Southern Africa could face an early start to the 2019-2020 lean season and abnormally high food assistance needs, according to a new alert from FEWS Net. Due to a significant delay in the start of the rainy season and predicted below-average precipitation through March, the region is likely to experience cumulative seasonal rainfall significantly below average. This deficit may negatively impact maize production, livestock conditions, and agricultural labor opportunities in the region.
In eastern South Africa, Lesotho, southern Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Angola, and northern Namibia – where the rainy season began 30-60 days later than normal – total precipitation since October is 30 percent or more below average. These areas have also experienced above-average temperatures, exacerbating the lack of precipitation and leading to drought conditions in some areas.
Harvest of the maize crops in the region will likely be delayed as a result of the rainfall deficit. As a result, maize prices are expected to remain above average in the region through April. However, due to production from irrigated farmland in South Africa and average growing conditions in Zambia, the regional maize supply should remain stable enough to prevent record price spikes like those seen in 2016.
Livestock conditions and agricultural labor opportunities will also deteriorate as a result of the anticipated below-average rainfall. Drought-related livestock deaths have already been reported in central South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Botswana. Both of these factors will reduce poor households’ access to income through the lean season, posing a further threat to household food security. The exceptions to this include most areas of Madagascar, northern and central Mozambique, and Malawi. These areas are expected to receive average rainfall throughout the rest of the year, supporting normal crop production, livestock conditions, and labor opportunities.
Household food security may improve with the harvest in April and May; however, acute food insecurity may still be higher than normal because poor households will have below-average harvests and fewer opportunities to earn income from selling their crops or from agricultural labor activities. FEWS Net expects the lean season to start early in August and September in several areas of the region; in addition, food assistance needs throughout the region are likely to be higher than normal during the lean season.
By Sara Gustafson, IFPRI