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High food prices are impacting household purchasing power in southern Africa

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Southern Africa
  • March 2023
High food prices are impacting household purchasing power in southern Africa

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  • Key Messages
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Outlook by Country
  • Countries Monitored Remotely
  • Events That May Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • In February, many poor households remain dependent on market purchases for staple foods as the lean season peaks ahead of the upcoming harvest. Area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are present in the deficit-producing areas of Zimbabwe, southern Malawi, Angola, Lesotho, and conflict-affected areas of eastern DRC and Mozambique. The region's primary drivers for acute food insecurity are high food prices, low food stocks, and conflict. Households remain largely dependent on self-employment activities like firewood and charcoal sales, petty trading, and non-agricultural labor for income as agricultural activities decline seasonally. However, the start of the harvest in March and April is expected to improve household food access.

    • Across southern Africa, the maize crop is close to maturity; however, a dry spell in late February in parts of southern Angola, Namibia, Southern Zambia, Zimbabwe, and northern South Africa could affect crop conditions in March. In February, vegetation conditions measured by the satellite-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) were below normal in western parts of the region due to cumulatively low rainfall throughout the season. The most affected areas were southern Angola, northern Namibia, Botswana, and southern Zimbabwe. However, many parts of the region have recorded well distributed and sufficient rainfall supporting crop development. Crops are in good condition in many parts of Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and northern Zimbabwe, although national harvests are likely to be mixed. Overall, the region is expecting an above-average harvest but below the record 2021 harvest.

    • In late February, Tropical Cyclone Freddy made landfall on the eastern coast of Madagascar with average winds of 130 kilometers per hour. The storm rapidly weakened overland but re-strengthened in the Mozambique Channel. Shortly afterward, Freddy made landfall just south of Vilankulos, Mozambique, before rapidly weakening. In Madagascar, the storm killed four people and displaced 11,000, with more than 4,500 houses flooded or damaged, mainly in the Vatovavy region, according to preliminary estimates from the National Bureau of Risk and Disaster Management (BNGRC). In Mozambique, heavy rainfall and flooding affected nearly 166,600 people, primarily in Inhambane province, Maputo province, Maputo city, Sofala province, and Gaza province. Preliminary findings indicate that more than 28,000 homes were flooded or totally or partially destroyed, with approximately 38,100 hectares of agricultural land, particularly in low-lying areas affected.

    • Food inflation rates are still increasing in southern Africa, particularly in South Africa, Malawi, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Lesotho. In February 2023, food inflation rates were highest in Malawi (31.7 percent) and Zimbabwe (136.8 percent). The key drivers for high food prices include elevated global commodity prices and high production costs due to increased fuel, transportation, and high production costs. While global food and energy prices have moderated, the depreciation in domestic exchange rates keeps food prices high in southern African economies. Persistently long rollout blackouts of electricity in South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Zambia add high costs to agriculture and food supply chains. Supply chain actors are relying on alternative sources of electricity, like generators, which is increasing costs associated with refrigeration and running processing plants.

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Seasonal calendar for southern Africa

    Source: FEWS NET

    Outlook by Country

    Democratic Republic of Congo

    Key Messages

    • Low household participation in the agricultural season A due to untimely displacements of populations led to below average season A harvests, particularly in the northeast and central-east of the country. Excessive rainfall in the highlands of South Kivu and flooding in the midlands caused landslides and crop losses, particularly around Minembwe, resulting in below-average production and food access constraints in this area.
    • The M23 rebel offensive and joint operations by loyalist armies against the ADF in North Kivu and Ituri significantly increased the number of displaced persons by approximately 49 percent during the second and third quarters of 2022, from 270,000 to 542,000. Since January 2023, these conflicts have been escalating population movements. This situation is likely to disrupt agricultural activities in these areas, which were once considered the breadbasket of the eastern region, and will ultimately result in reduced food availability. 
    • The provinces of Ituri, North Kivu, and South Kivu, which are in a situation of ongoing conflict, will experience increased food consumption deficits and will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) with an increase in the number of people in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) in certain health zones in the territories of Rutshuru and Djugu, in a context of extreme violence. The more stable areas of the north, notably Bas-Uele, Haut-Uele, and Tshopo, will have normal agricultural seasons and will be Minimal (IPC Phase 1). In contrast, Maniema, Lualaba, Haut-Katanga, most of the Kasaïs provinces, and Lomami remain in Stress (IPC Phase 2).

    To learn more, see the February 2023 Democratic Republic of Congo Food Security Outlook


    Key Messages

    • Through the peak of the annual lean season, humanitarian assistance is expected to mitigate worse outcomes throughout the Grand South and in parts of the Grand Southeast, resulting in Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) and Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes through April. With the onset of the main maize and legume harvests in the Grand South in April and the main rice harvest in the southeast in May, food consumption gaps are likely to decrease for poorer households, as they consume their own production and rely less on markets. As post-cyclone recovery progresses in the Grand Southeast and the cassava and sweet potato harvests become available across southern Madagascar, area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes will prevail through at least August. However, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to re-emerge earlier in largely isolated areas of the Grand Southeast in the absence of continued assistance and in areas of the Grand Southwest that were worst affected by drought in recent years and saw dry spells during key periods of development for maize in early 2023.
    • Rainfall performance has been largely positive, with average to above-average seasonal accumulations across Madagascar, except in northeastern Madagascar, which reported early-season rainfall deficits. Meanwhile, southwestern Madagascar saw erratic rainfall with dry spells in both January and February, despite above-average cumulative seasonal rainfall. Forecast models suggest that normal to above-normal rainfall is likely for the entire island for the remainder of the season, improving cropping conditions in most areas and keeping soil moisture conditions near average through September.
    • The 2022/23 cyclone season brought two major systems to Madagascar: Tropical Storm Cheneso in January, which tracked across northern and northwestern parts of the country, and Tropical Cyclone Freddy, which followed a similar path to 2022 cyclones Batsirai and Emnati, hitting the Grand Southeast particularly hard. According to the National Office for Risk and Disaster Management (BNGRC), more than 200,000 people were affected by the storms, with over 85,000 temporarily displaced and significant flooding reported across the worst-impacted areas. Informal reports of localized road and crop damage and reduced wild food availability are currently being confirmed through official assessments.
    • Most crops are developing well across the country; however, the January and February dry spells in the Grand Southwest are likely to have negatively impacted maize production. Cash crop production in the north, including coffee, cloves, and vanilla, will also likely be below-average this year due to erratic rainfall distribution, with early-season dryness and localized flooding during Cheneso. In areas impacted by cyclone-related flooding, rice and some tuber crop conditions have also deteriorated, with some crops lost. Throughout the Grand South, challenges in accessing seeds and vines have constrained cropped area. Although harvests are expected to be better than in recent years, they are still likely to be somewhat below normal, lasting between two and three months in most areas, but less in the Grand Southwest.

    To learn more, see the February 2023 Madagascar Food Security Outlook


    Key Messages

    • Crop production deficits in southern and central Malawi in 2022, coupled with high prices for food and basic non-food commodities due to global and domestic economic factors, remain key drivers of acute food insecurity. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist in parts of southern and central Malawi, as well as in the Karonga district of northern Malawi, until the harvest begins in April. Although humanitarian food assistance is being delivered to these areas during the lean season, the scale of the humanitarian response is being outpaced by the scale of need resulting from crop and labor income losses during the 2021/22 production year and currently high food prices. In parts of the far south where humanitarian food assistance is more significant, however, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are likely. After the harvest becomes available in April, most areas of concern will see improvement to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or Minimal (IPC Phase 1). In areas with near-normal crop production in 2022 and 2023, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected throughout the scenario period.
    • Limited and delayed access to subsidized fertilizer for most subsistence farmers is expected to cause slight reductions in crop production. Reports and field assessments in January 2023 indicate very low rates of fertilizer use during the window for timely application in the 21 days after planting. However, fertilizer usage is typically low among very poor and poor households. According to government and USDA estimates as of February, the main maize harvest is still expected to be near average.
    • The prices of most food commodities, including maize, are expected to remain high through September, including during the harvest and post-harvest periods, due to high agricultural input prices and high fuel and transportation costs. While the impact on household access to food will be relatively lower during the harvest period, high staple food prices will continue to suppress household purchasing power, particularly among poor households who are typically more market dependent. In FEWS NET monitored markets, maize prices in February were 214 percent higher than the same time last year and 195 percent above the five-year average. FEWS NET projects maize prices will trend at over 120 percent above the five-year average through September.
    • According to global and local rainfall forecast models, above-average rainfall is likely from January to March 2023 across much of southern Africa, including southern Malawi. After a slow start of the rainy season, the heavier rains are generally expected to compensate for earlier moisture deficits, supporting favorable harvests and increased food availability in much of the country. At the time that this report was written, Malawi had yet to experience any extreme weather events during the course of the rainy season. However, Cyclone Freddy passed through southern Malawi from March 12 to 15, 2023, resulting in severe floods and landslides. While this report does not incorporate the impacts of the cyclone, FEWS NET will release an updated analysis of Malawi's food security outlook in April.

    To learn more, see the February 2023 Malawi Food Security Outlook


    Key Messages

    • Currently, most households across the country face Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes, with access to their food reserves, the ongoing green harvest, and market purchases to meet their food and non-food needs. However, area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are present in parts of the southern zone following a second consecutive year of poor production, along with the impact of heavy rainfall and flooding since February 2023. The most affected areas will likely deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) from June due to damage from the climatic shocks, a poor 2023 main harvest, and limited access to income. In Cabo Delgado, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes prevail in areas accessible to humanitarian partners, where food assistance is expected, with inaccessible areas continuing to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.
    • According to the National Institute for Disaster Risk Management and Reduction (INGD), heavy rainfall and flooding have affected nearly 166,600 people as of March 3, 2023, primarily in Inhambane province, Maputo city, Sofala province, and Gaza province. Preliminary findings indicate that more than 12,700 homes have been flooded, with around 15,600 houses totally or partially destroyed. Approximately 38,100 hectares of agricultural land have been affected, particularly in low-lying areas. Widespread damage to public infrastructure and services has also been reported, including around 400 schools and 685 kilometers of road. FEWS NET will continue to monitor and assess the impact of the heavy rainfall on the upcoming harvest and any impacts on household acute food insecurity. 
    • A food security assessment by FEWS NET in cyclone Gombe-affected areas of Nampula Province concluded that households likely face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes following a good cassava harvest in October/November. The cassava group was reportedly not seriously affected by cyclone Gombe as it was in the initial growth stage and was able to recover. Additionally, a large cashew nut harvest, increased sales, and post-flood and second season production of vegetables and sweet potatoes improved household food access, allowing households to meet their food needs.
    • From December 2022 to January 2023, maize grain prices remained stable in most monitored markets. Compared to 2022 and the five-year average, maize grain prices in January 2023 had a mixed trend. As typical, maize meal and rice prices were relatively stable from December 2022 to January 2023 in all monitored markets and compared to their respective prices in 2022 and the five-year average. The annual inflation rate in Mozambique eased for the fifth straight month to 9.78 percent in January 2023 from 10.91 percent in the previous month. It is the lowest rate since May 2022, mainly due to a decline in the price inflation of transportation, restaurants & hotels, and furnishings & household equipment. However, prices climbed further for food & non-alcoholic beverages, housing & utilities, education, and miscellaneous goods and services.

    To learn more, see the February 2023 Mozambique Food Security Outlook


    Key Messages

    • In typical deficit-producing areas, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to persist until the start of the harvest in April 2023. In the surplus-producing areas' communal areas and resettlement areas Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected to continue through the outlook period, respectively. Following the harvest, most typical deficit-producing areas are expected to improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through September, with at least one in five poor households expected to meet their basic food needs but be unlikely to meet other food and non-food needs. Most northern surplus-producing areas will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes through the outlook period, with urban areas likely to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2).
    • Crop conditions have significantly improved following favorable rainfall in the northern and typical surplus-producing areas during the second half of the 2022/23 rainy season. However, in some areas water logging, caused by persistent rainfall, has rendered some fields unworkable, resulting in soil leaching, weed infestation and the poor application of fertilizers and chemicals. In the south, improvements in water, pasture, and some crop conditions have been recorded despite poor rainfall distribution, with some of the crop experiencing water stress. Nationally, the upcoming harvests may be affected by general input access challenges, below-normal cropped areas for some areas, dry spells in the south, and excessive rainfall in some northern areas.
    • The macroeconomic environment has remained generally volatile and is likely to remain so during the outlook period despite some relative stability at the end of 2022. The local currency (ZWL) has continued to depreciate against the USD in formal and informal markets, where goods and services are increasingly priced in USD or ZAR. Additionally, the prices of goods and services continue to increase, even in USD, a trend that is likely to persist. A January 2023 ZIMSTAT survey report indicated that almost 80 percent of transactions for food purchases are in USD, with the rest in ZWL. Despite progressive declines in monthly and annual inflation over the last few months, the cost of living remains very high. Poor households continue to struggle to meet their food and non-food needs. According to the World Bank, Zimbabwe's January 2023 real annual food inflation rate in ZWL was 121 percent, the highest in the world.
    • Households are relying on seasonal agricultural casual labor for income in many areas, especially in the north, but opportunities are expected to remain below normal due to liquidity challenges. To earn income, some households in rural and urban areas are increasing their reliance on petty trade, but incomes will likely trend below normal due to high competition and below-normal demand. Livestock sales are also likely to be impacted by below-normal demand despite improvements in livestock conditions. Additionally, domestic and foreign remittances are expected to remain below normal due to liquidity challenges and the residence and work permit difficulties faced by some Zimbabweans in South Africa.

    To learn more, see the February 2023 Zimbabwe Food Security Outlook

    Countries Monitored Remotely


    Key Messages

    • Poor households in Cuene, Huíla, and Namibe remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and in need of humanitarian food assistance. They face food consumption deficits amid low levels of income following consecutive droughts that drove a decline in the availability of crops, agricultural labor, and natural resources for self-employment. 
    • Since January, rainfall in the southwest has improved, with most areas of the country now registering average or above-average rainfall. With the forecast for average to above-average rainfall through April, and the distribution of seeds that has encouraged households in Huíla and Cunene to reseed crops, crop production is likely to be better than last year, including in many areas of concern in the southwest. The exception to this is Namibe where rainfall performance has been relatively poor and low crop production is likely. 
    • Improving economic performance has allowed for an increase in food imports by the Strategic Food Reserve and has allowed the Central Bank to reduce its support to the Kwanza. For poor households who rely on markets to access food, economic growth and increasing strategic reserves will allow the government to curb food inflation. 
    • Poor households in the southwest are likely to remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through July. However, food security is slowly improving as food prices decline and income from agricultural labor and self-employment are increasing. Improvement to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) is expected in July, when the harvest is also available. In Namibe province, improvement is also expected; however, not all poor households will improve, and of greatest concern are poor households in Tombwa and Virei of Namibe, where seasonal progress has been particularly poor. Although less than 20 percent of the population of these areas will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) during the harvest period, there will remain populations in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and in need of humanitarian food assistance. 

    To learn more, see the February 2023 Angola Remote Monitoring Report


    Key Messages

    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are ongoing in deficit-producing areas, including the southern lowlands, foothills, and the Senqu river valley. The peak of the lean season continues, and households face reduced purchasing power amidst increased dependence on purchases and below-average income levels. However, improvements are expected between April and May when households begin to access the main harvest from the 2022/23 cropping season. Following the harvest, households are therefore expected to transition into Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through September.
    • Cumulative rainfall for the 2022/23 cropping season has been above average across the country. However, between November and December persistent heavy rainfall has caused nutrient loss through leaching for some crops and hampered farm management activities like weeding. Moreover, despite above-average rainfall, the area planted for the current cropping season is nearly 30 percent below normal due to high seed and fertilizer costs. As a result, overall crop production for the 2022/23 season is expected to be below average.
    • Across the country, maize and sorghum crops are in the early to the late reproductive stage (tasseling and grain filling), depending on their planting dates. By the end of March, consumption of the green harvest is expected to improve household food access leading to improvements in food security outcomes.

    To learn more, see the February 2023 Lesotho Remote Monitoring Report

    Events That May Change the Outlook

    Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most likely scenario

    Area Event Impact on food security outcomes
    Southern Africa

    Impediments to cyclone recovery, especially in reconnecting isolated areas

    Should cyclone recovery not move ahead as projected—particularly if roads are not repaired and connections re-established—the number of households and areas facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes would likely increase in parts of the Grand Southeast and Central and Southern Mozambique.
    Southern Africa Cyclone strikes and heavy rainfall

    Significantly above normal rainfall, including additional cyclone hits in March and April, will likely cause flooding in Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. Crop losses due to heavy rainfall and wind damage will reduce production prospects for affected countries in southern Africa.

    Additionally, increased cyclone activities will likely cause infrastructural destruction causing both human displacements and health and sanitation problems that may trigger disease outbreaks like cholera.


    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. SOUTHERN AFRICA Food Security Outlook March 2023: High food prices are impacting household purchasing power in southern Africa, 2023.

    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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