GIEWS Country Briefs See Mixed Crop Production, High Food Insecurity
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FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning Systems (GIEWS) has released several new country briefs for Africa south of the Sahara. This series of briefs provides an overview of the food security situation in prioritized countries, focusing on the current agricultural season, harvest prospects for staple food crops and livestock, estimates and forecasts of cereal production, and food price and food policy trends.

In Mali, adequate rainfall has led to favorable early prospects for the 2016 cropping season. According to satellite images, cumulative rainfall throughout July was above average in most regions, and planting of millet, sorghum, and rainfed rice is underway. The country saw a record cereal output in 2015, around 8 million tonnes; this was up 16 percent from the 2014 bumper crop. This increased cereal production was driven by good rainfall, expanded planted area, and the use of improved seeds. Thanks to this strong 2015 harvest, cereal availabilities remain good and prices remained largely unchanged in recent months. Some markets did experience seasonal price increases in June; however, even with these expected increases, prices have remained generally lower than their levels in June 2015. Despite this, however, ongoing civil strife has damaged livelihoods and agricultural production in the northern region of the country; GIEWS reports that this northern population will still require both food and non-food assistance to restore livelihoods and ensure continued access to food.

Crop prospects in Nigeria remain uncertain due to rainfall deficits that have delayed planting in much of the country. Despite an above-average harvest in 2015, this irregular precipitation combined with the ongoing Boko Haram conflict and depreciation of the Nigerian Naira have had a significant impact on food prices and availability, particularly in the northeastern regions of the country. For example, in the northern Kano market, millet prices were nearly 80 percent higher than a year earlier during the January-May period. These conditions make the country highly dependent on imports; Nigeria is the largest rice importer in Africa, and overall cereal imports are forecast to be more than 7 million tonnes in 2016. In addition, the continuing conflict and higher food prices have led to extreme levels of food insecurity in the northern Borno State, leading to calls for urgent food and non-food aid.

In Malawi, maize production dropped sharply in 2016 due to the delayed onset of seasonal rains and El Niño-driven dry conditions, particularly in the southern and central regions of the country. Significant decreases in production have also been reported for rice, sorghum, and millet, and the 2016 wheat crop is expected to decline as well. Total cereal production in the country is estimated to be about 16 percent lower than 2015 levels and 34 percent below the previous five-year average. As a result of this low 2016 production, Malawi’s maize imports are expected to rise significantly in the 2016-2017 marketing year. Maize imports are forecast to reach 0.65 million tonnes, with the bulk of this amount coming from outside southern Africa due to tight regional supplies. While maize prices have declined since their record high reached in February, they remain 56 percent higher than their July 2015 levels. The combination of reduced production and higher prices has increased the number of Malawi’s food-insecure people to 6.5 million, up from 2.84 million people in 2015. GIEWS estimates that approximately 375,000 tonnes of maize will be needed to help feed this population.

Zimbabwe is also faced with significantly decreased 2016 crop production as a result of unfavorable, El Niño-driven weather conditions. Total cereal production is estimated at 636,000 tonnes, down 27 percent from 2015 and approximately 50 percent from the previous five-year average. A reduced maize harvest makes up the bulk of this decrease. As a result, cereal imports are forecast to increase significantly as well, reaching close to 1 million tonnes. As in Malawi, much of these imports will come from outside southern Africa. Maize meal prices have remained generally stable throughout much of 2016, but are still at high levels. Drought and poor harvests are expected to drive as many as 4.07 million people into food insecurity in the coming lean season (January-March 2017); this is 44 percent higher than the food insecure population during the 2016 lean season. During the present season (July-September 2016), as much as 20 percent of Zimbabwe’s rural population is estimated to be food-insecure. The report estimates that USD 723 million will be needed to address the country’s coming food security and agricultural aid needs.

In contrast, Zambia’s crop production recovered in 2016 following favorable rains. The maize crop is expected to increase by 10 percent from 2015 levels. Total 2016 cereal production in predicted to be 3.2 million tonnes, up 10 percent from 2015 and close to average levels. Thanks to this increased production and larger carry-over stocks, Zambia is forecast to export 0.5 tonnes of maize in the 2016-2017 marketing year; the bulk of this amount is expected to go to Zimbabwe. However, maize exports have been suspended until the end of September. Domestic maize prices have seen seasonal declines in recent months but remain higher than their 2015 levels due to strong regional demand and tighter regional supplies. Despite this year’s increased production, food security conditions have deteriorated in the southern part of the country due to El Niño‑related dry conditions; an estimated 975,738 people in the southern region are currently food-insecure and will require some type of food assistance. GIEWS reports that through August-December 2016, humanitarian assistance will only reach 257,592 severely food-insecure households, with the majority of the rest of the food-insecure population supported mainly through the country’s Social Cash Transfer program.

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

Photo credit: Victoria Cavanagh, WFP / AusAID