- Due to drought in southern and parts of central Mozambique, much of this season's maize crop will likely fail, while a reduction in other crop yields is expected, according to the latest assessment of food security in the country. Poorer households were expected to face food deficits and will probably need food aid during the next year.
According to a new assessment released by the US government agency Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS), there are few possibilities of avoiding a new food crisis in the southern parts of Mozambique following drought. "This late in the season, any improvement in the rains will have little or no impact on the maize crop, but may bring favourable conditions for second season planting where it is possible," FEWS says.
Although current food availability was adequate, maize shortages were expected to appear in the near future across most of the southern provinces and parts of southern Tete province. Shortages were expected to be most acute in remotely located areas, such as the semi-arid interior of Gaza and Inhambane provinces, "which were badly hit by the long dry spell and where households rely more on maize production as alternative income opportunities are more limited."
In these areas, farmers had attempted to replant, but this had failed because of persisting dry conditions. Harvest prospects were therefore poor. "Poor households will most likely run out of their own production as early as August, when they will be forced to turn to markets earlier than normal to meet their food needs," the FEWS study predicts.
- With limited income earning options and weak markets, many households in these areas are expected to intensify reliance on negative livelihood strategies, such as forgoing meals and consuming potentially hazardous "famine" foods, the US agency warns. Close monitoring of market prices would therefore be increasingly important to assess when food aid would become necessary.
The problematic food security situation was however unevenly distributed. Although the coastal zones of Inhambane and Gaza provinces had been severely affected by drought, the alternative crops cassava and cashews were doing well. Also, alternative sources of income such as fishing and petty trade were available along the coast.
In the inland, the drought was not only causing a crop failure but is also reducing the availability of potable water. Potable water shortages, particularly in the remote areas, are now among the main household concerns, often diverting time from other productive tasks. Household members are forced to walk as far as ten kilometres a day as most seasonal rivers remain dry.
Plans to respond to the crop failure are already made by the Mozambican government in cooperation with UN agencies such as the World Food Programme (WFP). In its Mozambique programme for April-June 2005, WFP is already increasing the number of food aid beneficiaries by 30 percent to 150,405. Beneficiary numbers after May were to be based on upcoming assessments, FEWS said.
Food, water and health interventions could be "needed until the next harvest," which takes place in March-April 2006, according to the FEWS reports. In areas where second season production is possible, such as Mozambique's southern and central provinces, input trade fairs were planned and underway to make seeds available.
Meanwhile, most markets in Mozambique are still supplied with last year's maize, although newly harvested maize has begun entering the markets in some places. The government's Agricultural Market Information System (SIMA) reports that maize prices are starting to decline in zones where the production outlook is favourable. Despite recent price increases, current prices in Maputo were slightly lower than prices at this time last year.
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