Skip to main content

Food insecurity to rise as staple food harvests fail to meet region’s requirements

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Southern Africa
  • August 2012 - January 2013
Food insecurity to rise as staple food harvests fail to meet region’s requirements

Download the Report

  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Although most parts of the region will remain food secure following the recent main season crop harvests, reduced harvests in areas affected by prolonged mid-season dry spells and /or floods have resulted in pockets of acute food insecurity in localized areas. In these parts of the region food access is already problematic for the affected households, and the lean season is expected to begin much earlier than the normal October/November start. 

    • From July through December 2012, acute food insecurity conditions with severity ranging from Stressed (IPC Phase 2) to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) are expected in the affected localized areas. Many of the poor and very poor households located in most parts of Lesotho, central and southern Malawi, southern and western Zimbabwe, central and southern Mozambique, and some parts of Angola will face food consumption gaps, and will require assistance. 

    • Food prices in markets located in the region’s productive areas continue to follow normal post-harvest seasonal trends (stabilization or decline), while those in deficit and high consumption areas are showing atypical patterns; rising steeply even while the harvests are still on-going. Price levels and trends are also being influenced by other factors including national government policies on trade (export bans, procurement for the strategic grain reserves and others), and the efficiency with which food is moved internally or across borders from surplus to deficit areas.

    • The 2012 national vulnerability assessments findings released in July point to increasing levels of food insecurity across the region. Most countries have recorded higher numbers of acutely food insecure populations and a much wider geographic distribution of affected areas compared to the past three years. A regional total of 5.48 million people has been assessed as food insecure; an increase of 39 percent from 2011/12 consumption period. Lesotho has the highest level with 39 percent of population assessed as requiring food assistance.

    Current food security conditions

    Food security conditions remained favorable across the region in July due to increased food availability from harvesting which is soon coming to an end. Food security conditions are particularly satisfactory in areas where crop growing conditions were favorable, resulting in average to above average harvests. In these areas, households are accessing their food requirements either from their own production or local markets which are currently adequately stocked and benefiting from on-going harvests.  Stability of supplies on local markets has ensured that market-dependent households, especially the poor who do not normally produce enough to meet their food requirements, have adequate access.  In July, prices were generally stable and most monitored markets showed a continuation of the downward trend observed since the start of the harvest in April; while in other markets prices remained the same as in June.

    Despite the overall favorable conditions, the region still has a number of areas where acute food insecurity conditions have been identified. Many of these places experienced reduced harvests in 2012 due to the late start of the season and the persistent and prolonged dry spells. Areas identified as most affected include central and southern Malawi, central and southern Mozambique, southern and western Zimbabwe, parts of Angola, and most parts of Lesotho. Staple food prices in some markets in affected areas have risen to levels well above last year and the past five-year average. For example, the nominal July maize grain price recorded in Chikhwawa (southern Malawi), was more than double the recent three-year average. Increased procurement levels of maize by traders supplying deficit areas as well as those engaged in informal cross border exports has resulted in atypical price increases throughout the country. These increases were also seen in the surplus producing central and northern regions. This means that market-dependent households in both deficit and surplus areas may not be able to access enough to meet their basic food requirements.

    Regional availability, trade and prices, 2012/13

    As a result of the unfavorable cropping conditions in a number of countries, for the first time after 4 consecutive years of increases, SADC estimated a 6 percent drop in the regional cereal harvest of 31.47 million MT compared to last year’s total harvest of 33.55 million MT (see Table 1). Although the regional cereal harvest has dropped by only 6 percent, Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe have recorded significant decreases; a factor that is already having negative impacts on food availability and access among affected households.  

    The region’s projected supply/demand for maize, the main staple food in the region, indicates national level surpluses only in Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia (see Table 2). Elsewhere, total cereal harvests fall short in meeting national requirements, leaving gaps that need to be filled through commercial and informal cross border imports. The projected lower level of surplus in South Africa is of regional concern because the structurally deficit countries of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland (BLNS); as well as other neighboring countries (like Zimbabwe) with import requirements depend on South Africa cereal exports. Furthermore, import demand from international markets, including those in Mexico and Asia, is expected to be higher in the coming months. As South Africa export demand increases, prices are also expected to rise steeply given that global maize supplies may be low due to the drought in the USA (the largest producer of maize) which has resulted in an estimated 12 percent drop in production.  High demand has already resulted in steep hikes in maize prices on the Southern Africa Futures Exchange (SAFEX). Between June and July there was a 23 percent increase in maize prices (from R2055/MT to R2538/MT). These high prices will be transmitted through imports to neighboring SADC countries, adversely impacting food access for the vulnerable households in those countries.

    The July average price of USD 0.33/kg for US yellow maize FOB (Gulf) is 24 percent higher than the June price and 11 percent higher than in July 2011. Current prices at major reference markets in the region (i.e. SAFEX, Dar es Salaam and Zambia) and international grain prices are higher than the prices reached during the 2008 food price crisis (see Figure 2). Close monitoring of food prices will be necessary, especially in countries already experiencing acute food insecurity levels of Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Traders in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia are actively sourcing maize within and outside of their own countries through cross border trade. Tanzania continues to supply markets in the Greater Horn, while Zambia and Malawi’s exports are destined for Zimbabwe and East Africa (through Tanzania). Currently, only Malawi has an export ban on maize (imposed since December 2011), and this is likely to stay in place throughout the consumption period.  In Zambia, the Government has instructed the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) to purchase 500,000 MT of maize for its strategic reserves as a precautionary measure against over exportation which could end up resulting in a domestic deficit.  While similar measures will not be taken in South Africa, the country will import significant quantities of yellow maize (used in the feed industry), and might once again import some white maize from Zambia this marketing season.

    Regional levels of food insecurity, 2012/13

    Findings of the 2012 vulnerability assessments conducted by the region’s national vulnerability assessment committees (NVACs) indicated that about 5.48 million people in the region are at risk of food insecurity (with varying levels of food consumption gaps) in the 2012/13 consumption period.  The number of food insecure households has risen dramatically this season due to the severity of crop failures in many more countries than has been the case in the past three to four years.  Estimates for Angola were made available this year as a result of the severity of the impact of drought on crop production, which resulted in close to a 40 percent drop over last year. This year, 5 countries (Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe) have 10 percent or more of their population identified by the NVACs as food insecure for periods ranging from 3 to 8 months (see Figure 3).  Four of these countries (Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe), have consistently assessed a significant number of food insecure households since the drought induced food crises in the 2000-2004 period; and the current acute food insecurity coincides with a time when their economies are not performing well.  The major concern is the erosion of households’ coping capacities, especially poorer households, as income generating opportunities – including formal and informal employment (both farm and non-farm) become increasingly scarce, limiting the ability of households to   cope with the multi-year hazards.

    Most likely regional food security scenario, July through December 2012

    At the regional level, food security conditions are generally expected to be stable within the first half (July – September) of the outlook period.  Stable conditions are projected based on current food availability and average or above average harvests, which should be sufficient to meet consumption requirements in this period. Stable conditions are projected based on current food availability and average or above average harvests, which should be sufficient to meet consumption requirements in this period. Most rural households, including the resource poor, will continue to have access to their own food production until the onset of the lean season in October/November. Market-dependent households (including urban populations) are also expected to be able to access adequate food from local markets, as prices are expected to remain stable until the beginning of the lean season. In addition, income-earning opportunities are likely to be normal over this period, given the good harvest that will enable better-off households to hire agricultural labor at the start of the 2012/13 cropping season from September onward. It is therefore expected that most households in the SADC region will stay within the minimal to no food insecurity level (IPC Phase 1) during the first half of the outlook period.

    From October to December, as the lean season begins, conditions will start deteriorating over most parts of the region. This will include mostly areas where harvests were good and will affect mostly poorer households in both urban and rural areas. The reduced (from last season) overall national level supplies will cause greater pressure on available supplies, resulting in price increases that are expected to be higher than those recorded last year and the recent 5-year average. Already, current nominal prices at monitored reference markets are above last year and past 5-year average levels, a factor which will negatively impact a household’s ability to access enough food to meet basic requirements.  Nonetheless, in the areas where 2012 harvests have been good, conditions in the period between October – December will remain at Minimal to no food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) since at least 80 percent of populations in these areas will be able to meet their food needs.

    In areas of concern and where the NVACs have identified localized food insecurity, many of the affected poor and very poor households will face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) conditions over the entire outlook period (July to December). The NVAC assessments suggest that part of the food needs for the food insecure can be met through national and regional procurements both by Governments and their humanitarian partners. In countries where food stocks are available, Governments may need assistance to fund distribution logistics.

    In the worst affected areas of southern Malawi conditions are estimated at Crisis (IPC Phase 3) over this period.  Due to the production failures many households are already relying on markets and employing typical and atypical coping strategies to meet their food needs. From October to December food prices are expected to rise markedly responding to dwindling food supplies. Steep price spikes may also occur if local markets are inadequately supplied because of a failure to move food from surplus to deficit areas; or through commercial and informal imports. To meet food requirements, affected households will require external assistance. By July some poor and very poor households were already requiring assistance. Further assistance will be required in most areas in the southern Malawi until the end of the lean season in February/ March 2013.  

    Areas of concern, July through December

    In Malawi, a total of 15 districts in the south and central region are facing harvest failures, and an estimated 1.63 million people have been assessed as food insecure by the NVAC. Over the outlook period, FEWS NET estimates that food insecurity will range in severity from Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in some districts, to Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Since the devaluation of the local currency in May, prices of food and basic commodities which have significantly increased throughout the country. The floating of the local currency will continue weakening the purchasing power of consumers.  A major challenge in addressing the needs of the vulnerable households is under resourcing of the USD89 million response plan proposed by the Government of Malawi. By the end of July, only 16 percent of these funds had been secured. Acute food insecurity is expected to deteriorate to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) if humanitarian responses are delayed and not well integrated to protect both lives and livelihoods assets. 

    Areas of concern in Mozambique areas of concern which by July were already classified to be in the IPC Phase 2 (Stressed) in July and include the districts of Chicualacuala, Chigubo, Funhalouro, Magude and Panda in the southern region and Machanga and Mutarara  in the central region. This level of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 2) will extend to additional districts including Changara, Chemba and Chiuta in the central region during the period October to December when the lean season begins. The NVAC identified a total of about 255,000 people requiring food assistance, including food distribution and assets building to save lives and protect livelihoods. With a preliminary national maize deficit of 950,000 MT it is likely that the number and geographic locations of the food insecure will increase.  Food assistance needs are also expected to increase due to reduced supplies, while nominal prices are also likely to rise steeply, negatively impacting food access by poorer households. The NVAC expects to update these figures in October.

    Despite an overall reduced cereal harvest of 33 percent in 2012, more than 80 percent of households in districts adversely affected by dry spells in Zimbabwe were experiencing minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity conditions in July. However in the period July to September, IPC Phase 1 conditions will be maintained only with food assistance in all affected areas.  From October to December, FEWS NET estimates that poor households in affected districts of Masvingo, Matebeleland South and Matebeleland North provinces and southern parts of Manicaland province will fall into Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity even with the humanitarian assistance. The NVAC assessment identified about 1.67 million people to be in need of food assistance during the 2012/13 consumption period. Although WFP has plans to implement targeted food distribution from September, funding is currently uncertain. Access to food by the poorer households will be further limited by high food prices and limited casual labor opportunities. As of July, maize grain prices in the areas of concern were already ranging between 33 percent and 90 percent above the national average of USD 0.30/kg. 

    In Angola approximately 1.8 million people were assessed as at risk of food insecurity and requiring assistance following the devastating drought that affected the provinces of Bengo, Kwanza Sul, Benguela, Huila, Namibe, Cunene, Moxico, Bie, Huambo and Zaire. The Government of Angola has provided about USD 50 million to local institutions to assist affected populations but there is concern that the limited local capacity to plan and coordinate humanitarian interventions coupled with structural challenges (especially lack of roads) may result in delay and the further deterioration of livelihoods for many people. In Lesotho, the NVAC has estimated that over 700,000 people (the highest in the past five years) need humanitarian assistance during the 2012/13 consumption period.  The government of Lesotho declared an emergency on August 9, 2012 following the official release of the NVAC results.  The government’s disaster management authority and partners will be drawing a response plan (estimated at USD 154 million) for which part of the funding will come from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).  Although no IPC classifications have been done for the affected populations in these two countries, the NVAC results indicate that conditions during the July to December period may at a minimum be Stressed (IPC Phase 2).  Further deterioration could occur from October to December if humanitarian interventions are delayed and/or inadequate. 

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events Timeline

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events Timeline

    Source: FEWS NET

    SADC cereal regional production estimates: 2011/12 compared to 2010/11 and the 5-year avg. (‘000MT)

    Figure 2

    SADC cereal regional production estimates: 2011/12 compared to 2010/11 and the 5-year avg. (‘000MT)

    Source: SADC RVAA summary of Results, 16-19 July 2012.

    SADC 2012/13 Projected Maize Supply/Demand

    Figure 3

    SADC 2012/13 Projected Maize Supply/Demand

    Source: SADC RVAA summary of Results, 16-19 July 2012.

    Maize Prices in Surplus Producing countries compared to international prices (USD/kg)

    Figure 4

    Maize Prices in Surplus Producing countries compared to international prices (USD/kg)

    Source: South African Futures Exchange, SAGIS, and FEWS NET

    Food Insecure populations in 2012/13 as a percent of total population

    Figure 5

    Food Insecure populations in 2012/13 as a percent of total population

    Source: SADC RVAA summary of Results, 16-19 July 2012.

    NVAC-estimated numbers of food insecure populations*

    Figure 6

    NVAC-estimated numbers of food insecure populations*

    Source: SADC RVAA summary of Results, 16-19 July 2012

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

    Get the latest food security updates in your inbox Sign up for emails

    The information provided on this Website is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.

    Jump back to top