Near-failure of main season crops worsens outlook in South and Central zones

Near-Failure of Main Season Crops Worsens Outlook in Southern and Central Zones
A serious deterioration in the food security status of vulnerable populations in southern and central Mozambique is occurring and is expected to worsen over the next twelve months. A near-total crop failure in some zones, following a poor harvest last year, has been the primary cause of the current situation. Food insecurity is most critical in remote zones where household access to food and income is heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture, such as the interior of Gaza and Inhambane and southern Tete. Other contributing factors include human, plant and animal diseases, as well as the economic malaise in neighboring Zimbabwe. Malnutrition rates after last year's poor harvest were already higher than most other countries in the region. These rates are likely to increase markedly in the coming year after households consume whatever crops they harvest and exhaust their already weakened coping strategies. These conclusions have been drawn based on the following information and analysis:

1. The main season harvest, which should be underway now in southern and parts of central Mozambique, will be very poor. A total failure of the staple maize crop has occurred in many areas, and the yields from other crops will be greatly reduced. Figure 1 shows a qualitative assessment of the crop outlook. It should be noted that a good harvest is still expected for the productive northern zones, although excessive rains have caused limited damage to crops and serious disruptions to transportation infrastructure. Surpluses in the north normally do little to improve food security in the south due to long distances and the high cost of transportation.

2. The impact of this second consecutive year of drought is exacerbated by non-drought factors. Households in these areas are accustomed to drought and have well-developed strategies to cope with them. But a serious drought last year, followed by an extremely severe drought this year, will push poor households beyond their capacity to respond. In a few areas, such as Magoé in Tete where deaths caused in part by hunger have occurred, this is the third consecutive year of poor harvests, with two drought years following the 2001 floods. Normal coping mechanisms have been eroded by non-drought factors including HIV/AIDS, foot and mouth disease limiting sales of animals, and the closure of normal economic linkages with Zimbabwe.

3. The next significant harvest in the most affected areas is not until February 2004 - twelve months from now. In some areas, a small first season harvest will bring a temporary reprieve. In other areas, there will be virtually nothing to harvest. Planting for the minor second season normally takes place in March/April, with the harvest coming after July. However, in the affected parts of the country, mainly vegetables are planted in the second season and these are highly dependent on riverine planting and residual soil moisture in lowland areas. Currently, the lowlands are suffering from the affects of drought and river levels are low. Rainfall in late February might improve the soil moisture in lowland areas and increase the prospects for the second season in the lowlands, if seed is available.

4. The current drought is serious in historical terms. The 1992 drought was worst in recent memory. The satellite images (Figure 2) show that the severity and spatial distribution of the current drought is very similar to the 1992 drought. Comparisons with last year's drought show a much worse situation this year than last year. Finally, the cumulative rainfall from October 2002-January 2003 in Maputo was the lowest in more than 50 years, according to INAM data.

5. Poor households will have difficulty accessing food, even if it is available on the markets. The most vulnerable parts of the country are characterized by remoteness and a lack of options for earning income. Markets scarcely function, and poor households have a limited number of options for generating cash to purchase food. Many of income-generating options normally available to the poor involve selling goods or services to better-off families, who are also coping with severe crop losses and less able to help. In addition, maize prices in urban and deficit zones have been significantly higher than previous levels for the past year and a half.

6. Acute malnutrition rates in Mozambique in November were higher than any other country in the southern Africa emergency operation. Other countries did not conduct a comprehensive assessment like was conducted in Mozambique, but district-level surveys in Malawi and Zimbabwe found wasting levels under 5% in November and December. In southern Mozambique, levels were as high as 11.2% in Gaza and 8% in Maputo. Rates over 5% are serious, and rates over 10% indicate a severe food crisis. It is important to note that these malnutrition rates were gathered before the current season crop failure.

7. Food aid delivered to date has been less than half of previously assessed needs. There is a large gap between assessed food aid needs and planned responses. According to the December Vulnerability Assessment Committee analysis, 650,000 people needed emergency assistance. This estimate was made before the crop failure became evident. On a national level, World Food Program's planned distributions for January only met 43 percent of the December estimate of needs. The number of people in need is certain to increase due to the crop failure, although they may be more concentrated in the south of the country.


FEWS NET recommends the following immediate actions:

  • Re-target existing food aid resources. The food security picture has changed dramatically since the November/December VAC report. Some districts in Zambézia, Nampula and Sofala included in the VAC report are expecting a good harvest so the food security situation should improve rapidly in the coming months. Scarce food aid should be diverted now to meet more urgent needs and to avoid disincentives for producers.

  • Prioritize "hot spots" where the food security situation is already critical. The food security community, including government, UN, NGOs and donors, should work together to identify areas where crop failure has occurred, and where alternative sources of food and income are limited. It is possible that the situation has already reached the crisis level in remote parts of Gaza and Inhambane where few agencies are working, similar to the situation found in Magoé. As households exhaust their coping strategies, food insecurity will increase very quickly. General and supplementary food aid should be available for rapid response.

  • Identify places where the food security situation is likely to deteriorate in the coming months. In some places crop failure has occurred, but alternative sources of food and income are available, such as Maputo, coastal Gaza and Inhambane, and southern Sofala. Even though these options exist, poor households may not be able to access the available food and income for the entire year. A significant expansion in Food-for-Work (or Cash-for-Work, if resources are available) would be appropriate. Additional free food distributions will be required for the poorest households who are unable to work.

  • Expand nutritional surveillance in areas where crop failure has occurred, using sentinel sites at health posts and rapid MUAC surveys. Nutritional data should be collected promptly and used to inform response plans for both supplementary and general food programs. It can also be used to identify priority areas for more detailed assessments.

  • Distribute seeds appropriate for second season planting rapidly. Lowland zones may produce some vegetables and limited quantities of maize and beans in the second season, if rainfall in March-April is sufficient. Field reports indicate seeds are in short supply. Seeds should be distributed only where a second season is viable.

  • Closely examine options for local purchases of food in the north. There are indications of a bumper harvest in parts of the north. Farmers responded to price incentives, created in part by the demand from Malawi and from aid agencies, and planted large areas with maize this season. It now appears that the demand from Malawi will be minimal due to oversupply. Agencies should begin planning for local purchases, either to meet Mozambique's own severe food problems in the south or for other regional operations.

MAP: Click here for Figures 1 and 2 (pdf* format - 203 KB)