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El Niño impacts likely to increase humanitarian needs in 2024

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Mozambique
  • December 2023
El Niño impacts likely to increase humanitarian needs in 2024

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook through May 2024
  • Most likely food security outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian assistance
  • Key Messages
    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are present in southern and central areas most impacted by climate shocks in 2023, where very poor households have already depleted their food stocks earlier than usual. Household purchasing power is low due to limited income-earning opportunities and high staple food prices. In Cabo Delgado province, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes persist in the worst conflict-affected areas, with areas receiving humanitarian assistance likely facing Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!). As the lean season progresses, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to emerge in areas where the start of the 2023/24 agricultural season was poor due to below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures.
    • The 2023/24 rainy and agricultural season got off to a false start in the south when moderate rainfall in October encouraged many households to plant. However, very dry and hot conditions in November resulted in the permanent wilting of crops, forcing households to replant. To a lesser extent, some rainfall in the northern parts of Zambézia and Tete provinces led to some planting, and crops are in good condition and at the vegetative growth stage. Moderate to heavy rainfall in early December triggered new planting in the south and center of the country. However, climate forecasts indicate that there is still a high probability that rainfall from December to March will be below average in most areas, except in northern Mozambique, where average to above-average rainfall is expected. In the north, the forecast of normal to above-normal rainfall should support good production if households have access to seeds and other agricultural inputs.
    • According to a Food Security Cluster (FSC) Partners’ Plan for the 2023/2024 main agricultural season, more than 415,000 people in Cabo Delgado will receive livelihood support assistance during the 2023/2024 agricultural season. Most households are expected to receive agricultural production kits to support household access to food and income and reduce dependency on humanitarian food assistance by targeting most food-insecure households. The assistance is targeting returnees, internally displaced people, and the host/local community. However, limited livelihood support for the 2023/2024 rainy season, based on the FSC partners' plan in Cabo Delgado, suggests that food insecurity will continue to be high throughout 2024 unless significant investment is made in livelihoods.
    • In November, maize grain prices in most monitored markets were stable but 20 to 80 percent higher than last year. The abnormally high maize grain prices are likely due to the cumulative impacts of shocks in the past few years, including the impact of Tropical Cyclone Freddy on the 2023 main harvest. Rice and maize meal prices also were relatively stable in November, apart from small fluctuations driven by local demand and supply dynamics. However, rice and maize meal prices are up to 50 percent higher than the five-year average. The high prices are keeping household purchasing power low for many poor families, especially in areas affected by shocks in 2023.

    Current Situation

    Current food security outcomes: Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are present in areas where household food stocks depleted rapidly following the below-average 2023 main and second harvests, particularly Maputo, Gaza, Inhambane, Zambézia, Tete, and Sofala. In these areas, poor households have low purchasing power due to limited income-earning opportunities caused mainly by the late and irregular start of the 2023/24 agricultural season. In addition, better-off households affected by Cyclone Freddy are hiring fewer laborers for agricultural activities due to lower than normallower-than-normal liquidity. This has increased competition among poor households for other income-generating activities, particularly the production and sale of charcoal and firewood. At the same time, high staple food prices are impacting household earnings. In Cabo Delgado province, sporadic conflict in the east is keeping affected areas in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as households are unable to fully engage in typical livelihood activities; however, more secure areas that are receiving humanitarian assistance are likely facing Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes. In southern and central Mozambique, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to emerge in areas where the start of the 2023/24 agricultural season was characterized by below-average rainfall, poor rainfall distribution, and abnormally high temperatures associated with the ongoing El Niño. The poor start to the agricultural season in southern and central Mozambique has limited income-earning opportunities from agricultural labor and petty trade, keeping household purchasing power low. 

    2023/2024 season’s progress: In October, light to moderate rainfall across most of the southern and parts of the central region triggered initial planting attempts. However, significantly below-average rainfall and high temperatures in November resulted in the loss of the early planted crops, particularly in the southern region (Figure 1). Additionally, below-average rainfall in November delayed an effective onset of the rainy season by 10 to 30 days across much of southern and central Mozambique. The planted crops in parts of the central region are likely in the emergence phase of growth. However, heavy rainfall in December is expected to trigger new planting attempts as the planting window narrows. However, household access to seeds and rainfall distribution will determine whether households are able to replant. Rainfall from December to March, the peak of the rainy season, is very likely to be below average in southern and central Mozambique. Cumulatively average to above average rainfall is likely in northern Mozambique, particularly in Nampula, Cabo Delgado, and Niassa provinces, where the rainy season typically begins in December. Main dams, important for urban water access, remain below average levels after the dry conditions in November, but the heavy rainfall in December is likely to provide some recharge.

    Figure 1

    Pentadal rainfall distribution from September in millimeters compared to the 2000–2018 mean in Gaza province, August 25–December 25, 2023
    Pentadal rainfall distribution from September in millimeters compared to the 2000–2018 mean in Gaza province, August 25–December 25, 2023

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Pests: According to the Red Locust Control Organization for Central and Southern Africa, there are Red Locust concentrations of various densities are present in Buzi Gorongosa, Dimba plains in Mozambique. Most of the outbreak areas received rainfall, which created favorable conditions for mating and laying eggs. Hatching is expected from December 2023. Hopper bands are expected to form in January/February 2024 where a significant pre-breeding adult population exists. Monitoring of the African Migratory Locust and Tree Locust should be enhanced as the pests are expected to have started breeding with the onset of the rains. Regular surveys and monitoring, along with control measures, should be carried out in areas where significant locust hopper bands are located.

    Livelihoods support for the 2023/2024 agricultural season in Cabo Delgado Province: According to the Food Security Cluster (FSC) Partners’ Plan for the 2023/2024 main agricultural season, over 415,000 people in Cabo Delgado have been targeted for planned livelihood support assistance during the 2023/2024 agricultural season (Table 1). Most targeted households are expected to receive agricultural input kits to promote engagement in the 2023/24 agricultural season, reduce the dependency on humanitarian food assistance, and streamline the targeting of the most vulnerable households for future assistance. The top five districts targeted for assistance are Mocímboa da Praia (94,720 individuals), Chiúre (59,640), Montepuez (45,689), Palma (38,700), and Mecúfi (30,955).

    Table 1. Planned assistances per population group
    Planned assistances per population group

    Source: Mozambique Food Security Cluster (FSC)

    Figure 2

    Mozambique headline inflation (%)
    Mozambique annual inflation (%)

    Source: FEWS NET

    Humanitarian food assistance: In November, the Food Security Cluster (FSC) partners assisted around 640,000 people across Mozambique with humanitarian food assistance (HFA), with around 544,000 people in Cabo Delgado. Additionally, nearly 44,500 people received support in recovering or strengthening their basic livelihoods in seven districts of Cabo Delgado (Chiure, Mecufi, Metuge, Mueda, Namuno, Palma and Montepuez) and 2,140 in Luabo districts (Zambezia). In Cabo Delgado, seven districts are already distributing assistance based on WFP-led Vulnerability Based Targeting (VBT) lists, with more districts expected to utilize the VBT lists in the next cycle. Households receive rations equivalent to around 40 percent of their monthly kilocalories needs, with just over 75 percent of assistance distributed as cash-based transfers (CBT) and the remainder as in-kind food assistance.

    Prices of maize grain, rice, and maize meal: Maize grain prices have remained relatively high this year, and the seasonal reduction in the July to September post-harvest period was less pronounced than usual. In November, maize grain prices in most monitored markets remained atypically stable, except in Maputo, where maize prices rose 15 percent. The relative stability of maize grain prices is likely being driven by the fact that prices are already at very high levels. In November, maize grain prices are around 20 to 80 percent higher than last year, and 10 to 45 percent higher than the five-year average. The high maize grain prices are likely due to the accumulated effects of multiple shocks in recent years, including the impact of Tropical Cyclone Freddy, which negatively affected the 2023 main harvest. Rice and maize meal prices remained relatively stable from October to November, apart from small fluctuations caused by local demand and supply dynamics. Compared to last year, rice and maize meal prices had a mixed trend. However, rice prices in November 2023 were 15 to 30 percent higher than the five-year average. Maize meal prices were similar to the five-year average to 50 percent higher than the five-year average in most monitored markets. 

    Inflation: Headline inflation in Mozambique accelerated in November to 5.36 percent, the highest in the past four months, according to the National Statistics Institute (INE). The increase is largely driven by increases in food prices (Figure 2). Prices accelerated sharply for food and non-alcoholic beverages (9.41 percent compared to 3.21 percent in October), alcoholic beverages and tobacco (7.40 percent compared to 4.12 percent in October), and clothing and footwear (3.71 percent compared to 1.61 percent in October). According to INE, the rise in inflation is driven by upward pressure on the prices of lemon, tomatoes, lettuce, fresh chicken, cowpeas, maize grain, and horse mackerel. In general, the high prices are keeping household purchasing power low, particularly in urban and peri-urban areas where households are market dependent for most of their food and non-food needs. 


    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET


    Updated Assumptions

    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Mozambique Food Security Outlook for October 2023 to May 2024 remain unchanged, except for the following:

    • Between December 2023 and March 2024, the main Madagascar and Mozambique area is forecast to have reduced tropical cyclone activity. 
    • The import ban on live domestic wild birds and other poultry products, including eggs from South Africa, will continue to drive increases in chicken and eggs prices, mainly in the urban and peri-urban areas in the southern zone, where eggs are an important source of protein. The high prices will likely impact the purchasing power of poor households in these areas.

    Projected Outlook through May 2024

    From December to January, households will face decreased access to agricultural income-earning opportunities due to the delayed start of the 2023/24 rainy season (Figure 3), prolonged dry spells and high temperatures in November. This will negatively impact households at a time when many have already exhausted their food reserves and are relying heavily on market purchases. Additionally, above-average food prices are lowering household purchasing power. As a result, at least one in five households are engaging in coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to minimize food gaps, such as withdrawing children from school unless meals are provided at school or sending household members to eat at relatives’ or friends’ houses. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are also likely to emerge in the areas most affected by the erratic distribution of rainfall to date, particularly in the semi-arid areas of the south and center of the country, where limited agricultural labor opportunities and low demand for petty trade will limit household access to income for food purchases. In less-affected areas, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely to continue as high prices limit households’ ability to meet their food and non-food needs.

    As the effects of the lean season deepen, particularly in areas mostly affected by erratic and cumulatively below-average rainfall from the El Niño, very poor households who lack livestock to sell or the ability to produce and sell charcoal will likely intensify their use of coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3), such as consuming seed stocks that were to be saved for the next season, exchanging goods for food, reducing meal sizes or the number of meals eaten daily, reducing food consumption by adults in favor of children, and increasing consumption of wild food. 

    Figure 3

    Soil moisture index as of December 10, 2023
    Soil moisture index as of December 10, 2023

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    From February to May 2024, a gradual transition from the lean season to the harvest period will occur. During this time, the availability of wild and seasonal foods, such as watermelon and pumpkin, and the start of the green harvest will help stabilize food access for poor households. However, in most of the remote semi-arid areas, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will likely persist as poor households continue trying to expand their income-earning opportunities. These households will likely increase coping strategies indicative of Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes to minimize food consumption gaps due to below-average income and a likely below-average green harvest caused by the effects of El Niño. In April and May, food access for most poor families will improve as they access food from the green harvest and the main harvest. However, in areas where the 2024 harvest is expected to be below average, such as areas where the recovery from past shocks has been slow or a below-average harvest is recorded, poor households will try to expand their income-earning opportunities and increase their engagement in coping strategies to minimize food consumption gaps. However, increased competition for labor opportunities and petty trade sales, lower liquidity among middle and better-off households, and high maize prices will keep poor households’ purchasing power low and limit their market and food access, particularly in the most remote areas of semi-arid regions, resulting in area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.

    In Cabo Delgado, the projected increase in humanitarian support, especially for livelihoods, and the prospects for normal to above-normal rainfall could contribute to a relatively better harvest compared to the last few years. However, humanitarian needs will likely continue to be high throughout 2024 as households slowly recover their livelihoods and resettle to their place of origin. The expected ongoing return of IDPs to their areas of origin will likely pose short and medium-term challenges associated with shelter availability and access to labor, agricultural resources, and income-earning opportunities. However, acute food insecurity is likely to decrease following increased engagement in the 2023/24 agricultural season, supported by average to above-average rainfall and lower levels of conflict. Additionally, increased access for humanitarian partners and will likely continue supporting Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!), while areas directly affected by conflict or at risk of further attacks by insurgents are likely to continue to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. 


    Most likely food security outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian assistance

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Mozambique Food Security Outlook Update December 2023: El Niño impacts likely to increase humanitarian needs in 2024, 2023.

    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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