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Number of people at risk projected to increase through the lean season

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Southern Africa
  • November 2012 - April 2013
Number of people at risk projected to increase through the lean season

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Regional Issues
  • 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, complementing own production stocks with market purchases from October to December and supplementing market purchases with food from green harvests from January to March.

    • The severity of acute food insecurity is projected to worsen in southern Malawi; outcomes are expected to range between Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) between the October to December period. Poor households in areas of concern are projected to experience a food security Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4) during the January to March period if humanitarian assistance is discontinued or does not meet survival needs.

    • In Zimbabwe, humanitarian assistance provided by the government and its partners (in particular WFP) has helped to avert projected acute food insecurity.

    • The below-normal rainfall forecasted in the southern parts of the region between November and January is likely to worsen food security among many households by reducing access to green harvests.

    Key Regional Issues

    As the lean season begins, food security remains stable in most parts of the region because poor households are meeting their food needs with own produced stocks or market purchases. In some countries, households are complementing these sources with diversified foods from the winter/second season. Most local markets have remained adequately stocked with food commodities, although prices have begun an upward trend; typical during this time of the year.

    Local, national, and regional markets are playing an important role by facilitating households’ access to staple foods, and intra-regional trade has contributed in stabilizing staple grain supplies. Rural and urban households in food deficit areas are relying on supplies from surplus producing areas locally and across borders. While Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and South Africa have projected national-level maize surpluses in the 2012/13 consumption season; it is only Zambia and South Africa that have indicated sizable exportable surpluses.

    However, the Zambia surplus has also been reduced as a result of the government’s decision to increase its strategic grain reserve (SGR) by 50 percent.  The amounts reaching public markets in urban areas has decreased as the government’s Food Reserve Agency (FRA) has purchased close to 1 million MT for the SGR. In addition, exports (both formal and informal) from Zambia have also slowed down following the implementation of firmer permit regulations for maize exports.  South Africa’s surplus continues to be the main source of supply for most of the deficit neighboring countries (except Zimbabwe, which does not accept GMO maize). By the end of October, 56 percent of South Africa’s 1.73 million MT projected surplus had been exported to regional and international destinations.

    Tanzania’s projected staple food surpluses are currently 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.  In Malawi, despite projections of about 570,000 MT of maize grain surplus for the 2012/13 consumption period, the exact amounts in the government’s SGR are currently unknown, but recent reports indicate that the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) imported 10,000 MT of maize grain from Zambia due to dwindling supplies.

    Across the region, staple food prices have started to rise in most of the monitored reference markets. While this trend is typical for this time of year when many more households, including the better-off, have limited food stocks from own production and begin to access food from markets, some markets have recorded higher than normal price increases. This is more apparent in the areas where local production performed poorly during the 2011/12 agricultural season. For example, in Zimbabwe’s areas of concern, local maize grain supplies are completely depleted and households have resorted to purchasing the more expensive maize flour imported from Botswana and South Africa. Households are also purchasing maize grain imported from Zambia, which is selling at prices ranging between USD0.55/kg to USD0.60/kg. 

    The significant food price increases are of major concern in southern Malawi where many households depleted their meager stocks in July and have since been relying on markets (with supplies from the surplus producing central and northern regions) to meet basic food requirements. It is projected that prices will increase further given the continuing depreciation of the Malawi Kwacha and high transportation costs.

    Most Likely Regional Scenario: October 2012-March 2013

    The most-likely scenario is informed by the following regional-level assumptions:

    Markets and Trade

    • Regional trade flows for cereals will continue to be influenced by restrictive trade policies (Zambia and Malawi), competitive trading by South African grain traders, and high demand to supply East Africa and Greater Horn markets (Malawi and Tanzania). As a result, cereal deficit parts of the region are likely to face tighter cereal supplies, especially maize grain during the outlook period.
    • Recent labor unrest in South Africa, which started in the mining sector and has now spread to the farming sector, is likely to fuel increases in the general cost of living. The demands for higher wages have contributed to the recent depreciation of the local currency, resulting in rising inflation and increasing food prices. As rising fuel prices drive up transportation costs, high food commodity prices in South Africa are likely to be reflected in higher prices in neighboring countries that rely on South Africa for food imports.
    • Maize prices on the South African Futures Exchange (SAFEX) in South Africa are expected to continue to increase throughout the outlook period resulting in sustained maize price increases in importing neighboring States. Trends will continue to be determined by global markets and international price trends, as well as local conditions; particularly the expected 2012/13 maize crop harvest, and the performance of the local currency (rand) against major currencies. Sustained depreciation of the rand, which has dropped by about 26 percent since the start of the marketing year in May, is likely to maintain upward pressure on prices.

    Agricultural and other labor

    • The ongoing labor unrest in South Africa’s mines and farms is also likely to lead to jobs cuts as companies try to break even given the newly negotiated high wage rates. With an unemployment rate of 29 percent in South Africa, reduction in work force is first targeted at migrants to ensure compliance to the policy that focuses on employing South African citizens previously disadvantaged during the apartheid period. Loss of jobs by migrants will reduce remittances to such countries as Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, all of which have significant migrant populations in South Africa.


    • Based on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Climate Services Centre (CSC) seasonal outlook update for November to January, rainfall performance during the first half of the 2012/13 agricultural season is likely to be normal to above normal across most parts of the region. If the rains are evenly distributed, the beginning of the agricultural season will be normal in most countries. However, normal to below-normal rainfall is forecasted in northern Angola, eastern Botswana, most of DRC, Lesotho, eastern half of South Africa, southern Mozambique, Swaziland and southern Zimbabwe. Several other international forecasting centers have also forecasted enhanced chances of below rainfall in some of the southern areas of the SADC region. 
    • Red locust and armyworm outbreaks are likely in areas forecasted to receive normal to above normal rainfall across the region. Based on reports by the International Red Locust Control Organization for Central and Southern Africa (IRLCO-CSA) ecological conditions become favorable for red locust breeding with increased moisture levels. Already high red locust parental populations were identified in around Lake Chilwa/Lake Chiuta plains (Malawi), Buzi-Gorongosa plains (Mozambique) and Kafue Flats (Zambia) and large scale breeding is expected in these areas with increased rainfall activities. Pest outbreaks will result in loss of production, especially early planted crops, which normally helps many households avert food access problems around January/February.

    Humanitarian Assistance:

    • The general under-funding of humanitarian responses in the region is likely to continue throughout the outlook period.  Most response/assistance programs in Angola, Lesotho and Malawi are expected to remain inadequate in reaching the estimated food insecure populations, or to be prematurely discontinued due to lack of funding.
    Most Likely Regional Food Security Outlook

    Across the region, regional trade flows, national trade policies, rising levels of basic food prices (from impacts of macroeconomic conditions - especially fuel prices) will continue to influence households’ access to food in the outlook period. The number of people at risk of food insecurity is likely to increase at the peak of the hunger period in December/January across the region as access to food by many poor urban and rural households will be limited by reduced market supplies and disposable incomes. However, acute food insecurity is projected to remain at Minimal (IPC Phase 1) in many parts of the region except in the localized areas of concern. In the areas of concern, access to food by poor households will also depend on the levels of humanitarian response, in terms of quantity and quality. In addition to this, if the agricultural season is below normal and wages are lower; this reduced casual labor income could result in lower purchasing power for poor households. In general acute food insecurity in the areas of concern is projected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) with assistance and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) without assistance during the outlook period. In southern Malawi, limited poor household access to food from green harvest in the Middle Shire and Phalombe-Lake Chilwa livelihood zones is projected to result in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) levels of acute food insecurity during the January to March 2013 period.

    Most Likely Country Scenarios: October 2012 – March 2013


    • While rural households in central and northern Malawi will maintain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity, conditions in the south are of concern and likely to deteriorate.
    • The Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC), in its updated analysis, increased its estimate of food insecure populations from 1.63 million to 1.97 million. Even with humanitarian assistance that started in early September, households in 9 districts in southern Malawi remained Stressed (IPC Phase 2) while areas where humanitarian assistance has not yet started are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).
    • Poor households’ food access in southern Malawi will continue to be constrained by increasing maize prices, limited maize supplies, further depreciation of the currency, rising transportation costs, and inadequate humanitarian assistance.  If current humanitarian assistance funding shortfalls persist during the peak of the lean season (January-March), poor households in the south will likely experience a food security Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) (Figure 3).
    • In the Middle Shire and Phalombe-Lake Chilwa livelihood zones, food insecurity during the January-March 2013 period is expected to be highly dependent on the success of 90-day maize crops made possible by the input subsidy program. If program implementation is limited or if these crops do poorly, Emergency-level food insecurity is likely in these areas.


    • Over the outlook period, household food access in the south-western districts is expected to improve due to the expected improvements in funding of humanitarian assistance programs. The increase in coverage and ration sizes will improve the impact of food assistance on household food security, likely covering poor household’s survival food and livelihood protection deficits.  
    • The 2012/13 seasonal forecast predicts a normal start of the rainy season between October and December, but similar to last season there is a chance of normal to below-normal rainfall from October to March in south-western parts of the country, which could affect crop growth and maturity. This is likely to not only reduce the quantity and diversity of food from the green harvests in February and March, but also to delay such harvests, prolonging the lean season.
    • Below normal rainfall throughout the agricultural season is expected to suppress demand for labor, resulting in reduced incomes for the poor households for whom agricultural labor is a main source of income.  Income from sale of livestock will remain suppressed as livestock terms of trade are expected to remain unfavorable throughout the outlook period.


    • Currently, poor households in most of Funhalouro and Chigubo districts and parts of Chicualacuala, Panda and Machanga districts are facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity outcomes.
    • In southern Mozambique, food prices are comparatively higher than in the center and northern areas because markets are supplied mainly from surplus producing districts of the central region, while millers (mainly in Maputo) import from nearby South Africa.
    • Looking to the outlook period, food insecurity over most parts of the country will be Minimal (IPC Phase 1). 
    • Parts of the Semi-Arid Interior-Maize Livelihood Zone are expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) throughout the outlook period; while in parts of the Semi-Arid Northern Zambezi Valley Livelihood Zone, households will face Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity in the October to December period, but are expected to deteriorate to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) from January to March 2013. Worsening conditions will result from failure of coping strategies to meet survival food and livelihoods protection deficits in view of prevailing high food price levels as a result of the poor 2011/12 harvest.     


    • Food insecurity is largely expected to remain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) throughout the outlook period. Staple food prices are expected to remain stable, allowing greater accessibility for market-dependent poor households in rural and urban areas throughout the lean season. Poorer households are expected to engage in typical income generating livelihood and coping strategies, enabling them to meet their food needs and to purchase agricultural. These poorer households may also be able to access government subsidized inputs.
    • Restricted maize exports are expected to continue, sustaining high domestic maize supply levels. This will help to stabilize maize and maize meal prices throughout the lean period.

    The possibility of dry spells in the south and heavy rainfall in northern parts of the country is unlikely to significantly erode current food security outcomes. Although possible dry spells may delay planting and negatively affect early growth of the crops in the extreme southern parts of the country, most crops will recover as the season progresses. Furthermore, the full impact of any extended dryness or heavy rainfall on the household food security will mostly be felt after March 2013 (beyond the outlook period). 



    Impact on food security outcomes

    Southern Malawi,  Angola and Lesotho

    Humanitarian interventions/ response programs receive adequate funding.

    This will allow humanitarian response partners and governments to provide food assistance to all targeted food insecure populations allowing households to access adequate food.

    Southern parts of the region (including Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique)

    Normal to above normal rainfall during the January to March period

    This will improve food availability from green harvests in all areas of concern. Households currently at risk of food insecurity will be able to access food from own production or through in-kind labor wages at local level.

    Cereal deficit parts of the region

    Very sharp spikes in maize prices globally and  in South Africa and Zambia over the lean season

    Deficit countries will be unable to source adequate amounts of maize grain to cover import requirements, available supplies will be too costly for poor households who will be unable to purchase all their requirements.

    Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi

    Zambia relaxes trade permit restrictions and allows FRA to engage in maize exports

    Maize deficit countries, in particular Zimbabwe and Malawi, will be able import requirements provisioning local markets and easing access for market dependant households.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, October 2012.

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, October 2012.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Annual Informal Trade Flows: Maize, Rice and Beans (MT)

    Figure 3

    Annual Informal Trade Flows: Maize, Rice and Beans (MT)

    Source: FEWS NET Informal Cross Border Monitoring System

    Maize Prices in Surplus Producing Countries Compared to International Prices (USD/MT).

    Figure 4

    Maize Prices in Surplus Producing Countries Compared to International Prices (USD/MT).

    Source: South African Futures Exchange (SAFEX) and FEWS NET

    Maize and Wheat Prices on SAFEX - South Africa

    Figure 5

    Maize and Wheat Prices on SAFEX - South Africa

    Source: South African Futures Exchange

    SADC Rainfall outlook for November to January 2012/13

    Figure 6

    SADC Rainfall outlook for November to January 2012/13

    Source: SADC Climate Services Centre

    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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