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GIEWS Update-detail
FAO/GIEWS Global Watch

(Regional Update as of 15 January 2007)

Mixed prospects for the 2007 cereal crops in Southern Africa

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As the 2006/07 agricultural season in Southern Africa nears the mid–point, heavy rains were reported through much of the region in the third dekad of December and beginning of January, causing localized floods in Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar.
In October and November favorable rains were received in main crop growing areas of south-western Angola, northern Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. However, the other areas of the region, especially the northern parts, remained generally dry, which delayed planting operations. Cumulative rainfall difference from the average of past eight years for the first three months of the season (October-December), shows normal to above normal precipitation through the western and southern parts of the region and northern areas of Madagascar but below normal in the northern and eastern part of the region, including northern Angola, northern and central Mozambique, areas of Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as central and southeastern areas of Madagascar (see Figure 1-a.).
The vegetative growth at the first dekad of January 2007, as indicated by the NDVI difference from the long term average in Figure 1-b, showing also the main maize growing areas in the region, reflects similar but more pronounced west-east and north-south differences in the growing season. Moreover, in southern areas, in spite of generally satisfactory rains during the season, many localized areas have experienced an erratic precipitation including significant dry spells. In addition, the forecast for the second half of the season points to a drier than normal climatology primarily due to the El-Nino conditions. Thus the regional outlook for the 2007 main season cereal harvest at this stage is mixed with early prospects unfavorable in Zambia and Madagascar, and favorable in other countries.

Figure 1-a: Cumulative rainfall difference from normal (3 months)
– at December 2006 dekad 3

Figure 1-b: NDVI difference from normal – January 2007 dekad 1

At the regional level, the area planted to the main maize crop is estimated to have increased. This mainly reflects higher plantings in South Africa, where farmer’s planting intentions survey indicates that the maize area has expanded from last year’s reduced level by about 1.2 million hectares to some 2.8 million hectares, encouraged by current high prices. Overall, input availability at planting time was normal in most countries. Large input subsidy schemes were implemented in Zambia and Malawi, enabling farmers to use quality seed and fertilizer. This is expected to have a significant positive effect on total maize harvest later this year. By contrast, in Zimbabwe, continuous shortages and/or high prices of key inputs such as fertilizer, fuel, draft animal power and spare parts are expected to result in relatively low yields, as in previous years. In Lesotho and in several farming districts in Eastern Cape and Free State in South Africa, an outbreak of Brown Locust affected maize and other crops in December. Aerial spraying to combat the large swarms was undertaken in both countries.
In Mozambique, an outbreak of Trypanosomiasis1/ has reportedly affected cattle in the Central Region of the country, including Manica, Sofala, Zambezia and Tete Provinces2/.

Food Imports and Market Prices:
With improved 2006 production from the majority of the countries of the region in 2006, the aggregate cereal import requirement for the 2006/07 marketing year (April/March in most cases) has been revised down to 6.3 million tonnes, about 13 percent lower than in the previous year. If South Africa and Mauritius are excluded, the reduction in the total cereal import requirements of the region is more pronounced; pointing to a decline from the actual imports of 5 million tonnes in 2005/06 to an estimated requirement of about 3.5 million tonnes in 2006/07 (see Table 1). Food assistance needs in 2006/07, estimated at about 547 000 tonnes are also lower than the average annual food aid of the previous five years, calculated at about 700 000 tonnes. Available figures show that so far about half of the import requirements of all cereals and about 55 percent of maize have been received and/or pledged. Imports are likely to pick-up during this last quarter characterized as the food deficit period.

Table1. Import requirements and current import position (received/pledged), Southern Africa, excluding
South Africa and Mauritius, 2006/07*

  Import Requirements Import Position
  ('000 tonnes) ('000 tonnes) (%)
Total Cereals   
Total3 4591 65448%
Commercial2 9121 37847%
Food aid 547 27650%
Total1 22467255%
Commercial 94060865%
Food aid 284 6422%

* Marketing year mostly April/March. Source: FAO/GIEWS estimation.

Current prices of maize, the most important staple foodstuff, in most deficit countries are much below the corresponding levels a year ago when widespread food shortages were experienced. For example, as shown in Figure 2, wholesale prices of white maize in the capital city markets in Zambia and Mozambique, at mid-December 2006, were about US$193 and US$238 per tonne, down from US$309 and US$334 per tonne respectively at the same time a year ago. Currently these prices are showing a seasonal positive trend since August-September after a long and steady decline from about US$354 and US$390 per tonne, respectively, during the peak of the hunger season in February 2006. On the other hand, in South Africa, the region’s main exporting country, current maize prices in US dollar terms are higher than the corresponding levels last year, reflecting a reduced harvest in 2006 and lower maize supplies. In line with international trends, there has been a steady increase in the SAFEX maize price since September 2005. This increase is likely to continue through this lean period until the new harvest in April 2007.

Changes in the maize prices in local currency have been a little more pronounced as compared to the changes in US dollar prices as a result of the weakened Rand in South Africa, but less marked in Zambia due to the strengthening of the Kwacha against the US dollar. In Mozambique, variation in the Metical prices have more or less mirrored changes in the US dollar prices primarily due to this currency’s relative stability during this period.

Figure 2: White maize wholesale prices, US$/tonne

Data sources: South Africa - SAGIS; Zambia - CHC Commodities Ltd.;
Mozambique – SIMA.

Food Security Situation:

Overall, aggregate food supply in the region this marketing year has been quite favorable. In South Africa, the region’s major exporter, supplies of white maize are estimated at 6.3 million tonnes which, compared with a domestic utilization of 4.3 million tonnes, leaves a surplus of about 2 million tonnes. Assuming the level of the strategic reserves at about 600 000 tonnes, the potential exportable surplus of white maize from South Africa is likely to be about 1.4 million tonnes. In addition, some sizeable exportable quantities are estimated from Malawi (200 000 to 350 000 tonnes), Zambia (180 000 to 280 000 tonnes) and Mozambique (150 000 to 250 000 tonnes) after accounting for a build-up of stocks in each of these three countries to a level of about 100 000 tonnes. Thus in aggregate, the regional surplus is more than enough to cover the commercial import requirements of the other maize deficit countries in the region estimated at just under 1 million tonnes. Significant quantities are thus available for local and regional purchases of food aid for distribution in the region.

Despite a significant improvement in most countries’ 2006 cereal harvests, food insecurity persists in parts. In Zimbabwe, the economic crisis continues to deepen with an estimated 1.4 million rural people (about 17 percent of the total rural population) unable to meet their minimum cereal needs during the 2006/07 season. Unemployment and inflation are also increasing the number of food insecure in the urban areas. In Lesotho and Swaziland, poor cereal harvests again in 2006 preclude an improvement in the food security of these countries, afflicted by poverty and the impact of HIV/AIDS. In Angola, according to the FAO/WFP assessment, despite economic growth and increased oil revenues, localized food insecurity persists for an estimated 800 000 vulnerable people. In Madagascar, the food security situation has worsened in southern parts because of drought last season and continuing dry weather this season. Thus, the household food security for the low income and vulnerable populations in several countries of the region from now until the arrival of the next harvest in April, due to exhaustion of household stocks and rising food prices, is of serious concern and requires national and international efforts to deal with it. Under the regional Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation, WFP has planned to distribute about 160 000 tonnes of food during 2007, the third and final year of the operation, to about 5.5 million people who are food insecure and/or suffering from the impact of HIV/AIDS.

1.  A parasitic disease caused by tsetse fly.

2. Further information on specific countries can be found on the GIEWS Workstation