Reference Date: 25-November-2015
FOOD SECURITY SNAPSHOT
El Niño-related dry conditions affect start of 2015/16 cropping season
Adequate maize supplies despite 21 percent drop in 2015 production
Maize prices above their year-earlier levels
Reduced 2015 cereal harvests result in localized food insecurity
Poor start to 2015/16 cropping season
Planting of the 2016 cereal crops is ongoing under generally dry conditions following poorly-distributed and below-average rains since the start of the cropping season in October 2015. Slow vegetation growth was observed in several areas of the country, including the main producing Central and Southern provinces. By contrast, wetter conditions benefited the establishment of the early-planted crops in the two other large producing Northern and Eastern provinces. Although early to infer, weather forecasts influenced by the current El Niño episode point to a higher probability of below-normal rains until March 2016 across southern portions of the country. By contrast, a continuation of favourable rains is more likely in northeastern areas.
The Government’s input subsidy programme has continued this year, targeting 1 million farmers, with about one-quarter accessing subsidized inputs through an e-voucher scheme. However, higher input costs, particularly for fertilizers that partly reflect the depreciation of the national currency (Kwacha), is restraining access and pushing up production costs. Although planting estimates will only be available at the start of 2016, the current dry conditions and higher production costs, as well as reported delays in input distributions, could result in some reductions in the planted area to cereals.
Despite reduced 2015 maize output, supplies are satisfactory in 2015/16
The 2015 maize crop, harvested earlier this year and accounting for about 90 percent of the national cereal output, is estimated at 2.7 million tonnes, nearly 21 percent below 2014’s level. The decline largely reflected the impact of severe dry spells that caused a reduction in yields. Lower outputs were also estimated for sorghum and rice; however, millet production increased reflecting an expansion in plantings that more than offset lower yields. Harvesting of the mainly irrigated winter wheat crop is nearly complete and is forecast at about 310 000 tonnes, well above the previous year and the five-year average. The expected increase rests on higher yields.
Despite the lower cereal output this year, maize supplies are generally healthy. The record crop of 2014 reinforced grain stocks and resulted in large carryover supplies into the 2015/16 marketing year (May/April) estimated at close to 1 million tonnes. Given the ample stocks, about 290 000 tonnes of maize were exported between May and August 2015. The bulk of which was shipped to Zimbabwe, a pattern expected to continue until the close of the current marketing year in April 2016.
By the end of October, the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) purchased about 600 000 tonnes of maize from the 2015 harvest, above the initial target of 0.5 million tonnes.
Prices of maize higher than previous year
Despite ample national maize supplies, the reduced 2015 crop put upward pressure on prices and resulted in a 15 percent year-on-year increase in the national average maize grain price in October. These price gains have contributed to recent rises in maize meal prices, which are also trading slightly above their year-earlier levels in October. Moreover, the depreciation of the Kwacha in 2015 has added general inflationary pressure, while also increasing milling production costs, with power rationing resulting in increased use of imported diesel.
The start of FRA seasonal sales, at a reported price of ZMK 85 per 50 kg, slightly below the October retail price, is expected to exert some downward pressure on prices in the coming weeks.
Food security conditions worsened in 2015 reflecting lower maize crop
As a result of the drop in maize production and consequently tighter household supplies, the food security situation worsened in 2015. Results from the 2015 Vulnerability Assessment Committee’s evaluation indicate that just under 800 000 people require food assistance in a total of 31 districts, mostly located in the Western and Eastern provinces. At this level, the number of people in need of assistance is more than twice that of 2014. Food assistance provisions commenced in September.