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Erratic start of the 2019/20 rainfall season will likely affect crop production and agriculture labor

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Southern Africa
  • November 2019 - May 2020
Erratic start of the 2019/20 rainfall season will likely affect crop production and agriculture labor

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Despite ongoing large-scale humanitarian assistance in areas of Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and southern Madagascar, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are present in many areas of the region. This is due to the poor 2019 harvest, significantly above average market prices, conflict, specifically in the DRC, and a volatile macroeconomy in Zimbabwe. In areas of Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and southern Madagascar where humanitarian food assistance is ongoing Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are present. These outcomes are expected to persist through at least the 2020 harvest.

    • Generally, the 2019/20 season started with near average rainfall totals, although rainfall was erratic. However, in Lesotho, early-season rainfall deficits have been observed. Due to the erratic start of the season and in some areas, specifically Zimbabwe and Mozambique, households are facing difficulty accessing agriculture inputs. As a result, land preparation and planting activities are below average. Additionally, in conflict affected areas of DRC, households are facing difficulty engaging in normal agriculture activities. The erratic rainfall in areas of the region is also leading to a slow regeneration of pasture conditions in these areas.

    • Market supply in Zimbabwe, parts of Mozambique and DRC, and southern Malawi remain below average and in some cases limited. This coupled with increased market demand due to below average household food stocks has resulted in significantly above average food prices across most of the region. Mozambique maize grain prices are 50 percent above the five-year average. In Malawi and Zimbabwe significantly above average staple prices have also been reported. The highest staple prices are expected from January through March 2020, which is the peak lean season for most areas of Southern Africa and will likely affect household access to staple foods.  

    • Agriculture related income sources for poor households are likely to be affected by the slow start of the season and below average forecast in most countries. This will impact household purchasing power as most households are relying on market foods for consumption. Additionally, as the production prospects are for a second below average season in some areas of the region, harvesting labor opportunities are also likely to be below average.


    Democratic Republic of the Congo 

    • The new clashes between armed militias in the Minembwe and Itombwe highlands in South Kivu have exacerbated the deteriorating humanitarian situation and caused new waves of displacement, amounting to approximately 3,300 people between September 27 and 29, 2019. This fresh outbreak of violence in the highlands will affect both households, which will have limited access to their income sources, and humanitarian workers, who will face difficulties in channeling their assistance to vulnerable groups.
    • Normal precipitation at the start of growing season A throughout the eastern part of the country enabled an effective start to the season, and the main subsistence crops, such as maize, groundnuts and beans, were sowed. In addition, above-normal precipitation in Maniema caused extensive material damage and destruction of household food stocks, with approximately 2,000 homes destroyed. This suggests that there will be a decline in harvests at the end of the growing season.
    • While Ebola virus disease (EVD) appears to be controlled by response teams in affected areas (Beni and Lubero), with community involvement, there are also negative projections for cholera in 21 out of the 26 provinces that make up the DRC. This raises concerns about an upsurge of the epidemic in the coming months. Since January 2019, there have been 21,600 registered cholera cases, with an overall mortality rate of 2 percent. This situation requires effective epidemiological monitoring.
    • During this scenario period, which will alternate between lean season peaks and harvest periods, and taking into account the poor performance of previous seasons, which have reduced stockpiles by about two months, the food security situation throughout the eastern part of the country will be marked by areas of Crisis (IPC Phase 3), including in Kasai, Tanganyika, North Kivu and Ituri, until January 2020. By the end of the season A and B harvests at the beginning of March 2020, the food situation in these areas could improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    To learn more, see the October 2019 Democratic Republic of Congo Food Security Outlook.


    • Between October 2019 and March 2020, populations in southern areas will face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) levels of acute food insecurity due to localized production shortfalls caused by heavy rains and flooding. Populations in most central and northern areas will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes through March 2020. In April and May, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes will likely emerge throughout the country with the start of the harvest.
    • Despite near-average national production, maize prices remain atypically high throughout the country. This is attributed to market dynamics influenced by localized production shortfalls in areas impacted by flooding, large purchases by traders and institutions immediately after the harvest, and production shortfalls in neighboring countries.
    • According to national and international forecasts, average rainfall is expected in the 2019/2020 season. This will likely lead to a normal agricultural production season and normal access to agricultural labor opportunities between October and January.

    To learn more, see the October 2019 Malawi Food Security Outlook.


    • Currently, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes prevail in areas of Sofala, Manica and Cabo Delgado provinces as humanitarian assistance continues to mitigate more severe outcomes. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) persists in southern semiarid areas as well as in parts of Tete and Zambézia. Humanitarian food assistance is planned and likely to increase in central and northern areas as well as extend to southern areas in November where Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are expected to prevail through May 2020. The rest of the country will be facing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) and Stressed (IPC Phase2) outcomes.
    • Planned and likely humanitarian food assistance is anticipated to cover slightly over half of the food assistance needs from November 2019 to March 2020. Despite humanitarian assistance improving outcomes across the country, additional resources are required to fully cover the needs, particularly in parts of the country where Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist.
    • Market and household food supply are below average in areas affected by shocks in 2019. As a result, maize grain prices are increasing atypically fast and are 65 percent above last years’ prices and nearly 50 percent above the five-year average across all markets. However, prices of substitutes for maize grain, namely maize meal and rice, which are largely imported, remain stable and close to last year’s and average prices.
    • Land preparation and planting activities are underway in parts of southern Mozambique, where rainfall has started although erratically. However, given the forecast of an erratic onset of rainfall with below average cumulative rainfall for southern and parts of central regions, crop production and households incomes from labor and crop sales is most likely to be below average. Given the level of disruption of livelihoods in the drought and cyclone affected areas, seed distribution is crucial for successful planting and harvest.

    To learn more, see the complete Mozambique.


    • Rainfall in the 2019/2020 rainy season is forecast to be below average in southern Madagascar, but average to above average in the central highlands, and above average in the north. This is favorable for national crop production but may be challenging for agriculture in the south.
    • Food prices are currently stable throughout the country due to stable market supply and the availability of households’ stocks, particularly in the South.
    • Pest infestations may be a determinant of this season’s agricultural production in the south as fall armyworm is now endemic, and Malagasy migratory locusts were reported in the southwest in September.
    • In October 2019, poor and very poor households in the most southwest and extreme south districts of Madagascar are experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2), with the impact of humanitarian food assistance in Beloha are experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2!), and households in Ampanihy are facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) because of below average staple production and the persistence of high rates of malnutrition. District, Beloha district and the four most vulnerable communes of Fort-Dauphin which are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    To learn more, see the October 2019 Madagascar Food Security Outlook.


    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes persist across much of the country. This is mainly due to depleted household food stocks and to access food households rely on markets with significantly below average purchasing power amidst atypically high and increasing prices. Humanitarian food assistance reached some of the worst drought-affected areas of the country in October. As a result, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are present in some of these areas. The assistance is expected to be scaled-up during the peak of the lean season resulting in Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes continuing in targeted areas.
    • Critical shortages of foreign currency in the formal sector continue to drive increases in parallel market exchange rates. This is in turn fueling persistent increases in the costs of basic goods and services, including staple foods. By late October, the local currency was valued at approximately 15.5 ZWL/USD on the official interbank market, about 14.0 percent of its value in February 2019, when the interbank market was introduced. This marks over a 520 percent depreciation of the local currency with higher rates on the parallel market. The depreciation of the local currency (RTGS or ZWL) against the USD continues to impact rural and urban purchasing power and livelihoods.
    • Following the 2018/19 drought, crop production was well below average and the country is faced with a 2019/20 national cereal deficit estimated at over 800,000 MT. The 2019/20 rainfall season is forecast to be below average characterized by a late start and erratic rainfall. This combined with the anticipated widespread poor access to agricultural inputs, will likely lead to below average cropped area. A second consecutive below-average season is expected to result in lower than normal livelihood opportunities, household incomes, and 2020 harvest, driving atypically high assistance needs.

    To learn more, see the October 2019 Zimbabwe Food Security Outlook.

    Countries Monitored Remotely[i]


    • A majority of households in Lesotho are facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, even in the traditionally high-producing areas of the Southern Lowlands which are the breadbasket of Lesotho. An increase in consumption-based coping strategies have been reported, such as skipping meals and reducing portion. The World Food Program has begun distributing cash and vouchers to affected households.
    • Seasonal forecasts indicate that parts of Southern Africa, including Lesotho will likely receive below-average rainfall between October 2019 and March 2020 with a potentially late and erratic onset. Depending on rainfall distribution, there is a chance that the 2019/20 cropping season will be affected for the third consecutive year. Lesotho typically receives first rains as early as October, however the country has only received three days of rain so far. Early season rainfall deficits will likely affect planting and other agriculture activities. As a result, agricultural labor opportunities are limited and are expected to be further affected by poor start of season, thereby affecting income and food access for the poor.
    • Reported high temperatures are rapidly drying water reservoirs and depleting pasture. As of the third week of October, vegetation cover for most of Lesotho was 70 – 95 percent below typical levels, as evidenced by the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). Livestock body conditions continue to deteriorate due to poor pastures and shortage of water. This is affecting prices for livestock as traders prefer healthy animals.

    To learn more, read the October 2019 Lesotho Remote Monitoring Report.

    Events that Might Change the Outlook



    Impact on food security outcomes

    Southern Africa


    Near normal rainfall   performance

    Average rainfall will improve incomes through agriculture labor across the region which will allow poor households to access staple through market purchases especially during the peak lean season (January – March). Additionally, increase household access with the harvest

    Southern Africa Region

    Outbreak of Fall Army Worm (FAW)

    Outbreaks of fall armyworm across the region will likely result in production loses which may affect household food availability and access from the harvest

    Malawi, Madagascar, Zimbabwe and Mozambique 

    Increase in Cyclone Activities between December and January

    Increase in cyclone activities will likely affect farming activities and will result in loss of production to affected areas. 


    [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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