Mozambique + 2 more

Current Food Insecurity in Southern Africa for 1999/2000

Originally published

This Special Report looks at current (or transitory) food insecurity for the 1999/2000 consumption period in the 4 southern African countries-Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe-where FEWS has resident representatives. It summarizes the findings of country-specific Current Vulnerability Assessments (CVAs) conducted by FEWS and collaborating national, donor and UN agencies. These CVAs are annual evaluations of the food security status of various level administrative units or population groups that assess food access from crop and livestock production as well as other income sources in rural areas.
Despite an unusual rainy season that produced mixed results for 1998/99 cereal production throughout southern Africa, the overall food security status of populations in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe improved markedly compared to last year, with fewer people living in food-insecure areas. Such is the brighter outlook that none of these countries envision the need for emergency free food distributions during the remainder of the 1999/2000 consumption year (ending in March or April, depending on the country).

The CVAs conducted in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe indicate that the total resident population of their food-insecure administrative units numbers nearly 7 million-about 13 percent of the combined national populations (figure 1). The number of people living in highly food-insecure areas comprises just over one-quarter of the total food-insecure population. Unlike the 1998/99 CVAs (see FEWS Special Report, December 1998), there are no populations classified as extremely food insecure this year.

Several factors account for this general improvement in food security. The most significant factor is the large increase in food and cash crop production over last year’s levels that boosted food stocks and rural incomes. Only a few specific crops recorded production decreases. Maize production rose 32 percent in Zambia and increased slightly in Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Small holder production in Malawi jumped 46 percent for maize, 35 percent for rice and 33 percent for sweet potatoes. Cotton output in Zimbabwe increased one-third while soybean production doubled. Zambia harvested a large surplus of cassava (see FEWS Special Report, July 1999). In addition, farm gate prices have held stable or increased due to informal cross-border maize trade benefiting farmers in Malawi and Mozambique as well as maize purchases to replenish Strategic Grain Reserves in Malawi and Zimbabwe.

The summary country reports below describe:

  • how current food insecurity was assessed,
  • where food-insecure populations are found,
  • why populations are food insecure, and
  • what actions are being taken to address current food insecurity.

Southern Africa - Populations Living in Food-Insecure Areas


Food Insecure


Food Insecure





of National






of National



of National





Figure 1 Source: FEWS FEWS, December 1999
CVAs - Objectives and Methods

CVAs focus on current (or transitory) food insecurity. CVAs analyze the impact of recent events on the ability of particular population groups to meet their food requirements during the current consumption year and describe the extent to which these populations experience transitory food insecurity. The outcome is a classification of populations living in different areas by degree of food insecurity-a first screening for targeting assistance, including food aid. In this manner, CVAs are designed to be a key element in a national or regional preparedness and response strategy for food crises. They are particularly useful when linked with contingency plans that define response options, logistical requirements and funding mechanisms for alternative food insecurity scenarios. In short, CVAs are analyses for action.

CVAs follow a logical sequence of first quantifying food availability at the national level-in the form of a food balance sheet-and then evaluating access to food for average or representative individuals of specific socio-economic groups in different areas.

The general approach to measuring food access is similar in all 4 southern African countries.

Aggregate current income is calculated in per capita terms for the lowest administrative level for which reliable secondary data are available. Sources of measured income can include food crops, cash crops, livestock, fishing, artisanal products, wage employment, remittances and food aid. This sum of measured income is compared to a desired consumption-based income threshold. If current measured income lies above the threshold, the areas are considered food secure.

If not, current and baseline measured income are compared, recognizing that households have other sources of known but unmeasured income that allow them to meet their food needs. If current income is close to or exceeds baseline income, the given administrative area is put in the food-secure category.

If not, additional information about known but unmeasured income is then used to estimate total food access for comparison with the consumption threshold. Depending on the relative importance of each unmeasured source of income and its performance in the current period relative to its normal performance, analysts can judge whether total food access in each case is sufficient. If total food access still falls below the consumption threshold, the given area or socio-economic group is put into the appropriate food-insecure category.
In each country, this general approach is adapted to local conditions. The units in which income is measured and the income thresholds also vary by country. In Malawi, income is calculated in calories and the threshold income is 2,200 calories per person per day. In Mozambique, income is measured in calories, based on a consumption standard of 1,700 daily calories. In Zambia, current income is compared to province-specific income thresholds based on the minimum cost of a nutritious food basket supplying 2,050 daily calories. In Zimbabwe, income is measured in maize-equivalent kilograms based on a threshold of 250 kg per capita per year.

The next step is to seek confirmatory indicators of food insecurity through field investigations. If these corroborate CVA results, it is necessary to assess the needs of food insecure populations as well as their capacities to help in their own recovery.

In all cases, the most effective responses are those that provide short-term relief complemented by programs to aid longer-term recovery and prevention of future food crises. For extremely food-insecure populations (see key terms box), appropriate responses could include emergency food distributions coupled with long-term rehabilitation programs. For highly food-insecure populations, appropriate responses could include food, income and asset support, employment and credit programs and government actions to facilitate agricultural production, marketing and trade. No interventions are necessary for moderately food-insecure populations, but contingency plans must be activated if conditions deteriorate.

Other details on how the general approach is adapted to country-specific conditions are contained in the full CVA reports and summarized in the country sections of this Special Report.


The Malawi CVA, covering the consumption period from April 1999 to March 2000, was a collaborative effort of WFP, the European Food Security Network (RESAL), the Government of Malawi and FEWS/Malawi. According to the draft CVA, the total population living in food-insecure Extension Planning Areas (EPAs) in Malawi has declined from 1.5 million last year to 1.4 million this year. More significantly, the composition of this figure has shifted from about two-thirds highly food insecure last year to about one-third highly food insecure this year. Nevertheless, nearly 500,000 people live in highly food-insecure EPAs whose situation remains precarious.

The Malawi CVA analyzed food access of smallholder farm households in all 154 EPAs. A 2-stage approach was used to estimate in which EPAs an average household might be food insecure. Current per capita income from food and cash crop production was first compared to a consumption-based income threshold and then to average income (1995/96-1997/98). Only those EPAs that during the current year produced below the threshold and below their own historical average income are considered currently food insecure.

This 2-stage approach accommodates the fact that the CVA only quantified income from food and cash crop production¾the only components of income for which regular and timely data are available. If, on average, EPA-level income from crops always falls short of the threshold income, this most likely indicates that households have other non-crop income sources to bridge the gap. In Malawi, 51 EPAs-many of which are located in the Southern Region where sources of income other than crop production predominate-do not, on average, meet the threshold through crop production.

The CVA found that for the 1999/2000 consumption year only 36 of 154 EPAs did not meet the income threshold through crop production, compared to 57 last year. This conforms with the general picture of better-than-average agricultural production during the 1998/99 production year. However, 16 of the 36 EPAs produced less than their historical average income and are classified as food insecure: 7 are highly food insecure and 9 are moderately food insecure. No EPAs are extremely food insecure (figure 2). All of the food insecure EPAs are located in Southern and Central Regions except for 1 in the Northern Region.

Decreased food and cash crop production are the main factors contributing to a high degree of current food insecurity in these EPAs. The generally favorable rains were excessive in some parts of the country, which resulted in flooding, leaching of nutrients from the soil and a reduction in yields. These excessive rains particularly exacerbated conditions in the southern region, where chronic poverty prevails and farmers, constrained by small farm sizes, often cannot produce enough for home consumption and for the market. During the production season, poorer households could not afford the high cost of crop inputs such as fertilizer that would likely have increased yields and incomes.

This consumption year, following a year of above-average crop production, Malawi has a maize-equivalent food surplus (including cassava) of 600,000 MT at the national level, with adequate maize stocks in the Strategic Grain Reserves, ADMARC and rural council markets. As a result of this improved food balance, efforts to address the problem of transitory food insecurity are proceeding at a lower scale. No extremely food-insecure groups have been identified. WFP, which last year implemented a vulnerable group feeding program in each food-insecure EPA, is developing plans in consultation with the Government to implement food-for-work programs in the food-insecure areas.

Despite food abundance at the national level that will likely keep market prices low, the CVA has identified nearly half a million people living in highly food-insecure EPAs who may not be able to meet their consumption needs and who are likely to need outside support. Their situation remains precarious and requires closer monitoring, especially as Malawi enters its hungry season (January to March). Additionally, pockets of need remain throughout the country, even in those EPAs classified as food secure. FEWS and its partners will undertake a field visit in January to verify the findings in the draft CVA and further investigate looming problems.

Malawi-Populations Living in Food-Insecure Agricultural Development Divisions

Agricultural Development Division (ADD)
Highly Food Insecure
Moderately Food Insecure
Shire Valley
Figure 2 Source: FEWS/Malawi FEWS, December 1999


The 1999/2000 CVA for Mozambique, which covers the period from April 1999 to March 2000, was jointly produced by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Planning and Finance, WFP, and FEWS/Mozambique. The CVA focuses on rural, agricultural households at the district level that account for more than three-quarters of Mozambique’s 18 million people. About 2.8 million live in food-insecure districts, the largest number among the 4 countries reviewed in this Special Report. This is fewer than last year.

The first stage of the CVA analysis of access compares district per capita food crop production from the 1998/1999 main season harvest with a consumption-based food security threshold of 1,700 calories per day per person (about 170 kg per year). The second stage considers qualitative information about non-crop income-from sales of livestock and livestock products, fishing, hunting and petty trading-as well as other criteria including quality of the second season harvest, proximity to markets, nutritional status, coping mechanisms and other mitigating factors to classify districts by their degree of food insecurity.

With a population of more than 600,000 people, 7 districts located in Maputo, Sofala, Tete and Zambezia Provinces, are classified as highly food insecure (figure 3). In these areas, where people derive a good share of their income from livestock, the combination of income from agriculture, livestock and other sources will not be adequate to meet food needs. 15 districts located in flood-prone coastal areas and river basins, mainly in Gaza, Zambezia and Nampula Provinces are classified as moderately food insecure. On average, these populations, have food access that meets only 6 to 9 months of their consumption needs and have limited alternative sources of income. The rest of the national population resides in districts considered food secure, located mostly in upland areas characterized by high agricultural potential and low environmental risk.

Although Mozambique has the largest population of highly and moderately food-insecure districts in absolute terms, national- and district-level food availability and access improved considerably compared to last year. The number of highly food-insecure districts dropped from 16 in 1998/99 to only 7 in 1999/2000. The population in districts classified as food insecure was reduced by about 11 percent to 2.8 million. No district fell into the extremely-food insecure category, whereas last year 23,000 people in Sofala Province were so classified. The number of people living in highly food-insecure districts fell about 13 percent, and the number in moderately food-insecure districts decreased 10 percent.

Despite abnormal floods that caused crop damage along the Pongue, Buzi, Limpopo, and Incomati Rivers, Mozambique registered another year of increased crop production in 1998/99, the sixth in a row. The second cropping season (April-August 1999) provided additional output of cereals, beans and vegetables, which were especially welcome in the previously flooded districts. This improvement of food security in the current consumption year stems from a good rainfall pattern in the main cropping season (September 1998-May 1999) and no major pest infestation or serious human health problems. Mozambique currently holds ample white maize stocks, particularly in the north, and no emergency food aid imports are required for the current consumption year.

However, this positive production picture does not necessarily translate into improved food access for all households. Except for localized areas in the Northern Region, few rural households have enough food stocks to last beyond December. For their supplies, these households will rely on the usual seasonal grain flows from northern or central Mozambique and on imports from South Africa later on.

Additionally, the rural marketing network that moves cereals from the northern part of the country remains weak. Poor roads increase transport costs and limit the flow of food, reducing market supplies in structurally deficit areas in the central and southern regions. Rural households in these areas who do not produce enough food to meet their own needs have difficulties buying the balance. Furthermore, poor marketing outlets for improved seeds, pesticides and fertilizers, coupled with the low level of agricultural production technology, prevent many farmers from taking advantage of favorable weather conditions.

The Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Prevention and Management of Natural Disasters (DPCCN) are currently distributing seeds to farming households in the highly food-insecure districts to help them recover from current food insecurity.

Mozambique-Populations Living in Food-Insecure Provinces

Highly Food Insecure
Moderately Food Insecure


Figure 3 Source: FEWS/Mozambique, adapted from VAM Report FEWS, December 1999


The Zambia CVA covers the consumption year from May 1999 to April 2000. The CVA was a collaborative exercise conducted by the Vulnerability Assessment Mapping Technical Committee, comprising the National Early Warning System (Ministry of Agriculture and Department of Meteorology), WFP, FHANIS and FEWS/Zambia. Although there is widespread agreement that food security has improved in 1999/2000, Zambia has the highest proportion of its national population living in food-insecure districts of the 4 countries discussed in this Special Report, including 6 highly food-insecure districts containing 425,000 people.

The CVA evaluated the food access of populations in 72 districts of Zambia, most of which are predominantly rural. The assessment measured the most important components of household income at the district level. These include own production of food and cash crops based on the main season harvest forecasts, although various indicators suggest that these estimates were conservative. The CVA also incorporates estimates of household income from livestock sales, fishing, wages, salaries, remittances and the contribution from wild foods.

Estimates of current total household income, expressed in real terms, were first compared to a minimum-cost food basket required for an average household of 6 in each province. The minimum income threshold for 1999/2000 ranged from K86,400 for Northwestern Province to K125,000 for Northern Province (where US$1 is about K2,500). The results, an index of food access, were then expressed in terms of the number of months of adequate consumption this income would provide. In this first step, a threshold of 8 months was considered adequate. Excluding the major urban districts, comparison of average household income with the respective provincial minimum income threshold shows that 32 districts fall below 8 months of consumption. Of these, 23 are between 4 and 8 months, and 9 are below 4 months.

Because the CVA does not measure all household income in each district, the second step taken was to adjust district food security categories. In addition to qualitative information about the performance of known but unmeasured income, this adjustment considered multiple factors, including proximity to markets, access to good roads, evidence of acceptable nutritional status and incidence of excessive rainfall and flooding. On this basis, 11 of the 32 districts were put into the food secure category. Of the remaining 21 districts, 6 were classified as highly food insecure and 15 as moderately food insecure (figure 4). The combined population in these districts exceeds 1.9 million.

The highly and moderately food-insecure districts with the largest populations are located in Northern, Northwestern and Luapula Provinces. The late arrival of rains in northern Zambia, excessive rainfall in the west and fertilizer access problems around the country were the principal causes that reduced crop production, the major component of household income in these districts. The oncoming rainy season will also make access to roads and markets difficult in remote districts such as Chavuma, Chadiza, Shangombo and Kabompo, all highly food insecure. However, several factors may mitigate this situation, including generally low grain prices country-wide, the availability of large volumes of cassava in many markets and off-season vegetable production still underway in the western parts of the country.

The change in assessment methods in Zambia-lowering the number of months for adequate food security and a more systematic treatment of qualitative indicators-prevents a direct comparison of the total population living in food-insecure districts this year with those of last year. Nonetheless, there is a widespread recognition that throughout most of the country, fewer people are food insecure this year because of the partial recovery in food crop production and improved real earnings. One indicator appearing to corroborate the view that food security is better is that calls for food assistance have been rare, unlike last year. As a result of the greatly improved harvest in April 1999, the Government does not plan any cereal imports in the current consumption year. Major private sector traders are unlikely to import sizeable quantities, in view of relatively low cereal prices, although some informal cross-border trade with Malawi and Mozambique occurs.

There are no plans to conduct a food needs assessment. However, the situation of the 6 districts classified as highly food insecure remains worrisome. They will be monitored closely in the coming months.

Zambia-Populations Living in Food-Insecure Provinces

Highly Food Insecure
Moderately Food Insecure
Figure 4 Source: FEWS/Zambia, adapted from VAM Report FEWS, December 1999


The CVA for Zimbabwe, conducted jointly by the Zimbabwe National Early Warning Unit and FEWS/Zimbabwe, reviewed the October 1998 to March 1999 production season to assess food security for the April 1999 to March 2000 consumption year. The CVA assessed food availability at the national and sub-national level as well as food access for 174 communal areas. Potential risks to food security for communal land populations that could alter food security status during the current consumption year were also considered.

The CVA defined food access in terms of per capita maize-equivalent income (MEI), the volume of maize that could be purchased from all sources of measured income. The minimum threshold was set at 250 kg of MEI per person per year. Availability of livestock ownership data allowed the CVA to stratify communal area populations into cattle-owning households and those not owning cattle. On this basis, the CVA refined its estimate of the food insecure by eliminating food-secure, cattle-owning populations from the rest of the respective communal area population.

The CVA found that there are 40 highly and moderately food-insecure communal areas in which the food access of those not owning cattle falls short of the minimum threshold. Of the 1.2 million residents in these 40 communal areas, approximately 800,000 people are classified as food insecure. About 350,000 of these, or 44 percent, are identified as highly food insecure, mostly located in the lower-rainfall Matebeleland North and South Provinces (figure 5). Of the population classified as food insecure, at least 61 percent do not own cattle. No communal areas were put in the extremely food-insecure category.

Two factors-a downward adjustment in the food security threshold and the change in methodology by which food-secure cattle-owning populations in food-insecure communal areas are not counted-do not allow comparison of the population of food-insecure communal areas between this year and last year.

However, there are good grounds for believing that food security both at national and sub-national levels is better this year. Because 1998/99 was one of the wettest production seasons of the decade, many Zimbabwe communal areas did well. Many increased their production of groundnuts, cotton and other cash crops and registered sizable gains in cereal crop production, even in lower-potential areas. Communal area farmers also benefited from an increase of over 100 percent in the prices of some cash crops and livestock compared to the previous consumption year.

At the national level, the amount of maize stocks held by the 3 largest milling firms, private traders and the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), as well as small farmers and millers, is estimated at nearly 680,000 MT. Based on estimated human consumption and other uses, these maize supplies are expected to last early into the next consumption year.

However, food security remains tenuous for the highly food insecure who require support to meet their consumption needs. The annual inflation rate, which has escalated since the start of 1999/2000 and reached 70 percent in November, constitutes a major threat. Inflation will erode the food security of populations whose money income stagnates in comparison with rising food prices, whose non-food necessities (such as housing and transportation) take a growing share of household expenditures and who increasingly depend on the market later in the year for their food staples. Suspension of the Government’s Free Food Program for the chronically ill, disabled and elderly and the Grain Loan Program in April 1999 could threaten the food security conditions of those groups, especially in food-insecure communal areas in the coming hungry season. Moreover, Government efforts aimed at recovering outstanding grain loans distributed to communal area recipients dating from the 1995/96 season, if rigidly enforced, could weaken the position of food-insecure households, regardless of communal area.

Zimbabwe-Populations Living in Food-Insecure Provinces

Highly Food Insecure
Moderately Food Insecure
Mashonaland Center
Mashonaland East
Mashonaland West
Matabeleland North
Matabeleland South
Figure 5 Source: FEWS/Zimbabwe and CVA FEWS, December 1999

Caveats and Risks Ahead

All 4 southern African countries have experienced a marked improvement in their overall food security. Unlike the situation last year, no areas or population groups are considered to be extremely food insecure. Furthermore, no country is planning an emergency free food distribution during the 1999/2000 consumption year. Nonetheless, there are still some areas in each country that are food insecure. Almost 7 million people (about 13 percent of the total population in the 4 countries) reside in areas considered to be highly or moderately food insecure. Not all of the people living in these food-insecure areas are necessarily food insecure, but there is sufficient concern to warrant intensive monitoring and on-site verification.

Macro-economic factors pose a potential risk to food security in 3 of the 4 countries. In particular, price inflation threatens populations in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. The most recent available data indicate that annual inflation is rising 25 percent in Zambia, 32 percent in Malawi and 70 percent in Zimbabwe. Worsening inflation rates could further weaken the ability of food-insecure and borderline food-secure households to acquire food.

Key Terms

Food security is a condition in which a population has physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious foods over a given period to meet dietary needs and preferences for an active life. A food-secure population can meet its consumption needs during the given consumption period by using strategies that do not compromise future food security.

  • Food availability is a measure of the food that is, and will be, physically available in the relevant vicinity of a population during the given consumption period through a combination of domestic production, stocks, trade and transfers.
  • Food access is a measure of the population’s ability to acquire available food during the given consumption period through a combination of its own production and stocks, market transactions or transfers.
  • Food utilization is a measure of whether a population will be able to derive sufficient nutrition during the given consumption period from available and accessible food to meet its dietary needs.

Food insecurity is the inverse of food security: a condition in which a population does not have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food over a given period to meet dietary needs and preferences for an active life. Possible causes are insufficient food availability, insufficient food access and inadequate food utilization.

Food security has a temporal dimension:

  • Current (or transitory) food insecurity occurs when a population suffers a temporary decline in consumption. Current food insecurity can result from instability in food production, food prices, household incomes or health conditions.
  • Chronic (or long-term) food insecurity occurs when a population has continuously inadequate consumption. Chronic food insecurity arises from conditions of poor food production, limited incomes and poor health.

In Current Vulnerability Assessments, FEWS classifies areas or specific socio-economic groups within areas as food secure or food insecure. In food-secure areas, an average household can maintain normal seasonal consumption patterns in the current year without altering normal income or savings strategies. In food-insecure areas, this is not the case.

To assist decision-makers in prioritizing emergency food allocations within and between countries, FEWS classifies the populations as food secure or food insecure using the following operational definitions:

  • Extremely food-insecure populations are now, or will soon be, unable to meet their consumption needs. They have already exhausted their strategies for acquiring food and are currently destitute.
  • Highly food-insecure populations will not be able to meet their consumption needs during the given consumption period. They will be forced to reduce consumption and dispose of their productive assets, thereby undermining their future food security.
  • Moderately food-insecure populations can meet their consumption needs during the given consumption period only by intensifying their normal coping strategies. These households are vulnerable to any subsequent shock, either in the given or subsequent consumption period.
  • Food-secure populations can meet their consumption needs during the given consumption period using income derived from strategies that do not compromise future food security.

Although the CVA assigns a food security status to each socio-economic group at the administrative level that constitutes the unit of analysis, it cannot quantify the number of food-insecure people. Rather, the CVA applies a food security classification to an ‘average’ member of the area or group, the entire population of which can be counted. The larger the area and the more heterogeneous the group, the more likely it is that food security levels will vary among households within the group. Detailed food needs assessments are needed to identify the precise numbers of affected people and appropriate interventions.