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Record dryness in February significantly lowers harvest prospects across the region

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Southern Africa
  • February - September 2024
Record dryness in February significantly lowers harvest prospects across the region

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  • Key Messages
  • Outlook by Country
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Most likely food security outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian assistance
  • Key Messages
    • Most countries in the region reached the typical peak of the lean season period in February, which was characterized by depleted harvested food stocks, above-average food prices, and reduced agricultural labor opportunities and income. Limited access to income for market food purchases drives Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in typical deficit production areas of southern Zimbabwe, Malawi, Madagascar, eastern and northern DRC, and southern and central Mozambique. However, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are present in southern Madagascar and Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, where ongoing humanitarian food assistance supports at least 25 percent of households with access to 25 percent of their kilocalories. However, increasing insecurity and the resurgence of attacks in Cabo Delgado and eastern DRC continue to drive Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in these areas. However, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are present in the central and northern parts of most countries in the region, driven by access to income for food purchases and the availability of stocks from the previous harvest.
    • February was characterized by record dryness and high temperatures, resulting in severe moisture stress, reduced harvest potential, and crop failure for food and some cash crops, particularly in Zimbabwe, southern and central Mozambique, and southern Malawi. Significantly below-average harvests are expected across the region, which is expected to negatively impact food access, harvesting labor, and crop sales through the post-harvest period. The below-average El Niño induced rainfall also limited pasture regeneration and impacted water availability for animals in some parts of the region. Typically, drier parts of the region were the most affected, with water and pasture availability likely to decline earlier than normal during the upcoming dry season in the winter months. This is expected to impact livestock body conditions and prices negatively. Poor water availability is also expected to affect some livelihoods negatively, and less income from activities such as vegetable production, brick making, construction, and other coping strategies in the post-harvest period.
    • The Southern Africa region is expected to have a supply gap for staple cereals following the expected below-average harvest. The combined maize exports from South Africa and Tanzania are unlikely to meet the regional demand, and some countries will likely have to source grain from East Africa (Uganda) and South America to fill supply gaps due to below-average regional grain supply. There are increasing reports that some households with stocks are limiting grain deliveries to markets ahead of the poor harvest to maximize stocks for the upcoming consumption year. In Malawi and Zimbabwe, there are ongoing informal imports of maize grain from neighboring countries as households seek to improve their food stocks.
    • At the height of the lean season period in February, maize grain prices are seasonally high and higher than the five-year average in Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Mozambique. Grain prices are likely to drop seasonally during the harvest, albeit marginally, starting in April due to the expected poor harvests and continued limited market supply. Domestic grain prices are expected to remain atypically high in the post-harvest period as markets increasingly depend on imported supplies. Food inflation is expected to accelerate resulting in lower than normal household purchasing power. Poor macroeconomic conditions associated with acceleration in monthly inflation and depreciating exchange rates, such as in Malawi and Zimbabwe, may exacerbate the protracted food shortages and limit access to other basic non-food items.

    Outlook by Country

    Democratic Republic of Congo

    Key Messages

    • Since the last quarter of 2023, the multiplication of attacks carried out mainly by armed groups - the M23 rebels, the ADF, CODECO, and Mobondo militias - has raised the level of violence, causing further population displacements. With the arrival of SADEC troops to reinforce the national army, an increase in violence is expected, leading to further population movements. According to OCHA, over 10 million people are already affected by these movements, including internally displaced persons, returnees, and host households. These people are experiencing limited access to their typical sources of food and income. The areas most affected by the security crisis in the east of the country remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).
    • In addition to the combined effects of insecurity and population movements, the last two agricultural seasons have seen above-normal rainfall, causing flooding, landslides, and asset destruction for thousands of households with damaged infrastructure. According to the Congolese government, around half a million households have been affected, and 400,000 hectares of cultivated land were destroyed in 18 of the country's 26 provinces, representing around 3.5 percent of cultivated land.
    • The Congolese franc continues to depreciate throughout 2024. In January, the currency saw a weekly depreciation of 1.34%. As a result, prices of key commodities are rising unusually sharply in DRC markets. In January 2024, the price of basic foodstuffs (beans, flour, vegetable oil, etc.) was around 27% higher than last year and 134% higher than the five-year average. The combined effects of the devaluation of the local currency and the continuing rise in the prices of strategic products such as fuel keep food prices on the rise.
    • In February 2024, with hostilities resuming in the east of the country, the areas most affected by conflict are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). In the central basin, particularly in Equateur province, which has suffered flooding, the situation is also in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). The provinces of Sankuru, Tshuapa, Tshopo, Haut-Uele, Bas-Uele, Sud Ubangi, Nord Ubangi, Mongala, Kasaï Oriental, Kasaï Central, part of Maniema and Haut-Katanga, which are stable, and where households have better access to food, will be in Stress (IPC Phase 2), which covers a large part of the country. The western provinces (Kongo Central, Kwango) and southeastern provinces (Haut Lomami and Lualaba), which have not experienced major shocks and do not have food consumption deficits, will remain in Minimal (IPC Phase 1).

    For more information, including events that would change the most likely scenario, see the February 2024 Democratic Republic of Congo Food Security Outlook.


    Key Messages

    • In the Grand South, the rainy season was generally on time to slightly late, with below-average accumulation in AtsimoAndrefana and parts of Androy, with most areas receiving 60 to 90 percent of average rainfall. The main harvest between mid-March and April is approaching. Maize production in the Grand South is expected to be below average, while sorghum and sweet potato harvests are anticipated to be near average. Below-average cassava production is expected in Androy and Atsimo-Andrefana due to forecasted poor soil moisture. Ongoing green harvesting of immature maize crops in the Grand South by households trying to mitigate their consumption gaps is also expected to impact yields negatively. In the Grand Southeast, rainfall was slightly early or on time. As of February 22, cumulative precipitation was average to above average in the Grand Southeast and Anosy. Harvests of maize, rice, sweet potato, and cassava crops are expected to be average in the Grand Southeast due to good rainfall performance during the 2023/24 season.
    •  In the Grand South, the lean season is at its peak, and several districts are likely experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. For many households, cassava and other staple crop stocks have been depleted since November. Households must purchase most of their food at markets with below-average agricultural incomes while prices are at seasonal peaks. The main harvest occurring in April is expected to improve household food access and replenish stocks, resulting in improvements to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. While maize harvests starting in mid-March are expected to be below average in Androy and Atsimo-Andrefana, cassava is the most important crop in these zones and requires significantly less water than maize. Most households across the Grand South will be able to meet their minimum kilocalorie needs through September 2024 through harvests of sorghum, sweet potatoes, and cassava. However, many households will likely struggle to meet their essential non-food needs due to the need to service debts accrued during the most recent lean season and during the historic drought that ended in late 2022.
    • In the Grand Southeast, it is also the peak of the lean season. In the isolated, landlocked districts of Ikongo, Befotaka, and inland Nosy Varika, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely ongoing. For poor households, limited stocks of off-season rice have now been exhausted, and they must purchase most of their food at seasonally high prices. Supply flows have been disrupted and are irregular, unpredictable, and below average due to seasonally deteriorated road conditions. As a result, prices in these remote areas are even higher. Due to the limited hiring capacity of better-off households unable to afford wages after successive years of weather shocks, incomes from agricultural labor and cash crop production remain below average. The arrival of the main season sweet potato and maize harvest in April and the rice harvest in mid-May, which are expected to be average, is likely to improve and maintain outcomes in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through September 2024. Several districts with better market access and more diverse food and income sources will likely be able to maintain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes throughout the scenario period.
    • Significant humanitarian food and cash distributions will continue in the Grand South until March 2024 and are improving outcomes to Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) in the following areas: Amboasary (MG24 and MG26 only), Beloha, Tshihombe, Bekily (MG22 only), and Ampanihy (MG22 only). At least 25 percent of the population in these areas will be able to meet at least 50 percent of their kilocalorie needs through humanitarian assistance. Several organizations, including WFP and FAO, are also implementing livelihoods and resilience interventions.

    For more information, including events that would change the most likely scenario, see the February 2024 Madagascar Food Security Outlook.


    Key Messages

    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes supported by humanitarian food assistance will persist in southern Malawi through March 2024, when harvests start, and the assistance program in targeted areas comes to an end. While harvests will increase food and income availability in the May to August period, some households in southern Malawi will likely remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) due to a likelihood of reduced production as well as low resilience caused by consecutive years of tropical cyclones/flooding since 2019. Central and northern Malawi districts will experience localized Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes until April and May 2024, when harvests will start. Most of central and northern Malawi will then be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) classification through September 2024. 
    • Between December 2023 and January 2024, maize grain prices in FEWS NET-monitored markets reached 230 percent above the five-year average, registering month-on-month price increases averaging 10 percent and year-on-year price percentage changes averaging 90 percent. At the national level, the absolute price averaged 905 MWK per kilogram, with the Nsanje market in southern Malawi recording the highest price of 1100 MWK per kilogram and the Mzuzu market in northern Malawi recording the lowest price of 720 MWK per kilogram. The average price of milled rice has increased by 6 percent compared to last month, 30 percent compared to the previous year, and 120 percent compared to the five-year average. Beans were trending 15 percent above last month, 50 percent above last year, and 110 percent above the five-year average. Maize prices are peaking in February before seasonally starting to decrease as the 2024 harvests boost household food stocks, increase market supply, and reduce market demand and dependence. 
    • The Malawi economy continues to face challenges, including very high inflation and shortages of foreign currency. However, the macroeconomy was showing some improvements as of January and February, driven by the commencement in November 2023 of budgetary support and other aid by donors. According to the National Statistics Office, Malawi continues to register increased inflation, remaining around 35 percent from December 2023 to January 2024. Malawi's foreign currency levels stay below the recommended minimum of 3.9 months of import cover (Reserve Bank of Malawi). The Reserve Bank of Malawi reported that the country's foreign currency reserves had increased to an equivalent of 2.7 months of import cover as of the end of December 2023, up from less than one-month of import cover in previous months. The value of the Malawi Kwacha was reported to have decreased by 50 percent against the USD in the last quarter of 2023. 
    • Malawi will likely record below-normal production in the 2023/ 24 agricultural season, mainly driven by poor rainfall performance due to the El Niño weather phenomenon, as forecasted by local, regional, and global models. According to the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services (DCCMS) and FEWS NET's seasonal forecast, January to March rainfall will likely be below average in southern and central Malawi, while rainfall in northern Malawi is expected to be average to above average. Extreme events such as midseason dry spells and localized flooding are expected. Currently, Malawi is undergoing prolonged dry spells of over a month between January and February, which is causing severe moisture stress for crops and likely to cause significant loss of crop harvest. FEWS NET will closely follow-up and continually update the food insecurity analysis as the season evolves and the acute food insecurity outcome are likely to worsen.

    For more information, including events that would change the most likely scenario, see the February 2024 Malawi Food Security Outlook.


    Key Messages

    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected through September 2024 due to the negative effects of El Niño as no significant improvement is observed in the southern and central areas. Some Stressed (IPC Phase 2) areas may worsen to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) around August due to the expected rapid depletion of the imminent below-average harvest, limited access to income, and above-average food prices. In Cabo Delgado, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) areas are rapidly reemerging as some Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) areas experience growing insecurity. The resurgence of attacks is increasing the number of IDPs, interrupting humanitarian actions, and posing enormous challenges to the humanitarian community's ability to respond. However, at the national level, the majority of poorest households across the country are expected to face Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes.
    • For the ongoing 2023/2024 agricultural season, a below-average harvest is expected at the national level, mainly due to the negative effects of El Niño which is affecting most of the country except for northern parts of Niassa and Cabo Delgado provinces. Negative effects of the El Niño phenomenon are below-average rainfall, irregular rainfall distribution, and above-average temperatures. In Maputo province, rainfall distribution has been relatively regular, but intense heat has caused water stress in crops which may result in belowaverage yields. In areas affected by the conflict, including Macomia, Chiúre, Mecúfi, Metuge, Mocímboa da Praia, Quissanga, Ancuabe, and Muidumbe districts, the resurgence and fear of attacks will affect recently resumed livelihood activities including agriculture, and may result in lower than expected crop production.
    • In January 2024, FSC partners provided humanitarian food assistance to approximately 21,500 people in Cabo Delgado and Niassa, representing around 2.4 percent of the targeted population. 61 percent of beneficiaries are from Cabo Delgado, and 39 percent are from Niassa. From May this year, humanitarian food assistance will be discontinued in Nampula. Regarding agriculture and livelihoods response, since October 2023 to January 2024 (main Agricultural campaign) FSC partners would have assisted approx 241,700 people in Cabo Delgado alone (92,468 in January), of which around 15 percent are from host/local communities, 13 percent are internally displaced people, and the remainder are mixed households. The deterioration in the security situation is affecting humanitarian actions with reports of temporary suspension in Quissanga and Chiúre, which could be resumed at any time, depending on the dynamics on the ground. On the other hand, limited funds to respond to ever increasing needs are forcing the World Food Program (WFP) to reduce humanitarian food assistance in 2024 and adopting some targeting and prioritization principles that include prioritizing the most vulnerable, prioritizing districts of return, mitigating push and pull factors, concentrating resources for cost-effectiveness, incorporating seasonality considerations, and implementing evidence-driven adjustments.
    • In January 2024, maize grain prices remained stable but 30 and 20 percent higher on average than last year and the five-year average, respectively. The highest variations occurred in Maputo, where the price in January was 50 percent higher than last year, and in Nampula, where the price was 45 percent higher than the five-year average. Rice and maize meal prices remained relatively stable between December 2023 and January 2024 and compared to last year, but 30 and 15 percent higher on average than the five-year average, respectively. The high prices of staple foods are further reducing the purchasing power of poor households who are reliant on markets for food following the impacts of El Niño, especially in the semiarid areas in the south and center of the country.

    For more information, including events that would change the most likely scenario, see the  February 2024 Mozambique Food Security Outlook.


    Key Messages

    • A historically dry February has resulted in severe water stress for crops across most parts of the country. The 2024 harvest is expected to be poor and will impact household food access through the post-harvest period, along with high food prices and limited access to income-earning opportunities leading to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in typical deficit-producing areas in the south, east, west, and extreme north. In typical northern surplus-producing areas, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely to be present through much of the projection period as households will likely be able to meet their minimum food needs from a below-average 2024 harvest and market purchases, but high prices and lower than normal purchasing power will limit their access to non-food needs. Similarly, most urban areas are expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as poor households are likely to be able to meet only their basic food needs, but high prices and limited income-earning opportunities will limit household access to non-food needs.
    • Grain market supplies are expected to be below normal across the country throughout the outlook period. Low market supply and high demand will keep grain prices higher than the five-year average, with the seasonal decline in prices in the harvest and post-harvest periods unlikely to occur. Most households are likely to rely on maize meal due to its likely higher availability than maize and traditional or small grains. A higher-than-normal national cereal deficit is expected to lead to above-normal grain imports throughout the outlook period. South Africa will likely continue to be the main source of maize imports.
    • Water and pasture conditions are expected to be poor, especially in typically low rainfall areas following cumulatively below-average rainfall that has limited pasture regeneration through the rainy season. Poor livestock body conditions, particularly for cattle, will likely lead to higher-than-normal livestock deaths in the dry season as the limited pastures deplete and high prices limit access to supplementary feeds. Poor water availability and access are also expected to negatively impact household engagement in casual labor, construction-related activities, vegetable production and sales, and other livelihood and coping activities. An increase in human-wildlife conflicts is expected in some areas bordering parks and forests as wild animals seek water and food among communities.
    • The high and likely continued increase in exchange rates will likely keep ZWL prices well above normal, with price rises also likely in USD as the high production and transportation costs are passed onto the consumer. An increase in the cost of living in ZWL and USD will increase the proportion of households unable to afford basic food needs despite food commodities being generally available on the market. Poor households are likely to increasingly engage in consumption and livelihood based coping strategies to meet their food needs. Government, donors, humanitarian partners, and other stakeholders should prepare for high food assistance needs throughout 2024, with a likely need to further scale up humanitarian assistance in late 2024 and early 2025, given an anticipated earlier-than-normal start of the 2024/25 lean season.

    For more information, including events that would change the most likely scenario, see the February 2024 Zimbabwe Food Security Outlook.

    Remotely monitored countries 


    Key Messages

    • Despite sufficiently stocked markets, poor households' access to staple foods remains constrained due to weak purchasing power and above-average staple prices, typical during the peak of the lean season. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are present among very poor and poor households in most southern parts of Angola as high food prices and limited access to income keep household purchasing power low. At least one in five households in southern Angola is expected to remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through September as below-average harvests, lower-than-normal labor opportunities, and high food prices keep households purchasing power low amid higher-than-normal dependence on market purchases to meet their food needs, especially in Huila, Cuando Cubango, and Cunene.

    • Poor rainfall during the 2023/24 season has resulted in poor cropping conditions in southern Angola. Cumulative rainfall through February is 55 to 85 percent of the 40-year average in most southern areas and is significantly below average in Huila, Cunene, and Cuando Cubango. As of the end of February, the Water Requirement Satisfaction Index (WRSI) extended to the end of the season indicates that maize cropping conditions in the Southern Cattle, Millet, and Sorghum livelihood zone are mediocre to poor. However, drought-tolerant crops like sorghum and some millets are primarily grown here and are likely less affected by the drought conditions. In the Southern Highlands Agropastoral livelihood zone, where maize is more commonly grown, WRSI indicates maize conditions are average to good. However, dry conditions will likely negatively impact southern Angola's production prospects.

    • Macroeconomic conditions continue to be challenging due to resumed debt payments and fuel subsidy reductions that are triggering the devaluation of the AOA and high inflation. Current prices for staple foods are considerably higher than in past years and are likely to remain high through September. Price increases are expected to be driven by limited market supplies for major staples due to the projected below-average harvests and increased transportation costs linked to the reduction of fuel subsidies. In the drought-affected areas, poor households' access to staple market purchases is likely to remain lower than normal due to weak purchasing power. 

    For more information, including events that would change the most likely scenario, see the  February 2024 Angola Remote Monitoring Report.


    Key Messages

    • Despite sufficiently stocked markets, poor households' access to staples remains constrained due to weak purchasing power and above-average staple prices, which is typical during the peak lean season. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes among poor and very poor households will likely continue through April. The main harvest is expected to begin in April and be slightly below average due to erratic rainfall in January and February. After harvesting starts, food consumption for most poor households will likely improve due to improved access to their own-produced staples. Consequently, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected from May until September as households access their food and non-food needs, but Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to return around September when own-harvested food stocks diminish.
    • Generally, Lesotho has received average rainfall that has supported favorable cropping conditions. The maize crop in most parts of Lesotho is at the reproductive and maturation stages after a near-normal start of the season. However, high temperatures and erratic rainfall in mid-January and February will likely reduce overall harvests to slightly below the five-year average.
    • As is typical during the lean season, most poor households engage in agriculture labor activities to earn income for staple food purchases since they exhausted their produced stocks between September and October last year. Currently, weeding is the most common activity across the country, but in April, poor households will increasingly engage in harvesting. In some parts of the country, agricultural labor has been slightly affected by erratic rainfall. Increased competition for labor opportunities also likely limits income-earning opportunities from agricultural labor. Given reduced income sources, most poor households have limited purchasing power for market food purchases.

    For more information, including events that would change the most likely scenario, see the February 2024 Lesotho Remote Monitoring Report.

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Seasonal Calendar for Southern Africa

    Source: FEWS NET

    Most likely food security outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian assistance

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Southern Africa Food Security Outlook February - September 2024: Record dryness in February significantly lowers harvest prospects across the region, 2024.

    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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