Consecutive years of drier than normal conditions in areas of the region impact crop conditions
January to March is the typical peak of the lean season across most Southern African countries. This year’s lean season is more severe than typical due to the impacts of last year’s drought and poor rainfall to date for the 2019/20 season in many areas of the region. As a result, the number of households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in DRC, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Madagascar is higher than normal. In DRC, assistance needs are mostly driven by high levels of conflict. Humanitarian food assistance is improving access to food in some part of region to Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes. The harvest in April/May is expected to improve food availability across most of the region; at least in the short-term; however, in areas worst affected by the consecutive years of dryness, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected in the post-harvest period.
The start of the 2019/20 season was characterized by erratic and poor rainfall mostly in central and southern parts of the region. The largest rainfall deficits as of January 20 are in southern Madagascar and Mozambique, Lesotho, and parts of Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Zambia. Long dry spells and high temperatures in southern Mozambique and areas of Zambia and Zimbabwe have led to permanent crop wilting and replanting is necessary. Vegetation conditions have slightly improved although remain well below the median. International forecasts expect rainfall to be below average for the season with drought conditions continuing in most southern and central sectors of the region. On the contrary northern parts of the region are expected to have average to above average rainfall.
In December and January, heavy rainfall resulted in flash flooding in Malawi and northern Mozambique, and Madagascar. The flooding damaged dwellings and infrastructure, destroyed some cropping areas, and temporarily disrupted livelihoods. Tropical Cyclone Belna which hit Madagascar’s northwestern coast on December 10 displaced a number of households and destroyed social infrastructure. For the rest of the season, there is an increased likelihood for an above average number of cyclone strikes in Madagascar and Mozambique.
Across the region, staple food prices are increasing and are well above average as a result of last year’s drought, restricting regional supply and more households than normal relying on market purchases for food. In Zimbabwe, in addition to the restricted supply, the poor macroeconomy is also significantly limiting maize grain and meal supply and increasing prices at extremely high rates. In Malawi, November prices ranged from about 60 to 100 percent above the five-year average and in Mozambique 40 to 75 percent above the five-year average. In DRC, market supply has been impacted by conflict and in southern DRC the limited regional supply. Maize grain prices increased by 30 to 40 percent in Kassai and Beni markets between October and November while in Madagascar there are reports of a decline in market supply and price increases for cassava and sweet potatoes.
At this time of year, poor households typically earn incomes for staple purchases through agriculture labor activities including labor for land preparation, planting, and weeding. However, with poor seasonal performance in areas of the region, those activities are limited and very few meaningful opportunities are available. In a few cases where labor supply is in excess, this is driving below average wage rates. In areas where poor household’s own livestock, households are atypically selling livestock for income. Despite household efforts to earn incomes to purchase food, incomes are below average across southern and central areas of the region. In Malawi, despite the rainy season has generally performed well, labor supply is above average is depressing wages.