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FEWS Southern Africa Food Security Brief Nov 2005 - Hunger season begins, conditions deteriorate



As the hunger season begins in earnest in Southern Africa, the food security situation is rapidly deteriorating in those countries facing severe food shortages as a result of a poor 2004/05 crop production season. Whatever household food stocks that were available have been drawn down, and levels of purchases are constrained by very high food prices, limited purchasing power and lack of employment opportunities. While vulnerability assessments conducted in May 2005 revealed high levels of food insecurity (with an estimated 10 million people in the region requiring humanitarian assistance); it is believed that these numbers have significantly increased as the situation deteriorates more rapidly than had been assumed. Food access problems are most pronounced in Southern Malawi, Zimbabwe and parts of Zambia and Mozambique. With the onset of the rainy season, it is recommended that governments and partners intensify efforts to ensure timely delivery of adequate requisite inputs so that farmers can take full advantage of the predicted good rains this season.


The latest food security assessments indicate that many vulnerable households in the affected countries of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, parts of Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland are now facing critical food shortages, and have run out of own food stocks. Exacerbating food security problems are rapidly rising staple food prices coupled with very slow progress in planned commercial imports and slow food aid delivery rates. October retail food prices (as shown in figure 1) increased significantly in response to fast dwindling supplies, raising grave concerns about severe food access problems among vulnerable populations. Although intra-regional trade has continued to play an important role in filling some of the food gap, current import rates into deficit countries are very slow. Limited supplies in Mozambique, for example, have meant a huge decline in its informal exports to neighboring Malawi. Barriers to trade, such as high import levies, stringent phytosanitary regulations and export bans, have also acted to constrain formal and informal trade levels between Zambia and its neighbors. However, there has been a noticeable increase in Tanzania exports to Malawi and Zambia following recent harvests.

Figure 1. Average maize retail prices (US$/kg) in the monitored markets of Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe: 2004/05 and 2005/06

Source: FEWS NET Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe

Recent assessments in Malawi indicate that household food security is increasingly deteriorating in the southern region. The MVAC had estimated that between 4.2 and 4.6 million people would require humanitarian assistance, with the worst case scenario based on maize price increases of between MK32/Kg and MK40/kg. By October, prices had already exceeded this price band in some local markets in the south and lakeshore areas. The rapid rise in prices has raised both individual food needs as well as numbers of those unable to meet their food needs. The MVAC has updated its analysis which now shows that the population at risk now stands at 4.8 million. The recent assessments revealed high levels of extreme coping mechanisms; not commonly employed at this time of the year, and incidences of increasing malnutrition levels in some districts have been reported. Emergency interventions, though initially inadequate, have played a significant role in staving off hunger by improving food availability at both household level and at local markets. The inadequacy of international response is underlined by the fact that of the planned cereal distributions between April and October; only 60% was achieved. However, due to increasing reports of a rapidly deteriorating situation, more resources have been made available; consequently, WFP's cereal pipeline for Malawi for the period December to June 2006 is now fully resourced (tables 1 and 2). All 4.8 million people at risk will receive assistance through WFP (covering 45% of the population) and the government (DFID supported) voucher scheme that is targeting the remaining 55%. There is a danger however that pipeline breaks may occur before the end of the hunger season as a result of inadequate regional transport infrastructure, and the current huge demand to import both food and inputs (fertilizers), not only by Malawi but also other neighboring States.

Table 1. Food aid (cereals) distributions during period April - October 2005 (Metric tons)

Source: Based on data from WFP (ODJ) and C-SAFE (covering Lesotho, Zambia and Zimbabwe)

Table 2. WFP Southern Africa Regional PRRO: cereal requirements for December 2005 - June 2006

Source: World Food Programme (ODJ); December 2005.

Reports from Zimbabwe indicate acute staple food shortages, and there are fears that this hunger season will be severe as the country grapples with a hyper inflation (411% in October) that continues to push the cost of living beyond the reach of most rural and urban households. Household food access is extremely problematic because of a shortage of supplies on the markets, very high market prices, and the continued erosion of purchasing power. Although by the end of November, significant amounts of maize had been imported commercially (685,214 MT, or 57% of the planned 1.2 million MT); internal distribution bottlenecks are restricting grain availability, particularly in the remote areas. While the ZimVac had in June 2005 estimated that between 2.9 and 3.9 million people would require humanitarian assistance, the conditions described above have led to a surge in the number of the food insecure, many of whom require immediate assistance in order to survive the hunger season.

In Mozambique, the recent Technical Secretariat for Food Security and Nutrition (SETSAN) food security and nutrition assessment indicates rising malnutrition rates and a further deterioration in the food security situation of households not only in the drought affected provinces in the south and central regions; but also in some parts of the northern region which were previously assessed as food secure. The updated figures now show that a total of 801,000 people (against the 587,000 assessed in May) will require immediate assistance until March 2006. Increasing food insecurity is attributed to increasingly limited food supplies, exacerbated by a poor second season crop and slow deliveries of emergency supplies, very high food prices (compared to average and last year), very limited water availability, and exhausted coping capability. WFP's current emergency plans need to be scaled up from the planned 47,970 MT (which though fully resourced now falls below the revised requirement of 83,000 MT by about 42%) and urgent resource mobilization is needed. In November, WFP planned to cover 534,000 beneficiaries (or 66% of population at risk); this will be scaled up to 73% over the period January to March 2006.

The government of Zambia has recently declared the food shortages in the affected parts of the country a disaster; thus paving way for a coordinated international response to complement its current relief efforts. This follows a marked deterioration in food access in the drought affected districts. The Zambia VAC is currently updating its analysis; and numbers requiring assistance are likely to rise from the earlier estimates of 1.2 million. However, both commercial and food relief responses to Zambia's food shortages have been very slow. Commercial imports have been very slow (by end of November, only 10,653 MT out of a possible 200,000 MT were delivered) as a result of government's delayed lifting of the 15% import duty, and the new phytosanitary regulations that require that all maize imports be certified GMO free. Dwindling maize supplies are reflected in the marked increases in maize prices, while delayed importation is increasing pressure on already tight market supplies which could lead to a spiraling of prices particularly as the hunger season progresses. Government's relief efforts have also been very slow with only 13,000 MT of food distributed since June, when the VAC had estimated that 118,000 MT would be required between July 2005 and February 2006.

In Lesotho and Swaziland, where 2004/05 harvests fell far short of domestic consumption requirements, the numbers of food insecure populations are estimated at 549,000 and 227,000, respectively, for the period up to March 2006. While food prices have remained stable in Lesotho (year on year food inflation rates for September were estimated at 2.4% compared to 1.8% in August), in Swaziland food prices have been rising rapidly as evidenced by the sharp increase in the food inflation rate from 8.2% in September to 13.6% in October. In both these countries however, many of the food insecure households are unable to purchase adequate supplies and are increasingly dependent on food aid. Table 1 above shows comparatively higher levels of food aid distributions achieved in these two countries for the period April to October. In addition, the commercial maize import program in Lesotho is on track (71% of planned imports delivered), which may explain the more stable food prices.

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