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The 2020 harvest expected to temporarily improve food availability begining in April

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Southern Africa
  • March - September 2020
The 2020 harvest expected to temporarily improve food availability begining in April

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • The number of households experiencing food consumption gaps is at near-record levels across much of the region due to the impacts of last year’s severe drought. Ongoing humanitarian assistance distribution is preventing more severe outcomes and Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are present in areas of Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are present in parts of Zimbabwe, DRC, Mozambique, Lesotho and Madagascar where households are reliant on markets with significantly below average purchasing power.

    • The green harvest typically starts in February/March across much of the region. Although, while January and February rainfall improve cropping conditions, the green harvest is delayed and largely unavailable due to permanent wilting of crops in southern parts of Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Madagascar. In much of the region, the primary harvest is expected to improve food security outcomes; however, in the parts of DRC, southern Mozambique, and much of Zimbabwe Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected. Similar outcomes are expected in conflict affected areas of DRC and Mozambique. Minimal (IPC Phase 1) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected in the rest of the region.

    • Despite the start of the green harvest in some areas, staple food prices continue to atypically increase in Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. In Mozambique maize grain prices were 25 to 75 percent above last year’s prices and 25 to 55 percent above the five-year average. For Malawi, prices are double the five-year average. Prices in Zimbabwe continue to significantly increase due to the high inflation rate. In addition, the country is experiencing acute maize meal shortages, causing traders to increase prices. Across the region, maize prices are expected to remain well above average despite the harvest, although will most likely follow seasonal trends.


    Democratic Republic of the Congo 

    • Harvests in agricultural season A were generally below normal, particularly in the central-southern part of the country, owing to heavy flooding caused by excessive rainfall. This situation, occurring in a deficit region that is under strong pressure from returnees of all categories, suggests that there will be difficulties in accessing food in the short term, particularly in Kasai and Kasai-Central.
    • Despite the significant return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to Kasai region, which is estimated to amount to approximately 63 percent of the 1.6 million registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the poor coverage of current humanitarian assistance could result in the incomplete reintegration of these returnees, with the possibility of inadvisable choices being made, such as illegal activities or even the remobilization of young people from different militias.
    • Since December 2019, prices for staple foods have increased on all of the country’s markets. According to the Ministry of the Economy, this can be explained by the drop in the exchange rate, weather conditions and the deterioration of key sections of road throughout the country. These facts are reflected respectively in limited access to food, reduced agricultural production and difficulties in getting harvested crops to consumption centers.
    • During the scenario period, which will start with lean season B, poor performance during the previous season, insufficient assistance to returnees and the resumption of hostilities in some eastern provinces, will result in a difficult food situation and a Crisis (IPC Phase 3) situation in the area, notably in Ituri, Nord-Kivu, the central-southern part of Kasai and Kasai-Central. The rest of the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) will be in Stressed (IPC Phase 2), except for the almost-stable northern areas which remain in a Minimal (IPC Phase 1) situation.

     To learn more, see the February 2020 Democratic Republic of Congo Food Security Outlook.


    • The 2019/2020 cyclone season is particularly intensive this year compared to previous years. Following Cyclone Belna in December 2019, a tropical disturbance formed in the Mozambique Channel in the third week of January 2020 and caused heavy, incessant rains and floods in northern parts of Madagascar.
    • Below normal cumulative rainfall and below-average vegetation have been recorded in southern Madagascar between October 2019 and February 2020, particularly in northern Amboasary and parts of Ambovombe, Tsihombe and Bekily.
    • The Fall Army Worm (FAW, Spodoptera Frugiperda) continues to infest cereal crops. Pest infestation rates remain high (80-90 percent) in Ambovombe district and dry conditions will likely result in significant losses and well below normal maize production.
    • Poor and very poor households in south and southwest Madagascar are experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2), with humanitarian food assistance in Beloha, Tsihombe, and Ambovombe, are experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2!), and households in Ampanihy remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) due to the emergency nutrition situation and the onset of the lean season.

     To learn more, see the February 2020 Madagascar Food Security Outlook.


    • Between February and March 2020, populations in southern Malawi districts and the northern Karonga district are expected to face Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes in the presence of humanitarian assistance. In April and May, these populations will likely face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in the absence of assistance but as food access improves from own harvests. However, as cash crop sales will not have significantly started, access to income will remain low during these months. These households will transition to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) in June as significant cash crop income becomes available. Populations in the rest of the country are expected to be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) from February to September 2020.
    • Malawi is expecting above-average production of most crops including the maize staple in the upcoming season. Harvests are expected to start in April, with green harvests in March. According to first round production estimates from the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development (MoAIWD), Malawi is expected to produce approximately 3.6 million metric tons of maize. Current crop conditions also suggest favorable prospects for above-average production.
    • Prices for the maize staple continued to increase in January 2020 and remain double average levels in most markets. Prices are expected to decrease with the start of green harvests in March, though will likely remain above average through September 2020. Despite anticipated above-average production this season, continued upward pressure on prices resulting from the government-set ADMARC buying price of MWK 310/kg is expected to keep prices from fully normalizing

     To learn more, see the February 2020 Malawi Food Security Outlook.


    • Many areas throughout Mozambique continue to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes, though in many central and southern areas humanitarian food assistance is preventing more severe outcomes and Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes exist. In parts of Cabo Delgado, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is expected to expand by April. After March, when food assistance is no longer anticipated, many central areas will maintain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) with increased food from the harvest. In southern areas, though, where very poor production is likely, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected by April.
    • In the south of the country, drought has driven crop losses and will result in significantly below average harvests. Although rainfall in January encouraged additional planting, heavy rainfall since February was too late for further planting. The rains did provide much-needed water for humans and animals, increased availability of pasture, and will be beneficial for the second season planting of vegetables in April.
    • Heavy rainfall and subsequent floods since December in the northern zone have resulted in deaths and destruction of infrastructure including bridges and houses. Heavy rainfall in February in Maputo, Gaza, Manica, Sofala and Tete provinces caused further damage. According to the Technical Council of Disaster Management (CTGC), nearly 200,000 hectares of crops have been total or partially lost.
    • The price of maize grain is approximately 25 to 75 percent above 2019 prices and 25 to 55 percent above average due to below average market supply. Maize grain prices are expected to decline from March with increased stocks from the harvest, but gradually increase from July/August onwards. Overall, abnormally high staple food prices will lower purchasing power among poor households, driving acute food insecurity in areas where households rely heavily on markets, including southern region.

     To learn more, see the February 2020 Mozambique Food Security Outlook.


    • As a result of the very poor macroeconomic conditions and three consecutive years of drought in parts of the country, Zimbabwe is facing one of its worst food security emergencies in history. The multiple years of drought across much of the country have negatively affected crop and livestock production and other livelihood activities. In addition, the poor macroeconomy has further constricted poor households’ ability to access food and meet their other basic non-food needs.
    • Humanitarian food assistance has almost fully shifted to in-kind food delivery in view of the challenging macroeconomic situation and commodity shortages. In most districts this assistance is improving food security outcomes to Stressed (IPC Phase 2!). However, humanitarian assistance is not reaching all of those in need and some areas of the country remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). 
    • Heavy and widespread rainfall in February improved crop and pasture conditions across parts of the Mashonaland Provinces and other typical high production areas. Despite the favorable rainfall, crops remain in poor condition in most southern, western, and other deficit producing areas.  Nationally, cropped area remains significantly below normal and little replanting occurred with the latest February rains. However, the rainfall has improved water availability and access across most parts of the country, though pastures remain below normal conditions in semiarid areas.
    • The main harvest is anticipated to start in April/May across the country, which would normally lead to widespread improvement in food availability and access. However, this year due to the consecutive years of drought and poor access to production inputs, the harvest is expected to be significantly below average. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to prevail across the country during the post-harvest period.
    • Among the macroeconomic factors, shortages of both foreign and local currency, volatile black market exchange rates, high inflation, and shortages of some basic food items mainly maize meal are worsening. As a result, poor households’ access to food in both rural and urban areas continues to decline. Most typical livelihood activities are highly constrained. Poor households are intensifying and extending coping options to access food, including employing  unsustainablecoping options such as selling off most valuable productive assets. 

    To learn more, see the February 2020 Zimbabwe Food Security Outlook.

    Countries Monitored Remotely[i]


    • Maize crops are mostly at the vegetative stage and ongoing agricultural activities include weeding and fertilizer application. Most crops are in good condition due to ongoing rainfall, but are behind schedule due to the delayed rainfall season. There is concern that yields will be severely reduced if the rainy season ends or frosts begin earlier than normal. 
    • Production prospects are low due to the poor start of season which resulted in delayed cropping and below average cropped area. Additional information is expected following the upcoming crop assessment planned by The Disaster Management Authority and other development partners in Lesotho. 
    • Poor households continue to rely on market purchases to access food, though their low purchasing power is limiting access to adequate quantities of food. Income sources are mostly limited to agriculture labor and remittances, and agricultural labor opportunities are lower than usual. Access to green foods, which typically provides slight improvements in food access toward the end of the lean season, will occur later than normal with delayed harvests. As a result, most poor households in Lesotho will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) until May, when main harvests will improve food access and lead to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity in some areas between May and July. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is likely at the area level in August and September.

    To learn more, see the February 2020 Lesotho Remote Monitoring Report.


    Table 1. Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario.



    Impact on food security outcomes

    Southern Africa


    Early cessation of rains   

    Production in areas where cropping conditions improved due to improved January and February rainfall will see a deterioration in cropping conditions if rainfall stops in March. his would only worsen food security outcomes.  

    Malawi and Mozambique

    Improvement in the winter cropping performance

    Improvement in performance of the winter cropping in Malawi and Mozambique will likely increase staple supplies in the countries and reduce levels of household food gaps.

    [i] With remote monitoring, an analyst typically works from a nearby regional office, relying on a network of partners for data. Compared to countries above, where FEWS NET has a local office, reporting on remote monitoring countries may offer less detail.


    Figure 1

    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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