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Severe drought continues in parts of southern and central Mozambique

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Mozambique
  • February 2016
Severe drought continues in parts of southern and central Mozambique

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  • Key Messages
  • National overview
  • Key Messages
    • The ongoing El Niño has greatly suppressed rainfall in much of the southern Africa region, leading to severe drought in areas, including parts of southern and central Mozambique. Forecasts indicate that El Niño conditions will continue to drive below-average rainfall during the remainder of the season in southern and parts of central Mozambique, while in the north, forecasts indicate average to above-average rainfall.

    • Food insecurity during the ongoing lean season has been exacerbated by suppressed and erratic rainfall, primarily through a reduction in agricultural labor opportunities. While the ongoing food security assessment by the Vulnerability Assessment Group of the Technical Secretariat of Food Security and Nutrition (SETSAN/GAV) will provide further information on the number of people facing acute food insecurity and the severity of outcomes, FEWS NET estimates that approximately 600,000 people are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and need immediate food assistance, while another 600,000 are Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    • Maize grain prices are expected to remain well above average during the entire scenario period through September, with some markets reaching more than 100 percent above average, due to the anticipated below-average availability of maize from local producers and higher demand from households who will have below-average own production. Demand is expected to be above average during the February to May period, and will increase further during August to September and beyond the scenario period, when an increasing number of households will gradually exhaust their food stocks and start turning to markets for food access. This year, the peak prices for staple foods are expected to be above average, and the duration of the high prices is likely to last longer than usual due to increased demand for alternatives to maize grain.

    • From February to May, the majority of rural households throughout the country will be able to meet their basic food needs through market purchases and the availability of seasonal foods, and will be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity. In southern semiarid zones, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to continue in the absence of planned and funded emergency food assistance. In the semiarid areas of the central region, poor and very poor households will be facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes, and may require humanitarian assistance to protect their basic livelihoods. From June to September, outcomes are anticipated to follow a similar pattern across the country, as the harvest of late planted crops and second season planting in areas where conditions permit will contribute to stabilize the current level of acute food insecurity. Outcomes are likely to deteriorate beyond the scenario period.

    National overview

    Current Situation

    • The 2014/2015 rainfall and agricultural season was characterized by extended mid-season dryness in the south and parts of the central regions, while in other parts of the central region and in the north, severe flooding affected some areas, particularly in the Licungo River basin. The combination of dryness in southern and central areas, and flooding in the center-north region, resulted in reduced crop yields and below average harvests. Carryover stocks from the previous season helped many households to maintain typical food consumption, but nearly 167,000 people were estimated to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in November 2015, at the beginning of the ongoing lean season, with an additional 575,000 people estimated to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2).
    • The ongoing El Niño is driving severe drought in large parts of the southern Africa region. During the first half of the 2015/16 rain season, from October through December, rainfall was extremely poor across much of the southern region and parts of the central region of Mozambique, with rainfall estimates indicating less than 50 percent of average across large areas. Most parts of the country experienced a delayed start to the rains, and in areas where rains started on time, subsequent periods of prolonged dryness led to failed planting attempts. In an effort to recover, many households have been planting whenever it rains, leading to the exhaustion of seed stocks. Most of these households are now in need of seeds, mainly for horticulture crops and short-cycle varieties of maize, which are the most cultivated crops during the second season. The second season will only be possible in areas where lowland residual moisture conditions are adequate, or in areas with irrigation systems.
    • Improved rainfall in central and southern Mozambique during the second half of January encouraged many farmers to re-plant fields that had suffered total crop losses due to the early-season drought, including in Tete, Sofala, Manica, Gaza, and Inhambane Provinces. Although the late January rains provided some moisture that will contribute to the regrowth of pastures, they were insufficient to mitigate the rainfall deficits from the first half of the season. In Maputo, Gaza, and the interior of Inhambane Province, the possibility of any significant harvest is almost zero, as the main season is nearing its close and the forecast indicates below-average rainfall for the remaining weeks. In coastal Inhambane Province and much of the central region, the late planted crops would require the rains to last until at least early May to ensure their complete development. However, this scenario is unlikely, given that the rain season typically ends in March/April, and that the updated forecast from the National Institute of Meteorology (INAM) indicates increased probability of average to below-average rainfall in the central and southern regions from February through April. The occurrence of rainfall in late February in parts of the central region, including in Manica, Tete, and Zambézia Provinces, has renewed the possibility of second season production.
    • In the northern region, cumulative rainfall totals have been more than 200 percent of average from the second half of January to early February 2016. These massive and persistent rains have caused some river basins to exceed their respective alert levels, including the Messalo and Megaruma river basins in Cabo Delgado Province. Although the number of people affected may be revised as further information becomes available, current estimates indicate that approximately 5,500 households have been affected by localized floods and heavy rains, some of whom have been relocated to safe areas while receiving emergency assistance. The localized floods have also caused damage to crops and infrastructure near the flooded river banks. As the rain and cyclone season is ongoing, the government’s Orange Alert since January will remain active to ensure coordination in the response of different government institutions, as well as domestic and international partner agencies. In Maputo Province, strong winds in February have affected nearly 970 households who had their houses totally or partially destroyed.
    • According to the latest information from the Crop and Early Warning Unit (DCAP) of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MASA), approximately 529,000 hectares of planted area, amounting to nearly 11 percent of total planted area, has been affected by dry spells and drought in the central and southern regions. In the northern region, the impacts of the heavy rains and floods on crops was minimum. The MASA/DCAP indicates that nearly 3,800 cattle (approximately 0.2 percent of the estimated national total) have died due to the impact of the drought, which has included severe shortages of water and pasture. The satellite-derived Water Requirement Satisfaction Index (WRSI) for maize, updated through February 20th, 2016 (Figure 4), indicates that crop failure has already occurred in areas of southern Mozambique, particularly in Maputo and Gaza Provinces and parts of the interior of Inhambane Province. Although WRSI indicates that cumulative precipitation has met the crop requirement in most of the central and southern regions, this tool does not address additional factors, including irregular distribution of rainfall and crop damage due to heavy rains that may also adversely impact crop development. In this situation, ground assessments are required to verify the satellite-derived estimates.
    • With food stocks nearly exhausted at household level and low prospects for a successful 2015/2016 harvest, many households are currently relying on market purchases of basic foods. However, prices for maize grain, the primary staple food at national level, have increased to very high levels in most markets. Between December 2015 and January 2016, the average maize grain price across markets monitored has increased by 34 percent, more than normal, with the highest increase observed in Maputo (82 percent), a much higher increase than normal. Average January maize grain prices were 74 percent above the five-year average, with the greatest change observed in Mocuba, Zambézia Province (137 percent). Average January maize grain prices were 106 percent above the same month of last year, with the greatest change also observed in Mocuba (215 percent). Other staple foods, such as maize meal (a preferred substitute for poor households) and rice, are experiencing increasing upward pressure on prices due to atypical demand. For example, the cost of rice in Nampula has risen drastically and atypically by 46 percent between December 2015 and January 2016.
    • Many poor and very poor households have been engaging in various self-employment activities in order to earn income for food purchases, including the collection and sale of natural products such as grass, building poles, cane/reed, and firewood, the brewing and sale of traditional drinks, and increasing the production and sale of charcoal, as well as livestock sales, including poultry. However, some of the products, such as grass and reeds, are also affected by the drought, which has led to reduced availability and quality of these products for collection and sale. In addition, the engagement of more and more people in the same kind of activities, combined with the reduced market for purchase, is reducing prices and suppressing income stemming from these activities. The production of traditional drinks is also affected by a lack of availability of the small grains required in the process.
    • Some members of poor households, particularly men from the southern region, are migrating to South Africa in search of job opportunities, often illegally. Due to difficulties in finding stable work in South Africa, most of these migrants are unable to send remittances to their relatives. Most end up working in poor conditions as street vendors, while others are frequently deported back to Mozambique by the South African authorities.
    • Many households who are unable to engage in the above coping mechanisms due to limited availability of laborers are relying more heavily on the consumption of wild foods. However, the ongoing drought, which has continued for a second consecutive year in many of these areas, has also reduced the availability of typical wild foods.
    • Although the gradual decrease in rainfall predicted by INAM during the February to April period will help flood-affected households in the northern region to recover, a continuation of drought conditions is expected in the southern and central regions.
    • With support from partners, the government is allocating resources for the provision of humanitarian assistance. Since 2015, humanitarian assistance has been provided by the government and cooperating partners, with adjustments according to needs assessments and funds availability. An emergency response was started in October 2015, with food assistance and agricultural inputs provided by WFP and NGOs such as CARE, CONCERN, and German Agrarian Action (GAA). Following the activation of the Orange Alert in early January, the government made a request to UNRCO, which chairs the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT), for additional support to complement the 2015/2016 National Contingency Plan, aiming for short-term emergency assistance, as well as medium and long-term interventions.
    • With funding from DFID, the COSACA Consortium of NGOs, composed of Concern, Oxfam, Save the Children, and CARE, has prepared a response plan for 20,500 households. This response is already assisting drought-affected populations in Gaza and Inhambane Provinces with food distributions, as well as vouchers for food and seeds. WFP is also distributing food in affected districts of Gaza and Sofala Provinces. The Joint Aid Management (JAM) school meals program in Inhambane and Sofala Provinces is contributing to mitigate acute food insecurity in areas of intervention. In January 2016, food assistance provided by WFP, COSACA, and other NGOs reached nearly 120,000 people. As additional funds become available, the number of beneficiaries will be adjusted accordingly. Current assistance plans last until March 2016. This ongoing assistance was based on official estimates of food insecure populations from the November 2015 assessment, which indicated that nearly 167,000 people were in need of food assistance. The official estimate is expected to increase based on the March 2016 SETSAN/GAV food security assessment.
    • The Technical Secretariat for Food Security and Nutrition’s Vulnerability Assessment Group (SETSAN/GAV) is currently conducting a rapid food security assessment in drought-affected areas in the southern and central regions. The final results from this assessment are expected in early April and will provide information regarding the extent of needs in quantity and duration for the period from April to the next harvest in March 2017, as well as recommended assistance modalities. The ongoing assessment will update and modify the current official estimate for the number of people in need of food assistance in drought-affected areas, which is based on a previous assessment in November 2015. Current food security outcomes have been exacerbated by the erratic rains during the ongoing lean season, primarily through a reduction in agricultural labor opportunities. Although updated information will remain limited until the outcome of the SETSAN/GAV assessment, FEWS NET estimates that approximately 600,000 people are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), with an additional 600,000 in Stressed (IPC Phase 2), based on analysis utilizing comparison with analogous years.
    • In addition to areas indicated in the IPC maps (Figures 1,2, and 3), it is estimated that some households in additional districts are experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. These districts include Boane, Magude, Manhiça, Matutuine, Moamba, and Namaacha in Maputo Province, Marromeu in Sofala Province, and Cuamba, Lago, Mecanhlas, Metarica, Mecula, and Lichinga in Niassa Province. In other provinces, the number of people facing acute food insecurity is estimated to be less than five percent of the population.


    The Food Security Outlook for February through September 2016 is based on the following national-level assumptions:


    • The ongoing El Niño will continue through at least May 2016. According to the probabilistic El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) forecast from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), during early-February 2016 the positive sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the tropical Pacific indicated a very strong El Niño event. All atmospheric variables continue to support the El Niño pattern, including weakened trade winds and excess rainfall in the east-central tropical Pacific. The consensus of ENSO prediction models indicates a gradual weakening of El Niño conditions over the coming several months, arriving at neutral conditions sometime around the middle of 2016. El Niño conditions are typically related to late, erratic, and below-average rainfall in southern and parts of central Mozambique.
    • Below-average rainfall is expected through the remainder of the rainy season (February, March, and April) for southern, central and much of the northern region. According to the updated rainfall forecast by the National Institute of Meteorology (INAM), issued in early February 2016, the southern, central, and the interior of northern region will receive average to below-average rainfall for February to April 2016, while the extreme north and coastal areas of the northern region will receive average to above-average rainfall. This will exacerbate the ongoing drought conditions in the southern region and much of the central region, leading to reduced crop yields, crop failure, reduced access to water for both humans and livestock, and poor pasture conditions, which have already been causing excess livestock deaths in various parts of the south. In much of the northern region, where rainfall has been well above average since the beginning of the season, the expected reduction in rainfall will help households who were affected by heavy rains and localized floods to recover their basic livelihoods and replant where flooding has occurred.


    • Soil Moisture Index below average in major basins in south and center. According to the National Directorate of Water Resources Management (DNGRH), the soil moisture index of southern basins including Maputo, Umbeluzi, Incomati, Limpopo, Inharrime, and Save river basins is very low (0 – 10 percent of normal). The southern part of Búzi and Zambezi river basins are also characterized by low soil moisture index (30 – 50 percent of normal). The Mutamba, Inhanombe, Govuro, the central and northern parts of Búzi, Púngoe, the northern part of Zambezi, Montepuez, and coastal river basins from Nampula Province have moderate soil moisture index (50 - 100 percent). Most of the northern basins, including, Licungo, Lúrio, Magaruma, Messalo, and Rovuma have high to very high soil moisture index (>100 percent). Messalo and Megaruma rivers have reached the alert level this season, but had receded by late February.
    • Below-average stream flows. Southern river basins have been characterized by below-average stream flows, with anomalies of 25 to 60 percent below-average, with many basins below levels of the 1991/92 drought and 1997/98 El Niño year by 10 to 40 percent. In the Zambezi basin and Luia sub-basin, stream flows are similar to last year, ranging from 20 to 100 percent below an average year, while in the Chire sub-basin the stream flow is 15 percent below an average year and 10 percent below last year’s level.

    Markets and Trade

    • Supply of maize grain is expected to be below-average in south and central regions. During the scenario period, the supply of maize grain in the southern and central regions is expected to remain below average, affecting availability in some markets and at the household level. In the northern region, supply will remain near average to above average, due to average to above-average rainfall. Atypically large flows of maize grain from the northern region into the central and southern regions is likely to begin around June. However, even with the likelihood of below-average harvests in the south and center, the availability of maize grain will improve slightly between April and June, when the newly harvested crops will become available.
    • Maize grain prices well above-average. Maize grain prices are expected to remain well above average throughout the scenario period, with some markets reaching more than 100 percent above average, due to reduced availability of locally-produced maize and increased consumer demand due to limited own-production. From February to May, the demand is expected to be higher than average as an increasing number of households will turn to markets earlier than usual due to below-average or exhausted food stocks at household level caused by the ongoing severe drought in much of the southern and central regions. Demand will increase further during the June to September period, as more households will gradually exhaust their food stocks.
    • Average to above-average prices for rice and maize meal. Maize meal and rice are the typical substitutes for maize grain among all wealth groups. Prices are expected to range from average to up to 45 percent above average, according to FEWS NET analysis. Unlike maize grain, which is locally produced, maize meal and rice are mostly imported, and their availability is less affected by the climate shocks affecting locally-produced crops. However, current reductions in the supply of maize grain and the abnormally high prices will increase the demand for rice and maize meal, putting upward pressure on prices, which will likely be above-average throughout the scenario period.
    • Reduced informal trade volumes between Mozambique and Malawi. Informal cross-border trade in maize grain between Mozambique and Malawi is expected to be reduced to less than 50 percent of normal due to anticipated reduced availability of maize grain in both countries. According to the Agriculture Market Information System (SIMA) of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MASA), a December 2015 survey indicated that the volume of maize grain traded in the Milange-Muloza border between Mozambique and Malawi was well below the typical level. The survey also indicated that current prices for maize grain were well above average in the area.

    Main Season Production

    • Estimates based on the Water Requirement Satisfaction Index (WRSI), extended to the end of the season, indicate that maize grain production will be near average in the northern region, 20 percent below average in the central region, and at least 35 percent below average in the southern region.

    Agricultural Labor

    • Below-average agricultural labor opportunities in southern region. In much of the south, mid-season agricultural labor opportunities are generally below 30 percent of the average. At this point in the season, agricultural labor opportunities are typically related to weeding and the harvesting of green food, but due to reduced crop yield and even crop failure in large areas, these labor opportunities are either very limited (less than 10 percent of average) or entirely absent. Although the main harvest typically provides labor opportunities from March through May, these will also be below-average with the expected reduced harvest due to extensive dryness. In the southern region from April to September, the typical agricultural labor activities related to second season production will also be below-average, due to reduced residual moisture for this cropping cycle. Agricultural activities for the second season will basically be limited to lowland areas and those with irrigation systems, benefitting a limited number of people.
    • Below-average agricultural labor opportunities in central region. In the central region, mid-season agricultural labor is below average, and is mostly related to weeding. From March to May, agricultural labor will remain below average and will be related to weeding and pre-harvesting (green harvest). Harvesting of late-planted crops will continue from April through September, and in some areas, second season crops utilizing residual moisture will provide some agricultural labor opportunities, though these will also be below-average.
    • Near-average agricultural labor opportunities in northern region. Agricultural labor opportunities will remain near-average to above-average in the northern region. Replanting in flood-affected areas is expected to drive agricultural labor opportunities between May and June.

    Income from self-employment activities

    • Below-average income from self-employment activities. With an increasing number of people engaging in self-employment activities, opportunities to sell and earn income will be significantly reduced. Typical activities include production of handicrafts such as mats, sieves, baskets, and wooden spoons; and brewing of traditional drinks, such as the locally known kabanga, utchema, and aguardente, which will also be reduced due to poor availability of the small grains needed for production.
    • Poor and very poor households will also cut and sell grass and poles for construction. All wealth groups will produce and sell charcoal, a practice which has been expanded in recent years. In some communities in the semi-arid zones of Gaza Province, the production and sale of charcoal is becoming the major self-employment activity. Nevertheless, the lack of control over increasing charcoal production poses a serious risk of desertification.


    • During the scenario period, herd sizes will decline due to death caused by shortages of pasture and water, as well as through increased sales.
    • Livestock prices are expected to be below average due to poor body conditions and increased selling.
    • Households with livestock will start moving longer distances in search of pasture and water in August/September, much earlier than usual.

    Humanitarian Assistance

    • Food assistance to be extended through March 2016. Ongoing food assistance that was originally programmed to end in December 2015 has been extended through March 2016. However, this assistance is not expected to satisfy assessed needs. Food assistance provided from October to December 2015 covered less than 30 percent of the total assessed needs for that time period. Currently, WFP and other partners are mobilizing funds to meet additional needs. According to the results from the November 2015 national food security assessment carried out by the Vulnerability Assessment Group (GAV) of SETSAN and partners including FEWS NET, WFP, and World Vision, there were approximately 167,000 people facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, requiring humanitarian assistance to reduce food consumption gaps. This estimate will be revised according to the results of the March food security assessment by SETSAN/GAV. As previously mentioned, FEWS NET estimates that approximately 1,200,000 people are currently facing acute food insecurity, 600,000 of whom are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    February to May: During this period, the majority of households typically rely on own production for food, including green food in February and March and the main harvest in April and May. However, the ongoing 2015/2016 season has been severely affected by drought conditions linked to El Niño, and there is a high likelihood for well below-average harvests in southern and central regions. From February to May, most areas are expected to be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1). The majority of rural households will be accessing food by consuming carryover stocks, newly harvested crops from the 2015/2016 main season, and market purchases. However, in much of the southern region and southern Sofala Province, very poor and poor households will not meet their minimum food needs and will be facing livelihood protection and survival food deficits. In the absence of humanitarian assistance, many of these households will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and in urgent need of food assistance. In the central semiarid zones, poor and very poor households will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2), requiring humanitarian assistance to protect their basic livelihoods.

    June to September: In a typical year, staple prices are seasonally low during the months of June and July, during which time most households consume food from their own production. However, this year most households will experience below-average harvests, and in much of the southern region there will be near total losses. Staple food prices, such as that for maize grain, will remain above average during the post-harvest period and will start rising in July/August, two to three months earlier than usual. In August and September, the harvest from second season production typically becomes available. However, it is expected that, due to the ongoing dryness, conditions for second season crop production will be poor, with very limited harvests. Competition for labor opportunities is expected to increase during this period, and poor and very poor households will have limited access to income for market purchases. Although the combination of late harvested crops and food from market purchases will permit Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity outcomes in most areas during this period, the majority of poor households in the drought-affected areas of the south and parts of Sofala Province will continue facing livelihood protection deficits and food consumption gaps, and will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in the absence of assistance. In the semiarid areas of the central region, very poor and poor households will be facing livelihood protection constraints and will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    For more information on the outlook for specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of the page for the full report.


    Figures Seasonal calendar in a typical year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar in a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Water Requirement Satisfaction Index (WRSI) for maize, February 20, 2016

    Figure 2

    Water Requirement Satisfaction Index (WRSI) for maize, February 20, 2016

    Source: USGS/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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