Climatic factors (poor rains and prolonged dry spells which have produced an abnormally poor harvest) and progressive impoverishment are major contributors, as well as people's access to land, absence of social welfare, governance issues, and the huge impact of HIV and AIDS on poorer communities across the region. There are an estimated nine to ten million people affected by food insecurity so far.
Oxfam is beginning to scale up in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi in order to be able to respond.
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 163 out of 174 countries in UNDP's human development index. Current life expectancy is 39 years and falling. Of the country's 11 million inhabitants, almost one million are infected with HIV/AIDS.
It is estimated that some four million people (based on preliminary results from the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee) will have trouble securing enough food in the coming agricultural year.
Rainfall stopped at the end of January, just when the crops ripen and need extra water. The staple crop - maize - withered, and the sweet potatoes and cassava could not start germinating. The situation was made worse in some areas by an outbreak of Downy Mildew disease which further destroyed maize crops.
Oxfam plans to target 60,000 households (360,000 people) in Southern Malawi, with the following types of support:
Food aid (in partnership with WFP) to some of the most vulnerable, to reduce their need to sell household assets, beg, migrate or resort to crime
Pilot cash transfer projects - an alternative to giving food aid, which helps sustain the local economy, and allows people the dignity of choosing what they most need
Supplying maize seeds to replenish those lost due to Downy Mildew disease
Improving irrigation systems to allow people to produce more than one crop a year
Providing people with goats and chickens to replace those they have already lost and decrease future vulnerability
Increased care and support to households affected by HIV/AIDS
Of the country's c10 million inhabitants, an estimated one million people are projected to have problems accessing food in the coming months.
The prolonged dry spell and high temperatures resulted in partial and in some cases complete crop failure (between 40 - 90%), with the Southern and Western provinces being the worst hit.
At the same time, livestock has been depleted by outbreaks of foot and mouth disease and contagious bovine pleuro-pneumonia, robbing households of vital assets.
Oxfam is planning a programme to support up to 9,000 households (54,000 people). It includes:
Cash transfers and food vouchers to the worst affected households
Support for a winter crop with seeds and tools
Cash for work, paying people to improve drainage and irrigation systems
Making additional water supplies available for animals, irrigation and human consumption
This is the country that is most likely to face a major crisis in food availability.
The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that four million people are likely to need extra food in the coming year - almost one third of the total population of Zimbabwe.
And hyperinflation means that the poorest are unlikely to be able to access food even if it is available in the markets. Urban areas are also likely to be affected.
Oxfam is planning a programme in Zimbabwe targeting 200,000 people, and we are working closely with WFP.
Exact details depend on the government's ability to import and distribute food. However, we plan to provide inputs for the coming planting season, improve irrigation, and assess to what extent we can help replenish households' livestock.