FEWS Net Outlook for Southern Africa
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A recent Food Security Outlook Report released by FEWS Net forecasts that for November 2016 – May 2017, food security conditions throughout southern Africa will worsen for many poor households. Deteriorating food security will be driven partly by normal seasonal trends, as this period is the peak of the lean season in the region, and partly by the 2015-2016 El Niño cycle, which delayed or reduced harvests in many countries.

In Malawi, food prices will likely reach record highs and remain significantly above average for the remainder of the consumption year (through January), according to the report. Many households have depleted their livelihoods to cope with El Niño-driven weather shocks; as a result, they have little or no resources to invest in agricultural production for the coming season. Compounding this challenge, the report states, is the current low coverage of Malawi’s Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP), which will not cover enough households in the 2016-2017 season to ensure adequate production. As a result, food insecurity levels could reach Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) throughout the south and central regions of the country by February; these conditions should start to ease to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) for most areas in April and May, when households are able to begin their harvests and consume their own production again. Finally, the report also cautions that the national drought response’s cash transfer arm is no longer fully funded; in addition, there is little information available regarding plans to import or deliver staple commodities. This lack of adequate assistance will pose further challenges for poor households in the country.

Nearly 1.8 million people in Mozambique are currently facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3)-level food insecurity as part of the typical effects of the lean season. FEWS Net reports that from January-March, that number will grow to as many as 2.3 million as the lean season peaks. Similar to the situation in Malawi, it remains questionable whether humanitarian assistance will reach adequate levels or be implemented in a timely, reliable manner in Mozambique; as a result, many households in the south and central areas could reach Emergency (IPC Phase 4) food insecurity outcomes.  While the volume of staple foods is adequate in many markets throughout the country, available maize is well below average in the South. In addition, maize grain prices remain well above both 2015 prices and the five year average price. These high prices are expected to last through February, placing significant pressure on poor households. However, the 2016-2017 cropping season has begun normally in much of the south and central areas of the country; the report states that starting in April, many households will be able to access their own production, which will ease food insecurity conditions somewhat.

In Zambia, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity outcomes are expected to continue throughout much of the country during the outlook period (through May 2017). Some areas in the southeast and southwest regions of the country face higher food insecurity outcomes (Stressed, or IPC Phase 2) as a result of poor production and high maize prices. However, a typical La Niña cycle is anticipated in the coming year, meaning a normal start to the planting season. In addition, many farmers received good prices for their 2015-2016 crops, which enabled them to purchase adequate agricultural inputs for the coming season. This will help ensure relatively normal crop production throughout the country.

According to FEWS Net, El Niño-induced drought in Zimbabwe has led to one of the most severe lean seasons in recent decades. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) food insecurity is expected during the peak of the lean season, between January-March. While some humanitarian assistance has been available, particularly in prioritized districts in the southern and northern provinces, this aid is not sufficient to cover the majority of populations in Phase 3 and 4 food insecurity, according to the report. In addition, rainfall for the southern region of the country is forecast to be below average for January-March; coupled with below-average access to crop inputs, food security conditions in the region may remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) levels even after the harvests begin in April-May. Poor households will likely struggle to meet their non-food livelihood needs.

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

Photo credit:Stephen Morrison