FAO GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE

SPECIAL REPORT

HARVEST PROSPECTS DETERIORATE IN SOUTHERN AFRICA FOLLOWING PROLONGED DRY SPELLS AND SEVERE FLOODS IN SEVERAL PARTS

6 March 2001

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OVERVIEW

With about two months to the end of the cropping season in southern Africa, harvest prospects have deteriorated reflecting adverse weather in several parts. The season generally started normally with timely, abundant and well distributed rains, except in a few locations. However, a prolonged dry spell in January in parts of Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland, South Africa and Zimbabwe, stressed crops. Rains resumed from mid-February providing relief to previously dry areas, but were rather excessive in parts causing flooding in low-lying areas in Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. For Mozambique, which had not yet fully recovered from the worst floods in living memory last year, the fresh floods affected some 400 000 persons, mostly in the Zambezi valley, but also in other low-lying areas in the central provinces of Sofala, Tete and Zambezia. In Malawi, 200 000 people have been displaced, mainly in southern areas along the Shire River, while in Zambia flooding has occurred along the Zambezi and Luangwa rivers.

Besides displacing people, the floods have submerged crops in the affected areas, compromising the food security of large numbers of families who now urgently need humanitarian assistance. However, so far the impact of the floods is not a significant threat to national food security. In Mozambique, the area lost is estimated at about 22 000 hectares, against 167 000 hectares lost to last year's devastating floods, which mainly affected southern provinces. But should the heavy rains continue in the coming weeks harvest prospects in Malawi and Mozambique could deteriorate.

Overall, the sub-region's 2001 aggregate cereal harvest is forecast to decline substantially from last year's above-average level due to reduced plantings and lower yields. The rains in mid-February arrived too late to prevent crop damage in several areas affected by the mid-season dry spell, while excessive precipitation has negatively affected yields in parts. The aggregate area planted to cereal crops is estimated to be lower than last year, mainly due to reductions in South Africa, in response to low prices, and in Zimbabwe, following resettlement of large-scale commercial farms. FAO tentatively forecasts the sub-region's 2001 maize crop, which accounts for three-quarters of total cereal production, at about 13.8 million tonnes. This is 24 percent below last year's production and 15 percent below the average for the last five years. At the forecast level, carryover stocks in several countries of the sub-region, including South Africa, the largest maize producer and exporter, would only partially cover the decline in output and export availabilities would be sharply reduced in marketing year 2001/02 (April/March). Importation of maize from outside the sub-region could be necessary. The food supply situation is anticipated to be tight particularly in Angola, due to the persistent civil conflict, and in Zimbabwe where production is forecast to decrease sharply. Food difficulties are also anticipated for households in areas affected by floods in Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia. The chart below shows maize production trends for the period 1996-2000, with a forecast for 2001.

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SITUATION BY COUNTRY

Mozambique

High water levels in the Zambezi River, due to torrential rains in neighbouring countries, as well as continuing heavy rains in central provinces since the last dekad of January, have resulted in floods in the central provinces of Zambezia, Sofala, Manica and Tete, particularly in late February. It is estimated that over 77 000 people have lost their property and up to 400 000 are affected by the disaster. Severe damage to transport infrastructure is also reported. Access to the main port of Beira has been interrupted. Preliminary assessments of the agricultural damage carried out by the Government indicate that by late February, 22 000 hectares of cash crops and foodcrops had been lost to the floods, mostly in the Zambezia Province, affecting 44 000 farming families. Last year, 48 000 hectares of foodcrops were lost to floods in these central provinces, while the area lost at national level reached 167 000 hectares, mainly in southern provinces.

Following the opening of the Chaora Bassa dam, the country's largest along the Zambezi River, more floods are threatening central parts. About 80 000 people are being evacuated from the towns of Marromeu and Luabo and surrounding areas. Also along the Pungue River, in Manica and Sofala provinces, there is concern of more floods. Further south, 30 000 people are endangered by floods due to the high levels of the Save River. The Government has appealed for US$30 million to cope with the emergency in central areas. Due to road closures, more aircrafts for the evacuation operations are urgently needed. Emergency food assistance is currently being provided to 20 000 affected people. Agricultural tools and seeds required to allow affected farmers to plant a second season crop are valued at US$2.3 million.

In southern provinces, the worst affected by the severe floods of last year, the outlook for this year's cereal harvest has deteriorated as a result of well below average precipitation in January. Rains in the second decked of February may have arrived too late to prevent serious yield reductions. In the main cereal growing areas of the north, good rains since the beginning of the season have favoured crop development.

Despite serious localized damage caused by the floods, the overall outlook for this year's cereal crop is still satisfactory, as the crop losses to floods are not significant at national level. Reflecting generally abundant rains and an increase in the area planted from last year's level, early official forecast pointed to an increase of 6 percent in this year's cereal production. However, should the heavy rains continue in the remainder of the growing season, prospects could deteriorate rapidly.

The food supply situation remains satisfactory at national level. Maize prices are below their level of a year ago. Nevertheless, a total of 165 000 food insecure people in 37 districts are estimated to be in need of food assistance until the next harvest.

Angola

Prospects for the 2001 foodcrops, to be harvested from April, are uncertain reflecting erratic rains since the beginning of the season. Prolonged dry spells in parts have coincided with excessive precipitation in others. Dry weather in January in the southern parts stressed developing cereal crops. Rains resumed in February but may have arrived too late to prevent yield reductions. By contrast, heavy rains in late January in the north-western province of Cabinda resulted in loss of life and damage to infrastructure and crops. The total area planted is expected to have been reduced by the intensification of the civil conflict at sowing time, which could result in another below-average harvest.

The food supply situation continues to deteriorate with the persistent civil conflict. The security situation in the interior of the country remains unstable with violent incidents reported in various parts of the country. The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs), estimated at 2.5 million people last June, has continued to increase. Fresh waves of population displacement have been reported in Benguela in the west, Huila and Kuando Kubango in the south, Malange in the north and Moxico in the east. The food situation of the IDPs is extremely critical, but food aid distribution continues to be hampered by insecurity and shortfalls in food aid pledges. By the end of January, WFP had received pledges for only 60 percent of its current operation in Angola. This has led to a one-third reduction in the number of beneficiaries, from 1.5 million to 1 million and to cuts in the rations distributed. Additional pledges are urgently needed.

Malawi

Continuous heavy rains since late January have resulted in serious floods in 13 of the country's 27 districts, particularly in southern areas along the Shire River. Official reports indicate that 200 000 people are displaced due to the floods. Many areas are inaccessible as a result of damage to roads and bridges. It is estimated that 50 000 hectares of crops have been lost to the floods. The Government has appealed for international assistance to cope with the disaster.

Prospects for the 2001 cereal crops have deteriorated with the excessive rains in February that are likely to have caused yield reductions. A dry spell and high temperatures in January in some southern districts, mainly Balaka, Zomba and Mwanza, also negatively affected yields in these areas. Latest forecasts point to a maize crop below the 2.5 million tonnes bumper harvest last year, but still above average. The final outcome will depend on the rains in the remaining part of the growing season.

The overall food supply situation is satisfactory reflecting last year's good harvest and adequate stocks. Also at household level the food security situation is reported to be generally satisfactory.

Zambia

Heavy rains in January and first half of February over most parts of the country, except in the extreme south, resulted in localized floods along the Zambezi and Luangwa rivers but, in general, are likely to have benefited the developing 2001 cereal crops. Localized floods affected areas in Western, Luapula, Northern and Central Provinces. Other affected areas are the Luangwa Valley (including areas in the districts of Serenje, Mpika, Mambwe, Lundazi, Katete, Chipata, Nyimba and Luangwa). By contrast, prolonged dry weather in Southern (Livingstone and the Gwembe Valley) and Western (Sesheke, Shangombo and Senanga) Provinces is anticipated to result in sharply reduced yields in these areas.

Overall, despite the localized crop losses, harvest prospects are favourable, although maize production is forecast to decline from last year's bumper crop, reflecting a decline in the area planted because of low prices at planting time and large carryover stocks from the previous season. The food supply situation is satisfactory.

Zimbabwe

Prospects for the current foodcrops are unfavourable following dry weather in the last two dekads of January and, in general, erratic rains since the beginning of the season. Good rains in the first two dekads of February arrived too late to prevent reductions in yields of maize and other foodcrops. In the worst affected southern areas, below average precipitation since mid-November has resulted in significant reductions in plantings and yields, with plantings in most districts estimated to be less than 50 percent of normal levels and a poor harvest anticipated. Worst affected districts include Beitbridge, Matobo and Umzingwane in Matebeleland South Province; Umguza in Matebeleland North; Guruve in Mashonaland Central; Chiredzi in Masvingo; and Shurugwi in Midlands Province. In the main maize growing areas of the north and centre, latest estimates point to a decline in the area planted to maize of 26 percent, with sowings in the large-scale commercial farming sector estimated to be 50 percent lower than normal as a result of civil disturbances and shortages of fuel. Provisional forecasts indicate an aggregate maize harvest as low as 1.2 million tonnes, or 41 percent below last year's level, but the final outcome will depend on the rains in the remainder of the season. At the current production forecast and projected carryover stocks, the import requirement in marketing year 2001/02 would increase sharply to around 500 000 tonnes, at a time the country faces a severe foreign exchange shortage.

Currently, the overall food supply position remains satisfactory reflecting the good maize crop of last year and large carryover stocks. However, the food situation is difficult for poor urban households and those in communal areas that rely on purchased maize. Prices of maize and other staple foods have increased sharply in recent months due to high levels of inflation, fuel shortages and continued depreciation of the national currency.

South Africa

Prospects for the 2001 maize crop have worsened. Well below average rains and high temperatures in January and early February, particularly in western growing areas, have stressed developing crops. Rains from mid-February provided relief to the affected areas but arrived too late to prevent yield reductions. Preliminary estimates indicate that up to 30 percent of the maize crop may have been damaged in the North West and Northern Cape provinces, that account for one-third of maize production and 40 percent of white maize. Rains in the remainder of the season will be crucial for the recovery of the crop, which is at the critical pollination stage. Maize futures prices, which have increased to over 900 rand per tonne by the first week of February from 700 rand per tonne in mid-December, declined reflecting the recent rains.

Latest official estimates indicate a maize output of 6.5 million tonnes against 10.1 million tonnes last season, or a decline of over one-third. This reflects a decrease of 17 percent in the area sown, due to low domestic prices at planting time, and crop damage by the mid-season dry spell.

Production estimates of the 2000 wheat crop have been revised upwards to 2.1 million tonnes, one-third above the poor harvest of the previous year and above average.

Namibia

The outlook for this year's cereal crop has deteriorated as a result of severe dry weather during January and early February in the northern growing areas. The dry weather followed late and erratic rains since the beginning of the season. Abundant precipitation in the second dekad of February provided relief to the affected maize and sorghum crops but more rains are still needed.

The food supply situation remains satisfactory as a result of the good cereal harvest of last season and the country's commercial import capacity.

Swaziland

Prospects for the 2001 cereal crop has deteriorated. Prolonged dry weather during most of January and early February stressed the developing maize crop. Rains resumed in the second dekad of February but may have arrived too late to prevent reductions in yields.

The overall food supply situation is tight reflecting the flood-reduced cereal harvest of last year and inadequate commercial imports so far. Serious food difficulties are particularly being experienced by 14 000 people who lost crops last season and need of food assistance until the next harvest. The Government has appealed for international assistance to meet their needs.

Botswana

Dry weather during most of January and first two dekads of February stressed the developing crops, particularly the maize crop. More rains are needed to avoid yield reductions, as well as deterioration of pastures.

Following two consecutive reduced cereal harvests, the country has an import requirement of 250 000 tonnes of cereals in marketing year 2001/02 (April/March), all of which is expected to be imported commercially.

Lesotho

Rains in the second dekad of February provided relief to the 2001 coarse grain crops, stressed by a dry spell during most of January and early February. Yield reductions are likely to have occurred in parts. The final outcome will depend on the rains in the remainder of the growing season.

Following a reduced 2000 cereal crop, the import requirement in marketing year 2001/02 (April/March) is estimated at 248 000 tonnes, most of which is expected to be covered commercially.

Madagascar

Below-average rains in northern and central parts in the first two dekads of February, which followed abundant rains in previous months, affected growing conditions for the 2001 rice crop. The overall prospects for the paddy harvest, starting from April, are uncertain; the final outcome will depend on the rains in the coming weeks. By contrast, in the southern maize growing areas which had been affected by prolonged dry weather since the second dekad of January, abundant precipitation in the second dekad of February provided relief to the developing maize crop. However, yield reductions are likely to have occurred in parts and the harvest could be reduced for the second consecutive year. Last year, the southern areas were affected by a severe drought that caused a one-quarter decline in the maize output.

The overall food supply situation is tight following the poor 2000 rice crop. In southern parts, food assistance is required for 240 000 vulnerable people who obtained a poor harvest last season.

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG ) for further information if required.

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