The number of food insecure Tanzanians requiring food aid in March jumped dramatically to 3,477,000, according to a Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS) rapid vulnerability assessment (RVA) conducted in February and released earlier this month. This number will decrease to 1.8 million in April and 874,000 in May as household food supplies improve with the expected msimu harvest in unimodal rainfall areas. While it is too late to address March needs, recent government maize imports could help meet April and May needs. Any operational plan needs to include contingencies for scaling up quickly should the masika (March-June) rains do poorly in bimodal rainfall areas.
A June/July 2003 rapid vulnerability assessment (RVA) conducted by the multi-agency Food Security Information Team (FSIT) found that up to 2 million people would require 77,490 MT of food aid between October 2003 and March 2004, after which food security was expected to improve. Food needs, peaking at 19,658 MT for 1.949 million people in December 2003, were expected to drop to 6,306 MT for 633,000 people in March.
However, recent food aid distributions have been too late and too little to offset the poor vuli rains (October-January) which prevented food insecure households in northern bimodal rainfall areas from recovering after consecutive years of meager harvests. Carry-over food stocks are estimated to be at their lowest levels in many years. At a time when more and more households depend on the market for supplies, maize staple prices remain consistently higher than average and optimal quantities out of reach for poor households with limited income-earning opportunities. Most of the food insecure will cope only with considerable difficulty. Furthermore, according to a recent report commissioned by the FSIT, current food shortages and poor food access are more widespread than previously estimated.
Against this background, the MAFS assessment in February determined that nearly 3.5 million people would need food aid in March (Figure 1), dropping to 1.8 million in April and 874,000 in May as new harvests come in. The MAFS assessment covered more districts, 72 rather than 47 in the prior FSIT assessment, another factor accounting for the steep increase in the number of food insecure people requiring food aid. Households will continue to face hardships until the msimu harvest in May in unimodal rainfall areas and much longer in bimodal areas where the masika harvest is not expected until June-September.
Expected improvements in April and May will occur only if official imports of 10,000 MT of maize from Kenya are distributed immediately and planned additional imports of 22,000 MT are procured, shipped and distributed urgently, which is doubtful in view of time constraints. Thus, a break in the food aid pipeline is likely in March (20,722 MT) and April (11,738 MT). A potential surplus is expected in May (11,508 MT) when food needs are declining. The national Strategic Grain Reserve, already low, would be exhausted if it had to meet the 32,460 MT deficit in March and April.
In the immediate term,
- The Government should consider food needs in March as consumption foregone, except possibly in extreme cases, and apply food availabilities for March to needs in April and May.
- In view of limited available and expected food resources, the Government (Prime Minister's Office) should determine areas and households for priority food distribution in April and May and intensify efforts to ensure that Government food aid imports are distributed as soon as possible to help meet April and May needs.
- All food security stakeholders should monitor food security indicators and analyze food security data promptly from now through the start of the masika harvest in July and communicate results regularly.
- Donors should make new pledges to cover the deficit in the food pipeline.
- The Government and donors should work together to determine the best options for urgently replenishing the heavily drawn-down Strategic Grain Reserve.
Looking ahead though July,
- The Government and stakeholders should prepare a contingency plan, based on different harvest scenarios in the unimodal rainfall areas (May-June), the performance of the masika rains affecting crops in bimodal areas, and staple food price trends, to expedite effective and appropriate responses, as required.
- As part of that contingency plan, the Government (MAFS and PMO) and FSIT should start preparations (including budgeting) for a comprehensive rapid vulnerability assessment, as needed.
FEWS NET intends to remain an advocate for prompt, meaningful action through these alert statements.