• The 2017-18 rainfall season was characterized by a late start, an extended mid-season dry spell (December-January) and heavy rains from February into April. The dry spell caused moisture stress and wilting of the early planted crops in many areas in Botswana, south-western Madagascar, southern Malawi, southern and some central parts of Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
• This has led to 13% decline in crop production vs last year’s and 3% above the 5-year average. The most significant contractions from previous harvest in comparison to the 5-year average were recorded in Lesotho (-68 and -35%), Zambia (-33% and -20%) and Botswana (-30% and -38%).
• The availability of grain in the region is expected to benefit from significant carry-over stocks in South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe from above-average 2017 outputs. As a result prices for maize in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe are below last year and about 20-33% below the 5-year average.
Nevertheless, due to reduced production, maize prices are expected to increase earlier, around August.
However, those stocks are often in the form of strategic grain reserves and not necessarily in the hands of ordinary households. For example, in the Tete region in Mozambique 78% of the households have no maize reserves at all.
• Nevertheless, overall the food insecurity situation is highly likely to deteriorate. The number of severely food insecure is likely rise by more than 70% to 9.6 million people [in Botswana, Eswatini,
Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe]. Sharp increases compared to last year have been recorded in Zambia [954,120, or +1139%], Malawi about [3.3 mn, +217%] and Zimbabwe [2.4 mn just in rural areas, +130%].
• No major increases of global acute malnutrition (GAM) have been observed during the 2018 peak lean season (January – March). However, acute malnutrition continues to be a problem in parts of the region. Pockets of high GAM (above 10 per cent) persist in specific areas, such as districts in southern Madagascar. Nutrition surveillance is continuing in the region, with a focus on drought-affected communities in vulnerable areas, as a key strategy to ensure early identification and treatment of children with acute malnutrition.
• Looking ahead a real concern is that the probability of El Niño has increased to about 70% during the mean 2018-19 summer cropping season. El Niño is historically associated with increased chances of (a) high rainfall in the northern part of the region and (b) depressed rainfall in the middle belt of the region and the southern half of the region. The El Niño in 2015/16 caused the worst drought in 35 years leaving 14.1 million people in need of emergency assistance across the region.