Skip to main content

Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are emerging as the lean season begins amidst the El Niño

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Southern Africa
  • November 2023 - May 2024
Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are emerging as the lean season begins amidst the El Niño

Download the Report

  • Key Messages
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Outlook by country
  • Countries Monitored Remotely
  • Events that Might Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are present across the southern Africa region, particularly in areas that recorded a below-average 2023 harvest due to weather shocks or are affected by conflict. Across the region many poor households have depleted their food stocks and face constrained access to income amid high food prices. However, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are present in areas where poor households still have food stocks but high prices are limiting household purchasing power such as northern Mozambique, high producing areas of Zimbabwe, and the Grand Southeast of Madagascar. Additionally, humanitarian assistance to secure areas of Cabo Delgado is supporting Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes, but Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are present in conflict affected areas, particularly North Kivu and Ituri in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). 
    • Land preparation and planting for the main agricultural season is underway across the region. In October, rainfall was largely average to above-average across the eastern sector of the country, and below-average across the western sector. However, an effective start to the rainy season was not recorded across much of Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi southern Angola, and southern Madagascar by the end of October. A delayed onset of effective rainfall in November and below average precipitation combined with above average temperatures are anticipated due to the ongoing strong El Niño. Below-average rainfall will likely impact planting activities and agricultural labor opportunities which could result in a below-average 2024 harvest. Agricultural labor activities typically available during this time of the season are likely to be lower than normal, limiting income earnings for poor households who rely on such activities thereby negatively impacting their food security situation. 
    • Staple food prices are seasonally increasing as stocks from own production decline and demand increases as households increasingly rely on market purchases for food. However, prices are likely to be higher than the five-year average in many monitored markets across the region as market supply of maize and other staples decline and better-off farmers hold onto their stocks to try and cushion themselves from the effects of El Niño. In particular, prices in Malawi are considerably higher than last year and the five-year average. In October, maize grain prices in Lilongwe, Malawi were 120 percent higher than last year and 250 percent higher than the five-year average and expected to rise through the lean season. Relatedly, rising inflation and low foreign reserves in Angola is limiting the supply of imported food commodities and increasing food prices constraining poor households access to food. However, in Mozambique maize grain prices are stable due to increased supply from the second harvest. Overall, high food prices in the region are likely to keep household purchasing power low.
    • The security situation in DRC remains volatile following the unexpected resumption of fighting between government forces and M23 rebels in North Kivu since October 2023. The rise in conflict in eastern DRC has led to a deterioration in the security and humanitarian situation. According to the Red Cross, nearly 450,000 have been newly displaced amid insufficient humanitarian assistance to meet needs. With the imminent departure of EAC troops and the arrival of SADEC troops, the situation could deteriorate further, with an increase in the number of people in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4).  

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Seasonal calendar for Southern Africa

    Source: FEWS NET

    Outlook by country

    Democratic Republic of Congo

    Key Messages

    • Despite multiple regional and international initiatives to restore peace to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the security situation remains precarious for populations in conflict zones, a situation that continues with the involvement of a multitude of local and foreign armed groups operating in the country's eastern provinces. Despite increased household participation in the A season, this hostile environment will not encourage improved agricultural production and will continue to erode the livelihoods of affected households, particularly internally displaced persons (IDPs). North Kivu, affected by the M23 rebellion, and Ituri, where conflict between armed groups persists, will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), with a proportion of households in Emergency (IPC Phase 4).

    • Despite government assurances, the state fuel subsidy system is beginning to show its limits. Since September, oil traders have been on strike in several towns across the country, accusing the government of not respecting the financial retrocession for over a year. As a result, fuel prices in the DRC have risen by over 100%. This situation is having a negative impact on food prices and access for poor households.

    • The measures put in place by the government to slow the depreciation of the local currency since August, notably the requirement to pay taxes and fees in local currency and the increase in the key commercial bank rate from 9 to 25 percent, seem to be yielding convincing results. The monthly inflation rate fell from 5.8 percent in July to 0.9 percent in August 2023. Prices of the main foodstuffs have remained stable in recent months. However, they have risen sharply compared to the same period last year (70 percent for maize in Djugu) and with the four-year average (158 percent) for the same product. This is limiting access to food for poor households in the affected areas.

    • During this scenario period, which will alternate between the peak of the lean season and the start of seasonal harvests, and taking into account the poor performance of the previous season, which reduced the duration of stocks by around two months, the food security situation throughout eastern DRC will likely be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), notably in the Kasai, Tanganyika, North Kivu, and Ituri regions, until January 2024. At the end of the seasonal harvests, it is highly likely that a proportion of the population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) will improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2). 

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


    Key Messages

    • The ongoing strong El Niño is expected to result in average to above-average rainfall in the north. However, in southern Madagascar, erratic and below-average rainfall is expected to cause below-average agricultural production during the 2023/ 24 season. Rainfall in October was close to average, with localized deficits along the western coast, and some households began planting main-season crops. Close monitoring of rainfall totals and distribution will be required to assess the severity of adverse impacts on cropping conditions. In addition, the number of cyclones is currently predicted to be below average for the whole country through January and below average in southern Madagascar through April because of the positive decaying Southern Indian Ocean Dipole (SIOD) event. While the risk of a cyclone impact is reduced, the risk of catastrophic damage from an intense cyclone strike remains.

    • Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely ongoing across the Grand South, with Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes expected to emerge when most households deplete their stocks of roots and tubers between November and December. Very poor and poor households will have to rely on market purchases of food amidst seasonally increasing food prices. High food prices and below-average incomes will greatly constrain households from meeting their minimum kilocalorie needs, and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist through the peak lean season. Significant humanitarian assistance is expected to lead to improvements to Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes in Amboasary Sud and Betioky districts during the February to May projection period. Once harvesting begins in March, most households are expected to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes due to seasonal improvements in food availability. Households will likely have difficulty meeting their non-food needs, given below-average incomes from agricultural activities and the need to service debts accrued during several consecutive years of severe drought.

    • In the Grand Southeast, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely present as households have not yet depleted their stocks of roots and tubers. Once stocks are exhausted around November, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to occur in the most isolated districts with the least market access and cash crop production. Though households will have access to off-season rice crops starting in December, stocks are only expected to last through January at most. Off-season and main-season production is likely to be below average, given below-average and erratic rainfall forecasts. Improvements to Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are expected during the February to May projection period in Befotaka, Nosy Varika, and Ikongo because of significant humanitarian assistance. By contrast, other districts in the Grand Southeast are expected to maintain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes through the scenario period. With seasonally improved access to incomes from clove harvesting and the availability of a wide range of fruits (notably lychees, breadfruit, jackfruit, and mangoes) for consumption and sale, households will be able to purchase enough food to meet their minimum food needs.

    • Humanitarian food assistance is ongoing across much of the Grand South and Grand Southeast and is likely to increase as the scenario period progresses. Current plans indicate distributions unlikely to reach sufficient proportions of the population to mitigate worse area-level outcomes until levels of assistance increase in early 2024. During the peak of the lean season between January and March, significant humanitarian food and cash distributions are planned in several worst-off districts in the Grand South and the Grand Southeast. Improvements to Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are expected between February and May in Amboasary Sud, Betioky, Befotaka, Nosy Varika, and Ikongo, as at least 25 percent of these districts' population will meet at least 50 percent of their kilocalorie needs with humanitarian food or cash assistance.

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


    Key Messages

    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are present in much of southern Malawi and are expected to persist through March 2024. Poor households in these areas are facing difficulty meeting their basic food needs following the widespread destruction of crops and a related sharp increase in staple food prices as a result of Tropical Cyclone Freddy. The early half of the projection period coincides with the peak of labor demand; however, agricultural labor opportunities are likely to be lower than normal due to forecasted below-average October to March rainfall. Many poor households will also enter the 2023–2024 season with limited agricultural inputs. Urgent humanitarian food assistance is needed to prevent the persistence of already ongoing acute food insecurity across southern Malawi. 

    • Of highest concern are some very poor households in the southern districts of Chikwawa, Nsanje, Phalombe, Balaka, and parts of Mwanza, Neno, Zomba, and Blantyre, where Cyclone Freddy drove significant crop losses and labor opportunities are sparse due to reduced areas of cultivated land. Available information suggests that many are selling a high number of livestock to cope, which erodes their livelihoods and future coping capacities. Among these worst-affected populations, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected during the peak of the lean season around December to February. Global, regional, and national rainfall models forecast the persistence of the already ongoing strong El Niño through early 2024. FEWS NET science partners at USGS, UCSB, and NOAA indicate the 2023/24 rainy season will be below-average in southern Malawi, while average to above-average rainfall is expected in central and northern Malawi. The El Niño event is also likely to cause a delayed onset of rains, reducing agricultural income-earning opportunities for poor households who rely on this source during the lean season to purchase food. Overall, the 2024 maize harvest is expected to be 20 to 30 below average due to the combined impacts of the previous cyclone, the forecasted below-average and delayed rains, and limited access to agricultural inputs

    • Based on a field assessment conducted by FEWS NET in September, the national maize stock in both local and Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) markets has significantly decreased, with traders reporting access to less than half of their required stocks. Moreover, the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) held only around 56,000 MT in mid-October, relative to their target of 217,000 MT and the Department of Disaster Management Affair's estimated need of 164,000 MT for humanitarian assistance during the lean season. Equally concerning are maize prices, which have reached their highest point in the recent five-year record, at 120 percent higher than the same period last year and 250 percent higher than the five-year average across FEWS NET-monitored markets. 

    • Farming households with access to irrigable land in Malawi typically harvest their crops between September and November, with irrigated production providing almost 20 percent of the annual national maize production. However, recent impacts of Tropical Cyclone Freddy, particularly in southern Malawi, suggest lower-than-normal irrigated production is highly likely. Community interviews conducted during a FEWS NET food security assessment indicated that total irrigated production was expected to decrease by over half in southern Malawi. This reduction in irrigated production will likely keep maize prices elevated because there won't be a significant addition of irrigated stocks to boost supplies.

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


    Key Messages

    • From October to December 2023, most households in rural areas will continue facing None (IPC Phase 1) outcomes supported by food from the second season and post-flood production, food reserves from the main 2023 harvest, market food purchases, and normal access to income. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes will persist in most southern and central regions, but Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will likely emerge in the worst affected areas as El Niño induced dryness affects the area planted and the availability of agricultural labor activities. In 2024, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will likely persist in the remote semi-arid areas of southern and central regions due to a likely below-average harvest, high food prices, and limited market access by the very poor households who will continue to engage in coping strategies to meet their food needs in the harvest period. In Cabo Delgado, the ongoing and planned distribution of humanitarian food assistance in secure areas will continue to support Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes, with Crisis (IPC Phase 3) likely in more conflict-affected areas. 

    • In the September/October distribution cycle, the Food Security Cluster (FSC) partners assisted around 541,700 people across Mozambique with humanitarian food assistance (HFA), with around 244,270 people in Cabo Delgado receiving assistance. Additionally, nearly 57,830 people received support in recovering or strengthening their basic livelihoods across in Cabo Delgado province. Households received rations equivalent to 39 percent of their monthly kilocalories needs. In areas affected by tropical cyclone Freddy, around 199,240 people received HFA in September, primarily in Zambezia, Tete, Sofala, Gaza, and Inhambane provinces. For the first time, the anticipatory actions (AA) framework for drought was activated in Mozambique, targeting five districts in Gaza province. Under the leadership of INGD and with the support of several FSC partners, the framework aims to mitigate the impact of El Niño on rainfall and reach 150,000 people with AA activities.

    • In September 2023, maize grain prices increased on average by 11 percent nationally. However, maize grain prices remained relatively stable in the Maputo and Maxixe markets, supported by above-average vegetable and maize production during the second season. However, prices in Montepuez, Cabo Delgado province, increased by 41 percent, likely driven by the decline of food stocks in Cabo Delgado. Maize grain prices in September 2023 were 13 to 86 percent higher than prices last year and 8 to 83 percent higher than the five-year average across monitored markets. 

    • From October to December 2023, strong El Niño conditions are expected to delay the start of the 2023/24 rainy season by around one dekad (10 days) with mixed performance, especially in southern and parts of central Mozambique. Irregular rainfall and reduced access to agricultural inputs will likely affect the area planted, affecting agricultural labor opportunities for poor households. Close monitoring of rainfall totals and distribution will be required to assess the severity of adverse impacts on cropping conditions for the 2024 harvest. There is particular concern for areas in southern and central Mozambique that experienced crop losses due to dry spells in 2023 and cyclones in 2022 and 2023. However, rainfall is expected to be cumulatively average to above average in northern Mozambique, supporting crop growth. Government and donors should prepare now for rising food assistance needs in 2024.

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


    Key Messages

    • Depleted own-produced food stocks, constrained access to income, and high food prices will likely drive Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes into early 2024 in typical deficit-producing areas. Anticipated below-normal 2024 harvests due to El Niño induced poor rainfall will likely provide short-term improvements to household food access and acute food insecurity after the harvests. In the productive surplus producing resettlement areas in the north, the availability of own-produced stocks and income from mainly crop sales and casual labor are expected to maintain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes through May 2024. However, the communal parts of these areas are likely to continue to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes due to limited household stocks and access to income for market purchases. 

    • El Niño-induced poor rainfall is likely to negatively impact the area planted and crop conditions, leading to lower-than normal seasonal agricultural labor opportunities and labor rates. Likely erratic and cumulatively below-average rainfall is expected to result in a below-average 2024 harvest. Anticipated water challenges, especially in typical low rainfall areas, compounded by ongoing macroeconomic challenges, will likely drive below-normal engagement in non-agricultural casual labor and self-employment. Livestock body conditions, especially cattle, are expected to decline as water and pasture conditions deteriorate, impacting livestock sales. The gathering, consumption, and sale of wild foods and other wild products will likely be below normal. 

    • The market supply of staple grains will likely decline through the 2023/24 agricultural season. In October, some farmers with surplus grain are speculatively holding on to their stocks in response to El Niño forecasts. As stocks diminish, grain prices will likely increase above normal levels in deficit producing areas, increasing reliance on maize meal. Generally, USD prices of basic food and non-food commodities are expected to remain stable, with poor households relying mainly on informal retail shops and open markets where prices are relatively lower than formal chain supermarkets. However, short-lived price increases associated with the end of-year festive season are likely for some commodities and areas. Local currency (ZWL) prices are expected to follow likely increases in formal and parallel market exchange rates, driving increases in the ZWL cost of living.

    • Historical trends indicate domestic and international remittances to poor households increase through a shock like an El Niño. However, poor households will likely receive less remittances as other household members in-country or abroad, mainly in South Africa, face poor macroeconomic conditions and high living costs. An increasing proportion of households are likely to engage in or expand income-earning opportunities from petty trade, but increased competition will negatively impact income. Informal mining is expected to increase as a source of income for participating households. The barter of livestock and other commodities for food is likely to increase, although terms of trade are expected to remain unfavorable for poor households.

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

    Countries Monitored Remotely


    Key Messages

    • The lean season has started and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely in the south where several consecutive years of drought have resulted in very poor crop production. Poor households are increasingly relying on labor migration and hunting small animals. However, casual labor opportunities are lower than the demand, and staple food prices are high. As such, poor households in much of the south and in urban centers are likely in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). 

    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected through the April peak of the lean season. Food security improvements are likely to start in May with the cereal harvest. In the southwest, a more favorable harvest than in recent years is likely to lead to greater and longer-lasting improvements in food security. However, in the southeast where rainfall deficits are expected, it's likely some poor households will harvest minimal crops, and acute food insecurity will be worse than usual in the post-harvest period. 

    • Given the ongoing and forecast El Niño, rainfall across much of southern Africa is expected to be below average. In Angola specifically, forecasts from FEWS NET's science partners at USGS, NOAA, and UCSB indicate below-average rainfall is most likely in the southeast, while average rainfall is currently considered most likely in the southwest. 

    • Inflation continued its upward trend in September. Key informants suggest many traders are facing challenges paying for imported goods due to the scarcity of forex in commercial banks. The limited supply of imported food coupled with limited supply of local crop production from years of below-average rainfall is putting upward pressure on food prices.

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


    Key Messages

    • Following a near-average national harvest in 2023, markets are well supplied with maize meal at the start of the lean season. However, market prices remain higher than last year and the five-year average. The high prices are likely impacting household purchasing power. Staple food prices will likely remain high through the lean season as market demand increases food prices amid high transportation costs. However, vegetable production and the good winter wheat harvest are expected to support household access to food and income in December and January. Nevertheless, very poor and poor households will likely be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through the scenario period as high food prices limit their access to their non-food needs. 

    • Wheat harvesting is ongoing under favorable conditions, and the season will conclude in November and December. Planting of main season cereals is also beginning, and initial conditions are favorable. There was an effective start to the rainy season in mid-to-late October across much of the country, but there is yet to be an effective start to the rainy season in most of the agriculturally productive areas of southwestern Mafeteng, southern Mohale's Hoek, and the western edges of Maseru and Berea. The Ministry of Agriculture bought fertilizer and seeds to offer at reduced prices for the 2023/24 farming season, which is expected to boost farming activities and income for the start of planting. Cumulative rainfall at the end of October ranged from 60 to 110 percent of the 40-year average across the country, but early season deficits are highest in the high-production lowlands where there is yet to be an effective start to the rainy season.

    • Most households are preparing land and beginning to plant for the 2023/24 agricultural season, providing agricultural labor opportunities for poor households following an effective start to the season across much of the country. However, the El Niño is expected to lead to lower-than-normal agricultural labor opportunities as better-off households plant less land than normal to save their seed and minimize potential losses. The Lesotho Meteorological Services (LMS) anticipates that El Niño will result in drier conditions, including a late onset of rainfall and warmer than normal conditions across the country during the October to December 2023 period, and this will likely continue through much of the agricultural season.

    • The September annual inflation rate increased to 5.8 percent from 5.2 percent in August. Prices increased mainly for Food and Non-alcoholic Beverages (2.1 ppt), Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (1.6 ppt), and Housing, Water, Electricity, and Gas (0.7 ppt). The annual headline inflation rate increase was moderated by an 8.2 percent reduction in the cost of passenger transport services and a 14.2 percent reduction for restaurants and cafes. However, the cost of food in Lesotho remains 6.2 percent higher than last year, which is likely continuing to impact household purchasing power.

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

    Events that Might Change the Outlook
    Table 1
    Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario
    AreaEventImpact on food security
    RegionalA normal and well-distributed start to the 2023/24 rainy seasonA normal well-distributed start to the rainy season will likely increase agricultural labor opportunities, supporting poor household access to income and purchasing power during the start of the lean season
    RegionalSignificantly below-average rainfall Significantly below-average rainfall will limit planting activities, reducing agricultural labor opportunities. A decline in the planted area will likely result in a below-average harvest in 2024, lowering household access to food and income from crop sales.  
    Regional Collapse of debt-restructuring or multi-lateral finance deals The collapse of debt restructuring, or multi-lateral finance deals will likely negatively impact national foreign reserves, impact investor confidence, and drive the devaluation of local currencies. Lower foreign reserves and weaker currencies will likely impact the importation of fuel, agricultural inputs, and other goods, keeping food and non-food prices high for poor households. 

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Southern Africa Food Security Outlook November 2023 - May 2024: Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are emerging as the lean season begins amidst the El Niño, 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.

    Get the latest food security updates in your inbox Sign up for emails

    The information provided on this Website is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.

    Jump back to top