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Minimal acute food insecurity outcomes to prevail across the region

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Southern Africa
  • February - July 2013
Minimal acute food insecurity outcomes to prevail across the region

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  • Key Messages
  • Regional Overview
  • Events that Might Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • With the exception of parts of Malawi and Mozambique, most rural households across the region will maintain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity outcomes from January to March by increasing reliance on market purchases through improved purchasing power and labor prospects, and supplementing these with food from green harvests which should become available in February.

    • From April to June, food insecurity for the majority of poor households across the region will continue to be Minimal (IPC Phase 1) as most will start accessing food from the main season harvest and will rely less on market purchases. This will result in stabilization and decline in food prices; improving access for poorer market dependent households.

    • FEWS NET expects Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity outcomes throughout the outlook period in flood impacted parts of southern Mozambique (Chókwe district) due to the displacement of thousands of people, along with the loss of crops and assets. 

    • Despite the negative impacts of inclement weather in many countries, crop conditions are reported to be good in many parts of Malawi, parts of central and northern Mozambique, the main maize-production areas of South Africa, unimodal parts of Tanzania, most parts of Zambia, and in north-eastern Zimbabwe.

    Regional Overview
    Key Regional Issues

    Food security has remained generally stable over most parts of Southern Africa, even as the lean season peaked in January. Most households continue to access food from their own production, through market purchases, and from social protection services. Poor households’ food access has also been enhanced by improved purchasing power as more agricultural labor opportunities have become available following improved rainfall performance.

    Markets and Trade

    Across the region, local, national, and regional markets and vibrant cross border trade activities continue to play an important role by facilitating urban and rural households’ access to staple foods. During the current 2012/13 consumption season, the region’s high maize producers (South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania) all recorded some level of surplus which is being traded locally and across borders with neighboring countries. However as the season progresses, available tradable supplies have been significantly drawn down in Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia, reducing supplies on local markets and pushing up prices.  In other countries that are net importers (Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and Swaziland), atypically strong pressure on prices is currently occurring as a result of below average 2011/12 production levels, macroeconomic instability, and high fuel and transportation costs.

    Regional maize trade continues to be dominated by South Africa which remains the main source of supply for most of the deficit neighboring countries (except Zimbabwe, which does not accept GMO maize). By the end of January, 59 percent of South Africa’s 1.99 million MT projected exportable surplus had been exported to regional destinations. Prices on the South African Futures Exchange (SAFEX) have been declining since November, reflecting the positive maize production. By the end of January 2013, the spot price for white maize had dropped 12 percent since November and is now below the previous year’s level, though still above the average for past five years.  In Zambia, where the region’s second highest maize surplus of 1.04 million MT was recorded, the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) purchased over 1 million MT for the strategic grain reserve (SGR) between July and October, which absorbed most of the surplus and caused a drastic reduction in market supplies. Since November, exports from Zambia have therefore slowed down considerably, given reduced availability as well as the implementation of firmer permit regulations for maize exports.  By the end of December, formal exports to Zimbabwe alone were only estimated at 262,000 MT, and most of these were consignments agreed upon before the Government of Zambia instituted tighter export controls.

    The shortages on local markets created through the large FRA purchases have pushed prices above last season’s prices and the five-year average in most districts across Zambia. Increased informal export of maize grain to Tanzania and maize meal to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) also played a major role in the price increases in northern Zambia during the October to November period. The persistent staple food shortages in the Greater Horn, alongside tighter controls on formal exports have resulted in a surge in informal maize exports into Tanzania, while large outflows into the DRC have been driven primarily by the large maize meal price differential. Maize meal prices rose by as much as 40 to 50 percent in parts of Northern and North-Western Province while Copperbelt towns registered an average of 30 percent increases between October and December. This prompted the Government of Zambia to intervene by directing the FRA to sell maize on the market on a monthly basis and at the fixed price of ZMW60/kg in order to meet miller demand. The Government of Zambia has further requested that millers reduce their maize meal prices following an outcry from consumers in surplus areas.

    Tanzania’s available staple food stocks remain in high demand from traders supplying markets in East Africa and the Greater Horn. As a result, maize prices in most markets have remained well above the five-year average since the beginning of the year.  The government is now selling maize in 200 MT increments from its SGR to stabilize the high maize prices. The sales from the SGR have not significantly affected markets to date since many small and medium scale traders are unable to buy these large quantities.

    In Malawi, while a national maize surplus was assessed for the 2012/13 consumption year, a 14 percent production shortfall of maize in the southern region and below-average production in the traditional cross border source areas of Mozambique, have placed significant pressure on available supplies as the lean season continues (including the SGR- some of which was released as part of humanitarian assistance). This, coupled with an unstable macroeconomic environment has caused prices to spike well above last year and the five-year average across the country.  The ongoing humanitarian response in the south, and subsidized maize sales by the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC), have failed to effectively stabilize maize prices and stem the increases.  Persistent high demand in neighboring Tanzania to supply markets in the Greater Horn has created strong pressure on prices in the productive northern region where significant informal exports through Songwe and Mbirima borders persist despite the current ban on exports (Figure 4). Total informal exports into Tanzania increased by 19 percent between April and December 2012 compared to their respective 2011 levels. 

    In Zimbabwe, despite localized shortages in staple food production, relative macroeconomic stability and food import policies have contributed to price stability across much of the country with private traders importing maize grain and other staple foods from Zambia, South Africa, and Botswana. In addition, households are gaining access to grain through the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) loan scheme, seasonal targeted assistance distributions, and national social protection programming. This has stabilized supplies and kept maize price trends within seasonal norms, rising marginally as the lean season peaks especially in markets (such as Harare) situated in the country’s productive areas. Maize grain prices in Harare remained unchanged between November and December 2012, while in Bulawayo (situated in a low production area) prices rose by nine percent due to rising seasonal demand. 

    In Mozambique, staple food production was generally lower in most parts of the country (including some of the productive parts of the central zone) in the 2011/12 agriculture season. This lower production is also the reason why the traditional informal outflows from northern and central Mozambique into southern Malawi have dwindled to zero, and in some instances been reversed - with maize now flowing into Mozambique. These low levels of production have also been the main cause of the current high staple food prices observed throughout the country. Dwindling market supplies, the late start of the season, and prospects of a delayed harvest explain some of the atypical price increases observed since December 2012 on some of the major reference markets in the southern region of the country. The southern market of Chókwe recorded a 33 percent increase in maize prices between November and December 2012, a trend that is likely to continue until the main harvest begins.

    Agricultural Season Performance

    Extremely high rainfall in January has led to flooding and waterlogging in parts of southern and central Mozambique, Zimbabwe, northern South Africa, Malawi and Zambia. Reports from Mozambique indicate that over 110,000 hectares (ha) of cropped land had been lost as of late January. The extreme rainfall has eliminated rainfall deficits in many parts of the region, and will be beneficial to crops planted in flood recession areas.  However, it has been of no benefit to the early planted crops, which in many areas have already wilted permanently.

    Erratic rainfall combined with high temperatures in November and December resulted in poor emergence and crop failure in parts of the region, especially the southern parts of both Mozambique and Zimbabwe. In southern Mozambique an estimated 37,000 ha of crops were lost. Replanting is reported to have taken place in affected areas. There are chances that replanted crops can still perform well if good rains continue until late into the season, as has happened in the past, especially in Mozambique.  However, it is also likely that some of the replanted crops may have been negatively affected by the extreme rainfall in January, and further replanting may be required.

    A significantly delayed (up to 40 days) and erratic onset of rains, high temperatures, and generally poor rainfall distribution in Lesotho has reduced the likelihood of good agricultural production this season. Delayed onsets are particularly detrimental to crops in Lesotho due to early onset of frost, which can negatively affect crop yields if it occurs before crops reach maturity.  In Angola, satellite imagery suggests poor rainfall performance in the central/western parts of the country from late December to mid-January. This is supported by vegetation-based satellite images which also depict below average conditions over the same area (Figure 6). Although not conclusive without ground information, this analysis indicates that close monitoring is required.

    Despite the localized negative impacts of inclement weather in many countries, crop conditions are reported to be good in most parts of the region.  Average to above average food production is likely if there is favorable rainfall distribution through to April.  Reports indicate that the African armyworm outbreaks in Botswana, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe have been effectively brought under control through measures put in place by various authorities. Measures are also in place to respond to any reported fresh outbreaks. While these infestations might compromise overall national production, the impact has been moderated by replanting in affected areas.


    The January to June outlook is based on the following regional-level assumptions:

    Markets and Trade

    • Between January and March, local staple food supplies will continue to decrease resulting in further decline in intra-regional trade. However, despite reduced supplies and restrictive export policies in some countries, trade is expected to continue albeit at reduced levels, in response to growing demand as the lean season peaks. As a result, deficit parts of the region are likely to face tighter cereal supplies.  During the April to June period, 2012/13 harvests are expected from April onwards and this boost supplies providing incentive for traders to embark on purchases for export. Maize exports by South African grain traders are expected to continue throughout the period, and to increase significantly in the April to June period as the 2013/14 marketing season begins.
    • Rising fuel prices, ongoing calls for higher wages in the mining and agricultural sector, and planned increases in electricity tariffs are likely to exert more pressure on inflation resulting in high food prices in South Africa. Food inflation has risen from 5.3 percent in July 2012 to 6.9 percent in December 2012. Rising food costs in South Africa coupled with high transport costs are likely to be reflected in higher food prices in neighboring countries that rely on South Africa for food imports, especially in the period before the expected main season harvests.  
    • With the new harvest available by April, most households across the region will likely reduce their dependence on markets for staple foods, reducing the pressure on prices which are expected to remain above both last year and the five-year average from January to March.  In parts of the region where the season onset was delayed, the anticipated delay of the green harvest will tend to keep prices higher for longer than normally expected.
    •  Due to prospects for an above average maize harvest in South Africa; maize prices on the South African Futures Exchange (SAFEX) have decreased since November and are expected to remain stable until the harvest. However, trends will continue to be influenced by global maize price trends, the depreciation of the Rand and crop performance, given the excessive rains in January that have resulted in flooding and waterlogging in some cropping areas. The depreciation of the Rand (about 16 percent since the start of the consumption period in April 2012) is likely to maintain upward pressure on food inflation and prices.

    Agricultural and other labor

    • Throughout the region, due to the current level of farming activities (including replanting, weeding, and fertilizer application) the agriculture labor opportunities are near normal levels for this time of the year and are expected to continue to behave this way between January and March. From April, available agriculture labor opportunities will be more related to the harvest.
    • The continued labor unrest in South Africa’s mines and farms is likely to lead to job losses as companies try to break even given the demands for much higher wage rates and the recently announced increase of 52 percent in farm laborer’s wages.  Migrants are likely to face reduced labor opportunities which will reduce remittances during the outlook period to such countries as Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe, all of which have significant migrant populations in South Africa. Reduced remittances have a negative impact on the livelihoods of many households in these countries for which it is an important source of income.


    • The poor rainfall performance during the October to December period, associated with delayed start of season ranging between 20-40 days and erratic rains, particularly in parts of Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho, is likely to result in a shortened cropping season. Late plantings are likely to delay and reduce green harvests that are normally expected around February/March and will extend the lean season. 
    • A forecast update issued by the Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) suggests a continuation of enhanced chances of normal to above-normal rainfall for most of the region for the February-April 2013 period. In the short term, forecasts from major climate centers suggest a reduction in rainfall activity through the end of January into early February over most of the areas affected by extreme rainfall in south-eastern parts of the region, which will help in the recession of floods and recovery of waterlogged crops.
    • Within the dry, marginally productive areas in the region, like the semi-arid and arid parts of Mozambique and Zimbabwe, dry spells are normally experienced in February. Given that the season started late in these areas, with crops in their early vegetative stages in mid - January, dry spells in February will likely result in reduced harvests in 2013 because the crops may fail to reach maturity.

    Pest Infestations and Disease Outbreaks

    • Given the high pre-breeding populations and favorable ecological conditions for red locust breeding during December, the International Red Locust Control Organization for Central and Southern Africa (IRLCO-CSA) forecasts that hopper bands are likely to form from mid-January 2013 in Wembere plains, Ikuu-Katavi plains and Malagarasi Basin (Tanzania), Lake Chilwa/Lake Chiuta plains of Malawi, Kafue Flats in Zambia and Buzi-Gorongosa plains in Mozambique. These areas had high pre-breeding populations of red locusts in October. Locust outbreaks can lead to significant crop damage, resulting in reduced yields and harvests.
    • The increased rainfall activities expected between December 2012 and February 2013 in some parts of the region will continue to provide favorable conditions for armyworm outbreaks. As a result, the armyworm outbreaks experienced in November in Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia are likely to spread further south as the migration route of armyworm moths usually take a southern direction. A January 2013 FAO report also indicates a high likelihood of the armyworm infestation spreading to northern South Africa.

    Humanitarian Assistance

    • Emergency food assistance needs are expected throughout the outlook period in worst flood affected parts of the region, especially in Mozambique’s Limpopo, Maputo and the Zambezi basins areas. These needs will likely be covered by national governments and their partners. Input and seeds distribution will also be provided to enable replanting for the main season, as well as seeds for second season planting.
    • Funding of humanitarian assistance programs in Malawi and Zimbabwe is likely to continue to remain adequate throughout the outlook and as the needs of food insecure populations peak during the lean season. The Flash Appeal for Lesotho received more funding, reducing the funding gap to 46 percent from 85 percent.
    Most Likely Regional Food Security Outcomes

    Food security conditions between January and March are expected to remain stable across most parts of the region, with many households experiencing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity outcomes. This is despite rising food prices as observed in December/January across most of the region, and anticipated delays in green harvests for some areas where the season started late. Access to food for many households in the region will continue to be impacted by national trade policies, regional trade flows, high food prices, in addition to food quantity and quality from green harvests during the January to March period. The availability of green harvests from February/March is likely to improve access for some households who planted in October and whose crops were not affected by the November/December dryness. The arrival of the green harvest will also reduce households’ dependence on local market purchases, relieving pressure on prices and enabling those households still relying on markets to access food at reduced prices. The exception is in parts of southern Malawi, where households are expected to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity outcomes even with humanitarian assistance. Poor households in some parts of central and southern Mozambique are expected to also experience livelihood protection deficits equivalent to levels of Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity outcomes in the face of limited coping strategies and lack of humanitarian assistance.

    From April to June, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity outcomes are projected for most parts of the region as the majority of households will start accessing food from the main season harvest expected in April. The harvest season will also provide opportunities for labor exchange enabling improved access to food for poorer households. Food prices are expected to stabilize and start declining in response to improved market provisioning from the harvests, and reduced dependence on market purchases. These conditions are expected to prevail during the second half of the outlook period even in parts of the region where production could be below average due to poor rainfall performance and/or flood impacts because most households do manage to harvest some food to last them at least three months.

    The exception is in flood impacted parts of southern Mozambique (Chókwe district) where the impact of flooding was more extreme; resulting in loss of lives, the displacement of thousands of people, loss of crops, and asset and infrastructure damage. In Chókwe, while receiving assistance households are projected to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) throughout the outlook period and will only have access to crops planted in flood recession areas in July.

    Most Likely National Food Security Outcomes


    • While poorer rural households in the central and northern parts of the country are expected to maintain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity outcomes by accessing food from own production, supplemented by market purchases with income from agricultural casual labor, poor households in the south will continue to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity outcomes even in the presence of humanitarian assistance during the January to March period.
    • Although humanitarian programming is targeting approximately 2 million people identified as at risk of food insecurity in southern Malawi during the 2012/13 consumption year, reports of widespread sharing of food rations suggests that more households than initially identified are missing food entitlements. Poor households that are receiving assistance in Chikhwawa District are likely to experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity outcomes because of the level of mandatory sharing and extremely limited migratory labor opportunities in Mozambique.
    • As the lean season progresses, access to food by all households in southern Malawi will continue to be constrained by very high food prices, limited household incomes, limited access to affordable maize supplies in ADMARC markets, further depreciation of the local currency, and rising transportation costs.
    • Although Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity outcomes are projected across the whole country during the April to June period because of anticipated increased food supplies from the 2013 harvests, it is also likely that some parts of the country may experience dry spells which could negatively impact crop development and reduce food production. Despite a forecast of above average rainfall for the remainder of the season by the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services (DoCCMS), there is still the possibility of dry spells across the region. Above average rainfall can result in flooding and this could also adversely impact crop development. The damage from the flooding reported in Salima, Mangochi, Phalombe and Nsanje districts in early January was too minimal to affect current and future food security outcomes.


    • In the January to March outlook period, food insecurity outcomes for the majority of rural poor households are expected to remain at Minimal (IPC Phase 1), given that food is generally available, markets are well supplied, and prices are generally affordable. However, between January and March pockets of Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity exist in parts of southern and central Mozambique affected by production shortfalls last season and recent floods. Poor households face limited access to food through market purchases. These areas include parts of Cahora Bassa, Mutarara, Macossa, Machanga districts in the central zone and Chigubo, Chókwe and Funhalouro in the south.
    • While long dry spells and extremely high temperatures in November and December in southern parts of the country resulted in crop failure, requiring replanting; unusually heavy rainfall over some of the same areas triggered flooding that displaced 150,000 people, damaged crops and infrastructure, and the increased the risk of waterborne diseases.  While emergency assistance is needed for the next two to three months, longer-term food security implications are still being determined. Based on initial assessments, flood impacted households in the south will be classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2), in the presence of assistance, between January and March and are projected to maintain that phase mainly due to anticipated delays in green and main harvests during the April to June period.
    • From April to June, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are projected for most rural households, with the exception of parts of the Lower Limpopo Valley (Chókwe district) where due to severe flood damage; households are projected to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity outcomes.  However, conditions could worsen in other parts given that the peak of the rainy and cyclone seasons normally occurs between mid-February and late March.


    • The food security situation across the country has been generally stable; and the abnormal maize meal prices observed in November and December 2012 were not transmitted into January 2013 following the Government’s directive to millers to reduce the wholesale price. The resulting price drop is expected to increase access to the staple food for poorer market dependent households.
    • Food production prospects from the 2013 harvests are good despite a slow start of the season and crop damage by armyworms in December. Increased rainfall intensity in early January increased the risk of flooding in flood prone areas of southern, central and western Zambia; however the impact on crops was moderate.
    • Food insecurity outcomes are projected to remain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) across the country even as the lean season progresses and are expected to remain the same throughout the outlook period. Although there are reduced supplies of maize grain in local markets as well as at household levels, most households are depending on industrially processed maize meal. Maize sales to millers by the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) are keeping the markets adequately supplied, while needy rural households are also accessing the commodity from the Agency.


    • The food security situation across the country has been generally stable as a result of a steady food supply, seasonal staple food price increases, and the continued distribution of food assistance to rural households by the Government of Zimbabwe and the humanitarian community.
    • The start of the agriculture season was delayed by 10-20 days across the country and was further characterized by late planting and excessive rains in January. With forecasts for normal to above normal rains for the whole country between January and March, continued monitoring of rainfall distribution is needed in order to determine the impact of rains on crop development and subsequent 2013 harvests.
    • Most households across the country (including the poor in deficit areas that are receiving food assistance) are currently facing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity outcomes that are expected to continue during the peak of the lean season (January-March). With the start of the main harvest in April, household food access across the country is expected to improve between April and June since households will have food from their own production. 

    Events that Might Change the Outlook



    Impact on food security outcomes

    Cereal deficit parts of the region

    Local and cross border traders do not respond as anticipated and limited food stocks flow to the deficit areas.

    Markets in food deficit areas will be undersupplied, causing food prices to rise sharply above typical seasonal trends.  Food deficits could increase, especially for poor households.

    Across the region

    Actual rainfall is below normal resulting in poor seasonal performance and crop failure.

    Poor rainfall performance will lead to below average harvests likely resulting in very poor households facing Stressed food insecurity outcomes for the April-June period.

    Southern Malawi, Mozambique and Lesotho

    Humanitarian interventions/ assistance programs are inadequately funded. 

    Failure to respond timely and to meet needs will result in poorer households being unable to meet their livelihood and food consumption needs, resulting in IPC Phase 2 or 3 food security outcomes in these areas.

    Across the region

    Inadequate supply of inputs and fertilizers for replanting and for second season cropping.

    This will prevent households from benefiting from the expected favorable agroclimatic conditions for replanting and during the second season.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, January 2013.

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, January 2013.

    Source: FEWS NET

    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.

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