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Favorable 2021 harvest expected to improve food security across much of the region

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Southern Africa
  • March - October 2021
Favorable 2021 harvest expected to improve food security across much of the region

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Most parts of the region received average to above-average rainfall, facilitating engagement in agricultural activities and supporting favorable cropping conditions, notably in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Lesotho, and parts of Mozambique and Madagascar. In these areas, average to above-average harvests are likely. Improvements in rainfall performance have also had positive impacts on pasture and livestock conditions. Dry conditions have been observed in northeastern areas of Mozambique and southern Madagascar. In southern Madagascar, drought conditions have been reported, and cropping conditions have been negatively affected, decreasing production prospects.

    • Many poor households in Zimbabwe, parts of Mozambique, Lesotho, and extreme southern parts of Malawi, affected by the 2019/20 drought, are currently experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as it is the peak of the lean season. While the rest of the region is facing mainly Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes until the start of the harvest begins at the end of March/early April. In April and May, food security across most countries with favorable rainfall and limited conflict is expected to improve with Minimal (IPC Phase 1) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) expected through at least September.

    • Despite the favorable conditions across much of the region, conflict has disrupted the agricultural season and some disruption due to tropical cyclones and continued poor macroeconomic conditions in Zimbabwe. In conflict-affected areas of northern Mozambique and DRC, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist throughout the outlook period as displaced populations have difficulty engaging in agricultural activities and have limited access to income. In southern areas of Madagascar, similar outcomes are expected to continue due to the drought conditions. While poor macroeconomic conditions are expected to continue in Zimbabwe, household purchasing power in urban areas is expected to remain low, where Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to persist.

    • Most Southern African countries are recovering from the second wave of COVID-19, where cases significantly increased across the region in December and started to decline in February. Countries across the region adopted different levels of restriction measures to reduce the spread of the virus; however, this did result in some economic impacts. Both formal and informal employment were negatively affected, and income for most households decreased, especially in Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Mozambique. As a result, poor households in urban areas are likely to continue experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes during the outlook period. 


    Democratic Republic of the Congo 

    • In this season A harvest period, since mid-December, despite below-normal harvests, households are improving their food consumption, and currently rely on their own production. This improvement will bolster price stability and allow for sustained local market operations and decreased demand for imported staple food products.
    • Failing any confirmation of the new COVID-19 variant in DRC, based on the data provided by the government, the increase, to date, in the fatality rate and the number of positive cases from 3 to 20 percent respectively, suggest the potential progression of the virus. The DRC, which already has 23,889 positive COVID-19 cases, i.e., 40.2 percent increase in the last two months, could be facing a new wave of infection and is anticipating the possible tightening of the restrictive measures in effect.
    • In a context of below-normal harvests and households facing the effects of the recent flooding, and despite the relative lull experienced in certain areas of conflict, some regions of the country will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), particularly in the east and in Kasaï. On the other hand, the east-central and south-east territories, having had a complete agricultural campaign, will be facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity. The northern areas will be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1)

    To learn more, see the February 2021 Democratic Republic of Congo Food Security Outlook.


    • Over the past six years (2015/16-2020/21) southern Madagascar has experienced five below-average rainy seasons. The past two consecutive below-average seasons have led to a severe reduction in staple food production and declined livestock herd size and body condition. Poor households’ 2019/20 food stocks ran out in September, two months earlier than usual, and crops from the 2020/21 season will not be available until May and will likely be below average. Available information suggests poor households are selling more livestock and other productive assets for income to purchase food, and food aid through January helped mitigate consumption deficits for some households. Overall low income coupled with high staple food prices will continue to drive Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in much of southern Madagascar even during the 2021 harvest.
    • Since January 2021, tropical storms Chalane and Eloise made landfall in Madagascar and provided heavy, temporarily favorable rainfall across northern and central areas for the current cropping season. Despite some damage to homes and infrastructure and localized floods, impact was negligible compared to the 2019/20 cyclone season. With three months remaining in the season, there remains the potential for additional storms to make landfall on the island, which could lead to flooding and negatively affect the cropping season.
    • The indirect impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic persist, in particular in urban areas where prices remain above average and income earning opportunities are low. Unemployment remains high as many small and medium-sized enterprises remain closed. There are also fewer opportunities for seasonal migrants to earn income, and income from mining, textiles, and tourism is very low due to sustained low international demand. While most households in Toliara, Toamasina, and Antananarivo are still able to meet their basic food and non-food needs, worst-affected very poor households are likely to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security outcomes from February to May.

    To learn more, see the February 2021 Madagascar Food Security Outlook.


    • Across most rural areas, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected throughout the projection period, supported by above-average crop production. However, in some southern and central districts impacted by localized production shortfalls in the 2019/20 season, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are expected through March in the presence of humanitarian assistance. These areas will likely transition to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes with the beginning of the main harvest in April, with further improvement to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) expected in May. In August/September, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely to emerge in Nsanje and Chikwawa where the 2020/21 crop has been impacted by dry spells.
    • In urban areas impacted by COVID-19 control measures, humanitarian assistance distributions have started at the end of February 2021. As such, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes present for most of February are expected to have improved to Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!), expected to persist in the presence of assistance through April. Due to expected economic improvement supported by easing of control measures and cash injections from humanitarian assistance, improvements in income-earning will likely support Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in May and June. With seasonal increases in economic activity expected during the harvest period, improvement to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes is likely around July.
    • Malawi is expecting above-average production in the 2020/21 season due to average to above-average rainfall and increased access to inputs through the government’s Affordable Inputs Program. According to Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security first round production estimates, Malawi is expected to produce 4.4 million MT of maize. This is 42 percent above the five-year average and 21 percent above the national requirement. However, these prospects may be revised downward due to dry spells in some southern districts.
    • In January, ADMARC began selling maize at the subsidized price of MWK 160/kg. Given this and above-average market supplies, maize grain prices are expected to remain atypically stable at the national level through the harvest. Maize grain prices have remained stable since November 2020, and in January 2021 were between 12 percent below average to 8 percent above average (but below average in most markets), and 30 to 44 percent below prices at the same time last year.

    To learn more, see the February 2021 Malawi Food Security Outlook.


    • Most households across the country face None (IPC Phase 1) outcomes, relying on their own food production and market purchases, and are expected to remain food secure through September. From February through March, most of the south is Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) while most of the central semiarid zone is in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as the lean season ends. In these areas, the 2020/2021 harvest beginning in April, will improve food security outcomes to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or Minimal (IPC Phase 1). Households impacted by tropical storm Chalane and cyclone Eloise face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, with affected households likely to recover through post-flood production if they have enough seeds to replant. In Cabo Delgado, the conflict is continuing to drive displacement and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.
    • Following a rapid increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths since January 1, 2021, the government has tightened containment measures, including implementing a 9 pm to 4 am curfew for the greater Maputo area. Although South Africa has reopened its main borders, strict COVID-19 control measures and tighter border controls for immigrants continue to impact informal cross-border trade and labor migration negatively. The current COVID-19 restrictions continue to drive Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes among the poorest households in urban and peri-urban areas, as income from casual work and small business remains below average.
    • Humanitarian food assistance is ongoing and likely to continue until at least through March 2021. Most assistance is likely to be directed towards the internally displaced people (IDPs) in Cabo Delgado, drought-affected households in southern and central regions, households affected by tropical storm Chalane and cyclone Eloise, recent floods, and households recovering from cyclone Idai. However, current and planned assistance for IDPs in Cabo Delgado is likely insufficient to improve outcomes in the affected areas and among beneficiaries due to the continuous flow of displaced households. However, humanitarian assistance is likely improving area-level outcomes to Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) in drought-affected areas. Current food assistance is assessed to cover around half of FEWS NET's estimated food assistance needs from January to March 2021.
    • An average harvest is expected from March to May 2021 as most productive areas benefit from favorable agro-climatic conditions, particularly in the central region. These areas include the highland areas of Sofala, Manica, Tete, Zambézia, and Niassa, the interior of Nampula, and the semiarid areas of southern and central Mozambique. In Sofala, Gaza, and Maputo's flood-prone areas, flooding is likely to drive below-average harvests. However, below-average rainfall is impacting yields in the coastal areas of Nampula and Cabo Delgado. However, if households have access to seeds, many flood risk areas are expected to recover with post-flood planting and second season production and harvest in June and July.
    • In December and January, market prices have increased following seasonal trends, but prices have also decreased or remained stable in other markets. In areas where humanitarian food distribution is taking place, maize grain prices in reference markets such as Chókwe in Gaza province and Pemba market in Cabo Delgado decreased by 11 percent and 12 percent. In January, maize grain prices were 10 to 38 percent lower than respective prices last year and 8-43 percent above the five-year average across most markets. However, in the Chókwe market, maize grain prices in January were 21 percent below the five-year average. As typical, maize meal and rice prices were generally stable except for short-term variations based on localized supply and demand dynamics.

    To learn more, see the February 2021 Mozambique Food Security Outlook.


    • Favorable rainfall for the 2020/21 season facilitated above-average area planted and significant improvements in water, pasture, and livestock conditions. While cropping conditions across the country are generally fair to good, persistent heavy rainfall has negatively impacted crops in some southern, eastern, and central areas where heavy leaching, waterlogging, and weed pressure amidst fertilizer shortages will likely somewhat reduce yields. Despite this, above-average national 2021 production is expected.
    • Macroeconomic conditions remain poor, characterized by an annual inflation rate in the triple digits, high parallel market exchange rates, increasing basic food and non-food prices, and local currency shortages. Extensive damage to roads, bridges, and other infrastructure is also impacting access to some areas and markets, further increasing prices. While many households are currently market reliant, especially in urban areas, food access for many poor households is also being impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, constraining income-earning activities, mainly in the informal sector, driving below-average purchasing power.
    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to prevail in the southern, western, and extreme northern areas as the 2020/21 lean season continues through March, with Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes where humanitarian assistance is significant. Typical surplus and urban areas are expected to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) during this period, with some households likely in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Food security is expected to significantly improve as food access increases with the harvest in April/May, resulting in widespread Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes. However, some typical deficit areas are expected to be in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as poor households are likely to continue to have difficulty meeting their non-food needs due to lower than average purchasing power.

    To learn more, see the February 2021 Zimbabwe Food Security Outlook.

    Countries Monitored Remotely[i]


    • As the agricultural season peaks, agricultural labor opportunities are high for very poor and poor households, although wage rates remain below average. In urban and peri-urban areas, income from formal and casual labor opportunities continues to be negatively impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. Household access to remittances and income labor migration remain below-average due to border restrictions and closures. Most households are dependent on market purchases for food, but below-average purchasing power for very poor and poor households is driving food consumption gaps and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. However, household food access is expected to improve with the start of the harvest in April.
    • According to CHIRPS satellite data, Lesotho has received cumulatively average to above-average rainfall since mid-October. The maize crop is reported to be in good condition and at the reproductive stage, with some areas at crop maturity. However, heavy rainfall in late January and early February resulted in some localized crop damage. However, Lesotho is expected to have a better harvest than the previous three years. According to key informants, the green harvest is not yet available for most households, although some farmers are already accessing green foods.
    • As of February 24, 2021, Lesotho has 10,467 cumulative COVID-19 cases. In February, the daily rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases has fallen compared to the rapid increase in confirmed cases in January following the festive season. On February 3, 2021, the government eased the 'red level' lockdown to 'orange level'. However, restrictions limiting cross-border travel and reducing the operating capacity of transport, factories, retailers, restaurants, and other vendors remain in place, negatively impacting economic activity in rural and urban areas.

    To learn more, see the February 2021 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



    Third wave of COVID-19 and increase in government restrictions during the winter period (May – July)

    Third wave of COVID-19 infections in the region will result in further lockdowns which can significantly affect economies which have been struggling since the first lockdowns in April 2020. Urban households will be the most affected as incomes are dependent on functional formal and informal employment. For rural households, there is likely to be some challenges in crop sales due to logistic problems


    [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.

    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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