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Food insecurity to worsen as the lean season peaks and ongoing assistance is still below needs

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Southern Africa
  • November 2016 - May 2017
Food insecurity to worsen as the lean season peaks and ongoing assistance is still below needs

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  • Key Messages
  • Outlook By Country
  • Events That Might Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • As the region approaches the peak lean season period, most very poor and poor households are expected to experience worsening food security outcomes across the region. Currently, areas in several countries are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). In some areas, ongoing humanitarian assistance is below needs, but has improved outcomes to IPC Phase 3. In other areas, Crisis outcomes exist in the absence of assistance and are expected until the next harvests. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) area outcomes are expected in parts of Madagascar through February. Although Emergency area outcomes are not projected for Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, and Malawi during this outlook period, some households in severely affected parts of these countries will also experience IPC Phase 4 outcomes during peak lean season period

    • As demand increases and national maize deficits become more evident, maize grain prices are expected to reach their peak high between January and March. In some countries, maize meal prices will also increase, in addition to prices for cassava and other substitute foods. Malawi and Mozambique maize grain prices are expected to remain 150 percent or more above last year and five-year average, while Zimbabwe expects significantly above average prices due to an unstable macro-economic environment.

    • Preparations for the 2016-17 agriculture season is underway in most countries in the region and the seasonal rains have officially started in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Zambia, Swaziland, Mozambique, Angola, the DRC, and Madagascar. La Niña conditions, which are associated with average to above average rainfall in southern Africa, are expected during the region’s main 2016/17 cropping season. Production prospects are generally positive, however also dependent in many areas on the availability of inputs. Agricultural labor opportunities are expected to be near average but increased competition is a limiting factor for households. Additionally, better-off and middle household capacity to pay remains low. 

    Outlook By Country

    Democratic Republic of the Congo

    • Although official production statistics are not yet available, conflict and various climatic shocks (ex. flooding, delayed start of the rainy season, and plant diseases) caused 2016 agricultural production to be estimated to be below normal in localized areas of Eastern DRC. This low local availability, along with high staple food prices, will cause difficult food access for poor households during the remainder of the 2016 year in affected areas. As a result, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity is expected in parts of Eastern DRC between October 2016 and January 2017.  
    • Given expectations of adequate rainfall for crop production during the current agricultural year, the next season’s harvests will likely be relatively normal in most areas. However, given a delay in the start of the rainy season in Southeastern areas, season A harvests will occur one month later than normal, or in March 2017, in affected areas, which will extend the current lean season for poor households. 
    • The El Niño-driven drought in the Southern Africa region significantly reduced 2016 agricultural production, particularly for maize. Due to low regional supply levels for this commodity, Zambia has put in place an export ban that has limited exports to the DRC from this country, as well as from other countries in the region for which cereals normally pass through Zambia (South Africa, Tanzania). This will drive low maize supply levels, an increase in prices, and reduced food access for poor households between October and December 2016 in southern areas of the DRC, particularly in the heavily import-dependent provinces of Haut Katanga, Lualaba, and Tanganyika. In other areas of the country, prices will also remain above average due to the depreciation of the Congolese Franc and inflation. 
    • Instability in neighboring countries and current political tensions domestically in the context of prolonged civil insecurity within the DRC will continue to drive population movements both internally and from neighboring countries. This will maintain a relatively large IDP and refugee population, with the highest concentrations located in eastern areas (Nord-Kivu, Tanganyika, Sud-Kivu, Haut-Katanga, Maniema, Ituri) and along the border with CAR and South Sudan (Bondo, Ango, Dungu, Faradje, Aru, Bosobolo, Zongo, Libenge et Yakoma). Affected populations will have limited access to their typical livelihoods, aggravating food insecurity for the most vulnerable populations within these zones.


    • Outcomes between October and January will continue to deteriorate across most of the country as food consumption gaps widen and households continue to engage in irreversible coping strategies into early 2017. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) areas and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) populations are projected throughout the south and parts of the central region, at the start of the peak of the lean season. By February, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) areas outcomes are expected. Between April and May, outcomes should improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) for most areas as households begin to access their own production.
    • FEWS NET expects that food prices will be at record highs and will remain significantly above average throughout the remainder of this consumption year. In addition, very poor, poor, and middle-income households across most of the country continue to have difficulty earning income needed to make basic food and non-food essential purchases. Recent field assessments indicate that households have depleted their livelihoods and have very little or no resources to invest in production for the upcoming 2016/17 season. Coverage for the farm input subsidy program (FISP) this season will be too low to spur adequate production, adding to concerns about the next production season.
    • In October, the national drought response continued to distribute food and cash assistance to 2.77 million people in 11 districts in southern and central Malawi. In the presence of this assistance, acute food security outcomes are Stressed (IPC Phase 2!), while several other areas in the south and central regions are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Beyond October, the cash transfer portion of the response is not fully funded; there is very limited information about import plans for the commodities needed for the rations, and very little information about the availability of funds for logistics and transportation of the commodities.

    To learn more, read the complete October 2016 Malawi Food Security Outlook.


    • As the country is now experiencing the typical effects of the lean season, FEWS NET estimates that between October and December, nearly 1.8 million people will likely face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, requiring emergency humanitarian assistance. A smaller number of worst affected households, especially in the conflict areas, are likely in Emergency (IPC Phase 4), but overall needs are expected to grow as the lean season continues and peaks in January/February 2017.
    • From January to March 2017, FEWS NET expects the number of people in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse to grow to nearly 2.3 million, including those potentially flood-affected. Humanitarian assistance is ongoing in the six most drought-affected provinces and is helping to mitigate food insecurity outcomes. Though there are plans and some pledged funding through March/April, there is currently no assurance that the level of required humanitarian assistance will be implemented in a timely manner. In the absence of adequate and sustained assistance through the lean season, the number of households facing Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes is likely to increase in the South and some central areas.
    • The 2016/17 cropping season is progressing with land clearing/preparation and planting in much of the southern and central areas of the country. In February 2017, green food will become available in southern areas and the harvest in March. From April onwards, with the availability of harvested crops, most will be accessing their own produced food and will likely move to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or None (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity.
    • Volumes of staple foods and commodities are adequately supplied in most monitored markets, with the exception of parts of the South where maize grain is well below average. Maize grain prices between August and September had a mixed behavior but remain extremely high above both last year and the five year-average by 120 and 182 percent, respectively, which is expected to continue through February, hindering market purchases for the poor. Maize is generally flowing but slightly constrained, particularly from north to south, due to the ongoing political-military tensions.

    To learn more, read the complete October 2016 Mozambique Food Security Outlook.


    • High levels of acute food insecurity will persist in southern Madagascar through the end of the lean season in February 2017 due to crop failures caused by this year’s drought. In the absence of assistance, poor households residing in worst affected areas are expected to face large food consumption gaps, in line with Emergency (IPC Phase 4) food insecurity. Increased acute malnutrition and excess mortality are also likely. Stressed (IPC Phase 2 and 2!) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3 and 3!) outcomes are expected in other southern areas.
    • Although 2017 crop production will likely be below average in the South, food security outcomes are expected to improve following the harvest of pulses in March 2017 and the harvest of maize in April 2017. Between May and June, most households will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes with the exception of zones where households have depleted most of their productive assets. In these areas, the recovery will be slower and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected during next year’s harvest period.
    • Outside of the South, households in most parts of Madagascar will continue to have seasonally normal access to food due to average income levels, crops from their own production, and regular market supplies from local harvests and rice imports. As a result, most other areas will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity between October 2016 and May 2017.

    To learn more, read the complete October 2016 Madagascar Food Security Outlook Report.


    • Between October and December, the food insecurity situation is likely to deteriorate to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in a few areas in the southeast and southwest as poor households fail to meet non-food essentials without resorting to irreversible coping strategies. Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity outcomes are likely to continue across most of the country during the outlook period. Given the expected high level of maize prices in the coming months, household purchasing power will continue to reduce from now until the start of the main harvest.
    • The export ban continues, but has instead promoted informal export of the commodity using unusual and unmonitored routes. Large traders are holding large volumes of maize in anticipation of exporting to the broader region once the export ban is lifted. Part of the maize in the hands of the large traders is likely to be sold to the World Food Program (WFP) for humanitarian assistance in neighboring countries.
    • Despite the current weak La Niña to borderline ENSO neutral conditions, typical La Niña impacts are expected for Zambia in the upcoming season and a normal start of season is likely. Since many farmers benefited greatly from the good prices that they received from their 2015/16 crop sales, they were able to acquire agricultural inputs for the upcoming season early and are likely to cultivate more for the 2016/17 cropping season.

    To learn more, read the complete October 2016 Zambia Food Security Outlook.


    • Zimbabwe faces one of the most severe lean seasons in the last few decades due to the impacts of last season’s El Niño-induced drought – a second consecutive drought year for the country. This shock has been compounded by increasing macroeconomic challenges that the country is facing this year and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected between January and March.
    • Humanitarian assistance is expected in some of the prioritized districts in the southern provinces and marginal north; however, in some areas the assistance is not adequate to cover the needs of the majority of populations in Phase 3 and 4 that are facing substantial deficits. Still, this assistance is expected to improve outcomes in these areas to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) between October and December. At the peak lean season from January to March 2017, FEWS NET expects the situation in some of the worst affected of these areas to have worsened and culminated to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes in the face of severe food deficits and lower levels of assistance.
    • The increased chances of below-average rainfall in much of the south during the period January to March 2017, coupled with expected below-average access to crop inputs, and economic challenges, may result in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) area outcomes between April and May after harvests. The transition from a severe food insecurity period to stable outcomes may be gradual. Poor households may access enough food but still struggle to obtain income to cover most livelihood needs after having depleted their assets during the lean season. As a result, some marginal livelihood protection deficits will still be expected.

    To learn more, read the complete October 2016 Zimbabwe Food Security Outlook.

    Countries Monitored Remotely[i]


    • Many areas in Lesotho, including the traditionally surplus areas, are currently in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and will continue to be during the peak of one of the most severe lean seasons. In the absence of emergency assistance, there is the risk of Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes for isolated populations. As a coping mechanism, some poor households are desperately selling their wool and mohair at atypically low prices in order to earn quick income for food purchases.
    • Middle and better-off household income is improving with increasing vegetable production, which is improving their capacity to hire casual labor. Furthermore, a winter wheat harvest by middle and better off households is also expected between December and January. Though this harvest will not directly benefit poorer households, it should improve labor opportunities as well as payments in-kind for poor households.
    • Prices in Lesotho remain above the five-year average due to high demand induced by the poor 2015/16 harvests. As many poor and very poor households are relying on market purchases, high staple prices continue to reduce their purchasing power. Though staple prices in some areas have remained relatively constant since May, there is an observed downward trend of staple prices especially in Maseru and this could be attributed to the effects of the government subsidy.
    • The green harvest is expected in March and will improve food availability, but will have a limited impact on outcomes. However, due to the anticipated normal harvest next year, it is expected that Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes will be experienced in many areas during the last few months of the outlook period.

    To learn more, read the complete Lesotho Remote Monitoring Report.

    [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.​

    Events That Might Change the Outlook
    AreaEventImpact on food security outcomes
    Entire regionIncreases in global fuel prices. Increases in currently stable fuel prices will likely significantly affect prices of major staples  across the region due to increases in cost of transport
    Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi Further depreciation of local currencies. Continued weakening of currencies will likely result affect countries ability to import and likely result in limited market supplies and significant price increases. 
    Entire regionAdequate and timely delivery of humanitarian assistanceEnough supplies of humanitarian assistance will likely improve food insecurity outcomes. 
    Mozambique , Madagascar, parts of Zimbabwe, southern parts of Malawi Flooding between December and January. Excessive flooding will affect planting activities and may result in crop loss and destruction of infrastructures, affecting 2016/17 production levels in affected countries. 


    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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