Staple prices stable but low yields point to hikes
PRICES of the staple maize meal have remained stable or decreased in the countries most prone to drought in Southern Africa but prospects of a poor 2017/18 harvest are raising the spectre of increases.
Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe are among the most vulnerable countries.
Widespread rains in February and March have brought mixed fortunes to the aforementioned countries with the conditions continuing to improve crop and pasture conditions and water availability in Lesotho.
In Mozambique and Zimbabwe, the rains have come rather too late as crops that survived the extended dry spells in December and January show evidence of reduced yield potential in most areas in the former.
In Mozambique, despite this significant rainfall, the outlook for the main season production remains unchanged since it was too late to recover wilted crops planted in late January, according to Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET).
Persistent rains are also causing leaching and waterlogging among crops in some parts of Zimbabwe and limited access to top-dressing fertilizers is causing nutrient deficiency among others.
The heavy rains have also worsened road conditions in most parts of the country, affecting marketing activities.
Above-average rainfall throughout February in central Mozambique, caused localised flooding that required emergency intervention by the National Institute of Disaster Management.
However, according to FEWSNET, the late rains will provide residual moisture for off-season planting, if poor households can access seeds in suitable areas.
Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe and Lesotho, consumption of the green harvest has started, which is improving food diversity, consumption patterns and incomes, especially among poor households.
Zimbabwe’s maize grain prices for February ($0,35/kg) remained stable and were about 15 percent below the five-year average and the February 2017 prices.
Between May and June households are expected to consume own-produced stocks from the 2018 harvests, which will marginally improve their food security situation.
Later, poor households are expected to exhaust their own production food stocks during this period and humanitarian assistance will be required to help households to meet their minimum food needs and protect livelihoods.
In Lesotho, a delay in the onset of the 2017/18 seasonal rains and long dry spells have adversely impacted the amount of green foods available this season.
Nonetheless, the availability of green foods for consumption is expected to bring relief to livelihood protection gaps that households are facing during the peak of the lean season.
Food supplies in Lesotho markets have remained stable throughout the lean season owing to above-average 2017 production and consistent supplies from South African markets.
Staple food prices are stable and are expected to continue near five-year average levels during the outlook period, FEWS NET projected.
For Mozambique, green food is not available as usual to supplement food needs due to early and mid-season dryness.
As a result, “stressed” outcomes are emerging across much of the country due to depleted household stocks and belowaverage incomes.
Maize grain prices in February remained relatively stable in most monitored markets, except in the western Tete Province, where there has been a 64 percent rise compared to January.
This followed an increase of 38 percent the previous month, putting the prices close to the five-year average.
Maize meal and rice prices have generally remained stable, staple food prices are expected to peak in March and seasonally decline in April with the harvests.