Despite a longer than usual 1999/2000 rainy season and extremely wet conditions in more than two-thirds of the country, the most productive agricultural zones in the northeastern part of Zimbabwe largely escaped the worst effects of cyclones Eline and Gloria.
Revised preliminary figures released by the Zimbabwe Grains and Oilseeds Crop Forecasting Subcommittee call for an above-average harvest of food crops and cash crops for the 1999/2000 production year (April-March). These technical estimates are based on agro-climatic conditions and observations during the season. They do not integrate the potential impact of unrest and uncertainty in the commercial farming sector. The expected cotton crop of nearly 375,000 MT, of which 64 percent will come from the communal areas, is 41 percent above last year's level and the highest achieved in twenty years. An expansion in area planted and an increase in yields have boosted the preliminary estimates of grain production (maize, sorghum and millets) to 2.3 million MT, of which maize accounts for 2.1 million MT. The anticipated grain harvest exceeds last year's harvest by 53 percent and the average for the 1990s by 23 percent. Carry-over stocks plus the anticipated harvest will be sufficient to cover Zimbabwe's annual maize needs of nearly 2.3 million MT, including 500,000 MT for the Strategic Grain Reserve.
The grain crop harvest is underway in all farming sectors. Grain quality is generally good although there are reports of ear rot and sprouting of ground nuts in some areas as a result of late rains received in April and early May.
More worrisome is the impact of the growing number of large-scale commercial farm occupations -- in addition to disruptive diesel fuel shortages -- on harvest operations and preparations for the winter wheat crop. Delays in harvesting and desertions of farms by owners could lead to a reduction in the grain harvest. Winter wheat, mainly grown by large-scale commercial farmers, is likely to be affected as some farmers have not begun land preparations and planting normally done at this time. The Commercial Farmers Union estimates that the wheat harvest might decrease by as much as 30-40 percent from usual levels about 300,000 MT.
Availability of maize in most urban markets is not expected to be a problem this year. Consumers are benefiting from a drop in food price inflation from its peak of 87 percent per year in September to about 46 percent in March. However, proposals by tobacco and other exporters that the Zimbabwe dollar be devalued by about 18 percent from its official peg to the US dollar have prompted fears of new increases in the inflation rate. Given the generally depressed tobacco prices thus far, the usual major contribution of tobacco exports to foreign exchange earnings may slip this year.
Distribution of emergency food aid to households in the flood-affected areas has been mainly carried out by NGOs, most actively in Chiredzi, Beitbridge and Chipinge Districts. Present supplies of food aid are likely to last until the end of May. Other programs, especially food for work, need to be put in place to avoid further threats to food security in the affected areas after June 2000.
The long rainy season (October-April) has ended now that the ITCZ has shifted northward. Only the extreme northern parts of the country received significant rainfall during April. An examination of rain station data shows a generally normal season in terms of cumulative rainfall. Although the season got off to a slow start and was followed by consistently low rainfall through February, good rainfall was received in March. The main exception was Ndola (Copperbelt) which recorded only 66 percent of cumulative normal rainfall. Unusual showers fell in parts of the country in the first week of May, but there were no reports of damage to standing crops.
The 2000/01 marketing year began in May. Farmers throughout the country are harvesting their crops. Some of the early-planted crops, such as maize, ground nuts, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and Irish potatoes, are already on the market.
Market supplies of maize grain and maize meal is adequate throughout the country. According to the Food Reserve Agency (FRA), total available maize stocks held by millers, large traders and commercial farmers were estimated at 77,900 MT as of mid-April, compared with total market demand from industrial mills and public markets of 55,300 MT from mid-April to mid-May.
With new supplies reaching the market, reports from the FRA indicate that the nominal price of maize grain is slowly starting its normal seasonal fall after having peaked in March (see graph). According to the Agricultural Market Information Center, nominal maize meal prices have remained stable in the short run, but are expected to decrease soon.
The National Early Warning Technical Committee plans to assess the impact of the February-March floods and the short- and long-term needs of flood-affected populations in 16 districts. It also plans to evaluate the capacity of local people and institutions to contribute to their own rehabilitation.
The annual rate of inflation at the end of April stood at 26.9 percent, up from 23.9 percent at the end of March. This increase is largely attributed to the 20 percent increase in fuel prices in March and the continuing weakness of the Kwacha that raises the costs of imported goods and services.
Rains are winding down in most parts of the country, providing good conditions for the crop harvest. Harvesting of early-planted crops, including tobacco, has started in the southern region and some parts of the central region. In the north, where the rains start later, rain is still needed to allow the crops to develop to full maturity. Karonga RDP, in the north, is the area the most likely to have significant production losses due to poor rainfall and will require close monitoring.
As farmers start harvesting, all three regions of the country registered drops in average local-market maize prices between March and April. Prices dropped in the southern region by 16 percent, in the central region by 6 percent, and in the northern region by 4 percent. At the same time, the national rate of inflation fell from 31 percent in February to 29 percent in March. Lower maize prices are making it difficult for some private traders and the government to dispose of their carryover maize stocks profitably. The Government bought maize through the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) at K7.80/kg. The current export parity price is around K6.00/kg, making it difficult for the NFRA to sell the maize both locally and internationally at a profit. The official maize carryover stock in the 2000/01 marketing year, which started on April 1, stands at 186,600 MT compared to 9,500 MT at this time last year. With the promising crop production prospects this year, maize imports are not likely to be needed.
The Malawi Kwacha has remained stable against the currencies of her major trading partners such as the US, UK, SA and Zimbabwe. However, tobacco sales, the country's major foreign exchange earner, are critical for the stability of the value of the Kwacha. Tobacco from Mozambique and Zambia that appeared on the Malawian market when trading began on April 1 this year was thought to be depressing prices for Malawian tobacco and the Government has recently imposed a ban on tobacco imports. Unless prices rise, pressure may grow for a devaluation of the Kwacha, which could, in turn, affect the purchasing power of urban consumers who are dependent on the market for food purchases.
The harvest of the 1999/2000 main season crop is underway throughout Mozambique. Three different harvest outcomes are expected, generally corresponding to the three national regions and their recent weather conditions. Districts in the southern and central regions directly affected by the heavy rains and extensive flooding of the past several months can expect near-failure of the main season crop or a sizable drop in output in partially affected districts. Second, poor rainfall conditions will reduce the harvest in certain districts in all three regions. Third, good rainfall in the more important northern growing areas in Nampula and Niassa provinces and scattered districts elsewhere will contribute to an above-average harvest. While national production estimates are not yet available, grain crops performed better than cow peas and ground nuts in the flooded areas but cow peas and ground nuts performed better in the dry areas.
Despite above-normal and erratic rainfall from late-March to mid-April, prospects are good for the second season (March/April-July/August) crop. In an average year, the second crop season accounts for about 30 percent of annual legume production and 20 percent of maize production. Most of the second season production is devoted to cow peas and beans, sesame, sunflowers and cotton as well as garden vegetables, though maize is generally prevails in the north-central part of the country and legumes in the south-central part. Distribution of seeds and tools has started through the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and various NGOs to help flood-affected farming populations restore their livelihoods, but the ground remains too soggy for planting in some areas.
Overall pasture conditions are good, although the health of animals in many flooded districts has deteriorated and mortality rates are increasing. Newcastle, a viral disease affecting chickens across the country, is a major concern.
Household food reserves vary according to recent flood and drought conditions. Reserves hardly exist in flooded areas, putting a tremendous strain on household abilities to cope. Reserves are low to adequate in drought areas, but are relatively plentiful in the central and northern regions that were not flooded. Extended relief programs are needed in the flooded areas until the second season harvest.
Retail maize grain prices in the flooded areas in the southern region of Mozambique were considerably higher (in some cases, more than double), than prices in surplus areas in the central and northern regions in April (see graph for Maputo, Beira and Nampula, respectively). Loss of supplies due to the floods, damage to storage facilities and the rupture of transport links all contributed to this huge price differential.
A joint Government/FAO/WFP/FEWS food and crop assessment was conducted in all three regions, April 20-27, to evaluate the effect of floods and drought on crop development and the availability of food stocks at farmer, trader and government levels. The assessment report will be released in mid-May.
With rescue operations finished, Mozambique is entering the second phase of the emergency plan where the priority is put on rehabilitating infrastructure. The estimated cost of this phase is $450 million, as presented at the donor conference in Rome in early May.
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