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Dryness due to El Niño may prolong lean season and deteriorate food security outcomes

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Mozambique
  • December 2015
Dryness due to El Niño may prolong lean season and deteriorate food security outcomes

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  • Key Messages
  • Current situation
  • Updated assumptions
  • Projected outlook through March 2016
  • Key Messages
    • Mid-season dryness during the 2015 growing season in areas of the south led to reduced crop yields and crop failure, as well as significant water shortages for human and livestock use. The combination of these shocks and the current slow start of the season has worsened food security outcomes for poor households in parts of Gaza, Inhambane, Sofala, and Niassa Provinces, who are facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes at least until 2016 staple harvests.

    • The ongoing El Niño has led to a delayed onset of rains in much of central and southern Mozambique, by up to 40 days. Erratic rainfall has also affected planting, and has damaged crops planted with typical timing. The El Niño will likely suppress rainfall in southern and central Mozambique throughout the rain season ending in March/April 2016.

    • Although maize grain prices were 60 to 70 percent above the five-year average in most monitored markets in November, the prices of some marketed food substitutes such as cassava, maize meal, and rice remain closer to the five-year average and last year.

    Current situation

    Results from the November 2015 national food security assessment carried out by Vulnerability Assessment Group (GAV) of SETSAN and partners including FEWS NET, WFP, and World Vision indicate that approximately 176,000 people are currently food insecure and require humanitarian assistance to help protect their livelihoods and reduce food consumption gaps. The vast majority of the identified population (93 percent) are in Gaza and Inhambane Provinces, with additional acutely food insecure populations identified in Sofala and Niassa Provinces. The November estimate represents a 28 percent increase from May 2015, when 138,000 people were identified in the same districts following weather-related shocks, including floods and heavy rains in parts of central and northern regions, and drought in the south. The November report also indicates that approximately 575,000 people are at risk of becoming food insecure in the coming months, depending on seasonal progress.

    November maize grain prices were 18 to 73 percent above the five-year average in monitored markets, with increases observed from October (Figure 1). Although it is typical for prices to increase at this point in the consumption year, the changes have been greater than normal in many markets. However, prices of some substitute staples, such as cassava, maize meal, and rice, remain closer to average in monitored markets.

    The effective start of the rain season was late by up to 40 days in parts of the central and southern regions. Furthermore, long dry spells have adversely affected planted crops in the early part of the season, with cases of crop loss already reported in parts of central and southern Mozambique. Major areas of concern for early season dryness include Gaza Province and the interior of Inhambane Province, and much of the central region including Sofala, Manica and Tete Provinces, where the rain season has started much later than normal. Close monitoring is strongly recommended for these areas. In the northern region, moderate to heavy rains have been observed, with near-normal timing. 

    Updated assumptions

    Most of the assumptions used to develop the most likely scenario for the October 2015 – March 2016 Outlook remain valid. The exception is that the anticipated delay to the start of the rains and erratic distribution have been worse than previously assumed.

    Projected outlook through March 2016

    For the majority of the country, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected through at least March 2016. However, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to continue throughout the period in parts of the Southern Semiarid Cereals and Cattle Livelihood Zone, and parts of Govuro District in Inhambane Province and Machanga District in Sofala Province, as described below:

    December 2015 - March 2016: Poor households are facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in parts of Chigubo, Massangena, Chicualacuala, Mabalane, and Massingir Districts in Gaza Province, Mabote, Funhalouro, Panda, and Govuro Districts in Inhambane Province, and Machanga District in Sofala Province. Dryness during last year’s main season, which led to reduced crop yields, crop failure, and significant water shortages for human and livestock use, as well as the poor start of the current season, have led to food consumption gaps and livelihood protection deficits for many poor households in these areas.  Urgent humanitarian assistance is needed until the main 2015/2016 harvest in March/April.

    Poor households exhausted food stocks from their own harvests around June, one to two months earlier than normal, and are currently reliant on market purchases. November maize grain prices in Chókwe, a major reference market for the southern region, were 47 percent above the five-year average. However, prices for substitute staples, such as rice and maize meal, remain near average. Poor households are particularly vulnerable to high food prices due to limited income opportunities, and will employ a variety of coping strategies to ensure access to food, including increased sales of natural products such as grass, building poles, cane/reed and firewood; production and sale of charcoal; and the selling of poultry, traditionally distilled alcohol, and other goods and crafts. Very poor households who are unable to engage in the above coping mechanisms due to limited household members available to engage in these activities are also likely to rely on increased consumption of wild foods. Some households will receive gifts and remittances from relatives living in major urban centers and in South Africa, a practice that intensifies during the festive periods at the end of the year.

    The ongoing planting season is providing a seasonal increase in agricultural labor opportunities, which will likely remain close to normal given the multiple planting and cultivation attempts driven by the erratic rains. However, the income generated through the expansion of typical livelihood strategies is unlikely to be sufficient for necessary food purchases for poor households, who will continue to face livelihood protection deficits. Ongoing social safety net programming, along with food and water provisions from government and partners as part of the humanitarian response, are expected to continue during this period. The interventions will allow many poor households in these areas to preserve their livelihood assets.

    Despite a poor start to the rain season and expectations for continued below-average precipitation, water availability for human and animal use will improve as the season progresses. Moisture is likely to be sufficient to provide a variety of wild foods, including wild roots (xicutso and matiwo), wild fruits (n’kuacua, malambe and massala), and wild fruit juice (utchema). These sources will gradually improve food access during the outlook period until the green harvest becomes available in February/March 2016. Due to the forecast for erratic rains in the south and central regions related to the impact of the ongoing El Niño, many households will need to engage in successive planting, a practice that has been adopted due to uncertainty in the timing of the effective start of season. Timely and adequate provision of agriculture inputs is crucial during this period, which is ongoing and could last into January.

    Figures November 2015 Maize Grain Price Changes in Selected Markets

    Figure 1

    November 2015 Maize Grain Price Changes in Selected Markets

    Source: MASA/SIMA

    Figure 1


    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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