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Reference Date: 26-January-2016


  1. Crop prospects in 2016 weakened by El Niño‑related dry conditions, with severely suppressed rains in southern parts

  2. Between May and October 2015 about 0.5 million tonnes of maize were exported, mostly to Zimbabwe

  3. Maize prices above their year‑earlier levels, following steep increases at the end of 2015

  4. Overall stable food security conditions, but pockets of food insecurity exist mainly in southern and western areas reflecting lower households’ food supplies

El Niño-associated dry conditions weaken 2016 crop prospects

Harvesting of the 2016 main cereal crop is expected to begin in April, however, due to the later-than-normal start of seasonal rains, which delayed plantings, the bulk of the harvest is only anticipated to commence in late May. Rains since October have been poorly distributed and below-average, particularly in southern areas, reflecting the influence of the prevailing El Niño episode. This has resulted in overall reduced cereal plantings, with preliminary estimates indicating a decline of up to 20 percent, with steeper contractions in the worst affected Southern and Western provinces. The insufficient rains have also retarded crop development, with many areas exhibiting below-average vegetation growth, notably in southern parts that represent some of the main producing regions. Crop conditions and prospects in the Eastern and Northern provinces are more promising, reflecting generally favourable rains.

Weather forecasts, which continue to be influenced by the weakening El Niño, point to a higher probability of below-normal rains until April 2016 across large portions of the country, with higher chances of supressed rains in southern parts.

Although only at the halfway point of the cropping season, production prospects in 2016 have been severely weakened by the persistent drier condition. A Government-led crop assessment, expect to be conducted in March-April, will deliver a more detailed estimate on 2016 plantings, which will provide a better indication on likely harvest outcomes. However, current conditions point to an increasing likelihood of a below-average 2016 maize output.

Large maize volumes exported in 2015/16, while maize imports are expected in 2016/17

National maize supplies in the 2015/16 marketing year (May/April), despite a 21 percent decrease in the 2015 output, were estimated to be more than adequate for domestic consumption requirements. This reflected the record crop of 2014 that reinforced grain stocks and resulted in large carryover supplies into 2015/16, estimated at close to 1 million tonnes. As a result, between May and October 2015 nearly 500 000 tonnes of maize were exported, the bulk of which was shipped to Zimbabwe.

However, on account of the expected below-average 2016 harvest, the Government has announced the creation of an inter-ministerial task force, which is tasked to develop plans to import maize, largely from South America, that will help to stabilize supplies in 2016/17.

Maize prices increased steeply in last quarter of 2015

The national average maize grain prices in December 2015 were about 50 percent above their year-earlier values, driven higher by the reduced 2015 output and consequent tighter supplies, while strong export demand and the depreciation of the kwacha also provided upward support.

Maize meal prices are also higher, but have not risen as sharply as grain prices. Electricity tariffs increased at the end of 2015, partly to pay for the higher costs of importing power, due to some power outages caused by lower water supplies for hydroelectric plants. This is likely to increase production costs and, therefore, add further upward pressure on maize meal prices and other processed food products. The lower water supplies could also limit irrigation operations.

Pockets of food insecurity in southern and western areas

At the national level, food security conditions are stable; however, there are pockets of food insecurity in localized areas, mainly in Southern and Western provinces that experienced reduced 2015 harvests. Results from the 2015 Vulnerability Assessment Committee’s evaluation indicated that just under 800 000 people require food assistance in a total of 31 districts. Food security conditions in 2016/17 could worsen further, if a second successive reduced cereal output transpires in 2016.

Relevant links:
 Cereal Supply/Demand Balance Sheet
 Food Price Data and Analysis Tool
 Earth Observation Indicators
 Seasonal Indicators
 Vegetation Indicators
 Precipitation Indicators
 Graphs & Data
 NDVI & Precipitation
 Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM) Reports & Special Alerts: 2005, 2003, 2002, 1998
From FAO:
 FAO Country Profiles

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