaining consumption period and rising seasonably as the lean season progresses.  However, in areas that have been affected by the heavy rains and floods in January 2012, price spikes may occur as households access to markets is cutoff due to infrastructure damage and loss of household stocks.National-level grain availability in the deficit countries of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and Swaziland has also been satisfactory due to adequate import deliveries (especially of maize from South Africa). Households with adequate resources have been able to access their food requirements from local markets where prices remain generally stable. However, rising maize prices in South Africa have contributed to steeper increases in food inflation rates in these countries; a situation which is exacerbating food access problems for many vulnerable households (Figure 4). In Zimbabwe staple foods are also reported to be readily available on local markets, and the current economic dispensation has allowed for the importation of required foods to stock both rural and urban markets. Prices of staple foods have remained very stable, although some spiking in prices of cooking oil and vegetables were reported during the month of December.


    Projected food security conditions (areas of concern)

    Despite these generally satisfactory conditions at the national and regional levels, localized pockets of acute food insecurity exist including southern Malawi and parts of southern Mozambique. However, national vulnerability assessments in other countries indicated other areas of concern that include 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 are at risk of stressed food insecurity (IPC 2) as a result of food production shortfalls triggered by weather‐related hazards.

    In such areas, measures/activities such as trade (formal and informal), availability of second season harvests, increased use of coping strategies, and targeted humanitarian assistance are being employed to mitigate rising food insecurity. Robust trader activity has improved physical access and food availability in some areas. In addition, governments in concerned countries and their partners such as the World Food Programme (WFP), donors, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are implementing a range of food assistance programs, including free food distribution through vulnerable group feeding schemes. Although the pace and coverage of these programs have not been entirely satisfactory in some places, the food assistance has helped mitigate consumption gaps for beneficiary households. Plans are under way to secure adequate resources to continue and extend coverage of on-going programs in affected countries, especially Malawi. 

    Flooding in mid-January in parts of Mozambique, South Africa, and Malawi has affected hundreds of households, necessitating rescue operations and evacuation to safe shelters. In Malawi, Nsanje District in the south has been worst affected, with over 4,000 people said to have been impacted. Emergency operations by the Department of Disaster Management Affairs and its partners are underway while rapid assessments to determine extent of damage (infrastructure and crops) are on-going. In Mozambique, tropical storm “Dando” and tropical cyclone “Funso” brought heavy rains, inundation and flooding in Gaza, Maputo, and Inhambane provinces (“Dando”), and in some provinces of the north and central regions, particularly Zambezia (“Funso”). Apart from infrastructure and housing damage, these storms have led to losses of cropped area estimated by the Ministry of Agriculture at 2.6 percent of total cropped land.  Assessments to determine full impact of floods are still on-going and will inform on-going emergency intervention decisions.

    2011/12 Seasonal Progress

    Much of the southern and eastern parts of the region received below-normal rains in the first half of the season from October to December 2011. Areas where below-average rains were received include much of Malawi, central and northern Mozambique, Madagascar, South Africa, Lesotho, southern Botswana, southern Zambia, and northern Zimbabwe (Figure 5 – red circle). The below-normal rains basically resulted in a delayed start of season in many areas.

    While dry conditions persisted in some of these areas in the period 1 - 24 January, Mozambique, Madagascar, Swaziland, north-eastern South Africa, and surrounding areas (Figure 6 – blue circle) experienced very heavy rains over a short time period, primarily due to tropical storm “Dando” and Tropical Cyclone “Funso” in mid and late January respectively. While flooding from these rains resulted in loss of lives and damage to shelter and infrastructure; it also led to loss of cropped area, water logging of crop stands which will adversely impact next season’s harvests in affected areas.  Despite the localized negative impacts, these rains have generally been beneficial for crop development and rejuvenation of pastures. 

    In contrast, while many of the northern and central areas of the region received normal to above-normal rains during the first half of the season (Figure 5), in the period 1- 24 January, many of these areas received below normal rains (Figure 6, brown colors). Bimodal areas in Tanzania had significantly below-normal rains which may offset the gains of the good rains experienced earlier. 

    Overall, despite the erratic start of rains in southern parts of the region, cropping activities are well underway throughout the region with maize crops reported to be at various stages ranging from early to late vegetative stages. Most of the crops are in good condition with expectation of good yields if rains persist through April 2012 as predicted in the latest update of the SADC Climate Services Centre seasonal forecast.  

    Localized areas of poor yields may occur where erratic and consistently below normal rains have been received. For example, anecdotal reports from Lesotho seem to suggest that the seasonal progress has been less than satisfactory and has been marked by well below-normal rains in the first half of the season. Field reports suggest that many farmers have not cultivated their fields due to the dryness. Although good rains have been received in December and January, these may have been too late for some farmers especially those in the mountains where the risk of damage from early frost on immature maize plants is very high.  

    Similar observations (of below average yield expectations as a result of insufficient moisture in the first half of the season) have been made in some localized areas of Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and parts of South Africa. However in these countries, reports indicate that affected areas are not extensive, and it is expected that the January rains will facilitate recovery allowing for second plantings where possible.

    According to the latest (February – April 2012) rainfall forecast update by SADC’s Climate Services Center (Figure 7), most parts of the region will receive normal to above normal rainfall with the eastern regions having enhanced likelihood of above normal rains. Although the risk of flooding will be elevated in the low lying/ basin areas in regions expecting above normal rains, overall, the predicted rainfall performance is likely to enhance the region’s harvest prospects.

    The water requirements satisfaction index (WRSI) extended to the end of the season also suggests that most of the region’s main maize production areas will have average to good crop conditions (Figure 8). The exception is in the central parts of South Africa (which include some of parts of the maize triangle) where conditions are projected to be below average, as well as parts of central Mozambique and central/southern Malawi.

    However, as this analysis is based on satellite rainfall estimates and assumes average rainfall performance for the rest of the season, this scenario may not play out especially as ground reports currently indicate that maize crops in most parts of the country are in good condition.   

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events Timeline

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events Timeline

    Source: FEWS NET

    Maize and Wheat prices on SAFEX – South Africa

    Figure 2

    Maize and Wheat prices on SAFEX – South Africa

    Source: South Africa Futures Exchange

    Maize Retail Prices in selected markets – Malawi

    Figure 3

    Maize Retail Prices in selected markets – Malawi

    Source: Ministry of Agriculture and FEWS NET, Malawi

    Food inflation Rates April – December 2011

    Figure 4

    Food inflation Rates April – December 2011

    Source: Central Statistics Offices: Selected countries

    Percentage of average rainfall for 1 October – 31 December 2011

    Figure 5

    Percentage of average rainfall for 1 October – 31 December 2011

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Percentage of average rainfall for 1 – 24 January 2012

    Figure 6

    Percentage of average rainfall for 1 – 24 January 2012

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Updated Rainfall forecast for February – April 2012

    Figure 7

    Updated Rainfall forecast for February – April 2012

    Source: SADC Climate Services Center

    Water Requirements Satisfaction Index (WRSI) – Extended to End of Season, expressed as a pct of median

    Figure 8

    Water Requirements Satisfaction Index (WRSI) – Extended to End of Season, expressed as a pct of median

    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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