GIEWS > Data & Tools > Earth Observation
GIEWS - Global Information and Early Warning System

Country Briefs


Reference Date: 20-August-2020


  1. Production of cereals in 2020, mostly maize, declined year on year but still remained above past five‑year average

  2. Cereal import requirements in 2020/21 rise moderately, reflecting production decline in 2020 for second consecutive year

  3. Prices of maize meal stable or decreased in early 2020, but remained higher on yearly basis

  4. About 366 000 people estimated to be food insecure in second half of 2020, well above earlier estimations, due to reduced harvests in 2020 and effects of restrictions aimed to contain COVID‑19 pandemic

Cereal production in 2020 estimated at slightly above‑average level

Harvesting of the main 2020 maize crop (the major cereal grown in the country), concluded in early July, a few weeks later than normal due to delays in plantings caused by poor rainfall at the beginning of the season. Aggregate cereal production is estimated at 89 000 tonnes, a second consecutive year on year decline from the bumper level of 115 000 tonnes in 2018. Nevertheless, at the estimated level, this year’s cereal output is still above the previous five‑year average. Improved rainfall from January 2020 boosted soil moisture levels and aided crop development, resulting in the above‑average yields that partly offset lower plantings and limited a potentially larger yearly production decline.

Cereal import requirement in 2020/21 estimated to remain at high levels

The country is a net importer of cereals, mostly maize, rice and wheat, with imports satisfying about three quarters of domestic consumption needs. The cereal import requirement in the 2020/21 marketing year (May/April) is estimated at about 260 000 tonnes, nearly 30 percent above the five‑year average, mainly resulting from a second consecutive annual decrease in the 2020 domestic production. Imports of maize (both for human consumption and livestock feed) are forecast at an above‑average level of 170 000 tonnes, almost entirely sourced from neighbouring South Africa. Imports of rice and wheat are expected at near‑average levels, forecast at about 40 000 tonnes and 50 000 tonnes, respectively.

Prices of maize meal higher on year basis

Prices of maize meal increased in the first quarter of 2020 in response to an uptick in domestic demand at the onset of the COVID‑19 pandemic, which prompted customers to increase household stocks, and mirroring trends in South Africa, the country’s main supplier of cereals. Prices levelled off from April, mostly reflecting an adequate supply situation on account of the recent harvest and above‑average quantities of imports. As of May, retail prices of maize were about 12 percent higher than their year‑earlier values.

Significant increase in prevalence of food insecurity in second half of 2020

According to the last official estimates from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), an estimated 366 000 people were assessed to be food insecure between July 2020 and the end of March 2021, which would mark the start of the main harvest period for the subsequent cropping season. Of this number, 335 000 people reside in rural areas and the remaining 31 000 are in urban areas. This level is about 60 percent above the previous estimate for the October 2019‑March 2020 period. The higher prevalence of food insecurity reflects the elevated prices of food and the reduced cereal harvest in 2020, which are estimated to have negatively affected farming households’ food supplies and reduced income-generating opportunities from crop sales in rural areas, while the lockdown measures due to the COVID‑19 pandemic are estimated to have reduced incomes, particularly for casual labourers who were reliant on daily wages. Furthermore, the economic slowdown underpinned by the COVID‑19 pandemic has curbed remittances, further constraining households’ income. On the supply side, the increased reliance on imports remains a concern as potential disruptions to trade channels, due to COVID‑19 related restrictions, might result in supply bottlenecks and increased price volatility particularly in the informal markets.

Disclaimer: The designations employed and the presentation of material in this information product do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of FAO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.