Photo credit: Bert Kauffman

Southern Africa faced widespread drought from the October 2018 to March 2019 rainy season, with less than 55 percent of normal rainfall totals, alerts FEWS. The 2018-2019 rainfall began a month late, triggering extended dry spells between January and March. The historically low rainfall totals affected areas of Botswana, northern Zimbabwe, eastern Namibia, southern Angola, and the surplus producing areas of northern South Africa and southern Zambia, and registered a D3 (Extreme) or a D4 (Exceptional) drought as per the United States Drought Monitor classification scale. Additionally, the region experienced extensive flooding as the Tropical Cyclone Idai hit the eastern coast of Mozambique in mid-March extending across central Mozambique, eastern Zimbabwe, and southern Malawi.

During this period, the crop losses in the Southern Africa region have been immense and continues to exacerbate the food insecurity situation. Despite below average rainfall, the regional maize supply during the 2019-20 marketing year are forecast to remain average due to carryover stocks from last year’s bumper harvest in South Africa. The prices for maize grain are marginally above the five-year average, and 57 percent higher than 2018 prices across Southern Africa, and the trend is expected to continue in most areas. On the contrary, maize prices are expected to rise above average in drought-affected areas due to localized supply deficits in flood affected areas of Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Maize grain availability would severely diminish in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)’s Haut Katanga province, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique if Tanzania and Zambia restrict grain exports to the deficit-facing neighboring countries.

The month of January saw moderate to heavy rainfall, but precipitation totals through the end of the season were below average across Zimbabwe, Lesotho, southern Mozambique, southern Zambia, and central South Africa. The region, therefore, will see below average production this season. As a result, prices for most staple foods continue to increase during the peak of the lean season. Prediction of erratic and below average rainfall in parts of the southern African region continue to increase food prices along with macroeconomic policy changes in Zimbabwe and conflict in DRC. The region also saw significant loss of livestock, resulting in limited farming and household incomes.

In Malawi, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes exist in most areas. Likewise, Mozambique is under a Minimal (IPC Phase 1), while the southern part of the country is Stressed (IPC Phase 2) due to poor harvest in the region. Prices of staple food in Madagascar remain largely stable apart from maize, which was 78 percent more expensive in January 2019 than in December 2018. Due to 2018-19 poor harvests, Zimbabwe is facing acute food insecurity and is currently in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), and economic hardships are likely to continue in the country.

High levels of food insecurity prevail across the southern African region, with highest concern in Zimbabwe, central and southern Mozambique, southern Zambia, and parts of Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, and Angola. Below average rains in the southern African region will result in poor harvest, high food prices, and low household incomes for the poor populations. Humanitarian assistance through early 2020 could help ameliorate the situation

Swati Malhotra is Communications Specialist for IFPRI's Markets, Trade and Institutions division.

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