Despite an anticipated increase in grain and cereal production this year, the food insecure population in Southern Africa could increase from 41 million in 2019 to 48 million.
This is the highest number of potentially food insecure people in the SADC region in a decade, a statistic that has prompted the bloc to up its game in the arena of disaster preparedness, management and recovery.
The figures are captured in the latest Southern African Synthesis Report by the SADC Secretariat, which calls for concerted efforts by member states to support subsistence farmers with inputs and market access.
The report also says countries like Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe – which received above-average rainfall – will see a slight increase in crop production in this year’s harvesting season. But the increase will be insufficient to avert food insecurity.
“The full impact of COVID-19 and the lockdown cannot yet be fully fathomed as we are still in the eye of the storm. The number of people who are food insecure this year will be far in excess of assessment figures, given the unassessed urban poor, and the fact that we simply cannot know where will be the peak of the lean season between 2020 and 2021.
“However, even before the lockdown, the region was on course to reach levels of food insecurity similar to the previous year, when 41,2 million Southern Africans were in need – the highest in a decade,” the report noted in part.
“Food insecurity increased by almost 10 percent in 2020. This includes 33.6 million people living in rural areas and 11.1 million in urban areas. The vulnerability of urban residents to hunger is considerable and requires urgent action. Rural food insecurity is no exception: based on the data available, 17 percent of the region’s rural population are struggling to access food, either due to challenges.
“Zimbabwe’s severe macro-economic situation has now evolved into protracted crisis, with 7.7 million people suffering from food insecurity. High underlying chronic food insecurity has exacerbated the impact of a series of acute shocks in the country. According to the (Zimbabwe Statistics Agency) Poverty Consumption and Expenditure Survey, 70.5 percent of the population are poor and 29.3 percent were extremely poor.”
Regardless, the region expects a year-on-year increase in maize production of at least eight percent in 2020/21, although the full positive impact of this will be felt in 2022.
The largest crop production increase is expected in Namibia (180 percent of 2019 tonnage and 33 percent above the five-year average); followed by Zambia (69 percent increase); and South Africa (38 percent).
This will be South Africa’s second-largest harvest on record, as the country continues with its enviable tradition of supplying at least 30 percent of the region’s staple maize harvest over the past 10 years.
In the midst of this, the Chair of the SADC Regional Vulnerability Committee, Mr António Pacheco Dias Lima, has called on solidarity across the bloc to tackle food insecurity.
Mr Dias Lima was speaking in Maputo at the SADC Regional Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis Programme (RVAA) annual meeting, convened virtually by the bloc’s chair, Mozambique.
“The wealth of data that the RVAA has generated over the years forms a good basis for some of the discussions and engagements in the food systems conversations such as the UN Food systems summit,” said Mr Andrew Odero, the World Food Programme head of vulnerability assessment and mapping for Southern Africa and Indian Ocean States at the meeting.
The meeting emphasised the need to develop and implement quality assurance mechanisms to ensure data was credible and progressively influenced policies and programmes.
A SADC Regional Disaster, Preparedness and Response Strategy Fund was proposed at the 20th Ordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government in 2020, and a resolution that can operationalise it will likely be discussed at the upcoming SADC Council of Ministers meeting.
SADC Head of Communications and PR Mr Barbara Lopi told The Southern Times this week that, “The progress updates will be presented to the upcoming SADC Council of Ministers on 12th March 2021.”
The Fund, observers point out, would be a good lever with which to turn the tide on natural and unforeseen disasters that have plagued the region in recent years.
These include floods, cyclones, droughts, locust and other pest infestations, and more recently the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the start of 2019, the region faced several weather-related disasters such as tropical cyclones Desmond, Enawo, Idai and Kenneth, which caused flooding in Madagascar, Malawi,
Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Cyclone Idai was recorded as one of the worst tropical storms to ever affect Africa and the southern hemisphere.
In 2020, a swarm of locusts, invaded parts of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and most of East Africa; while at the same time the COVID-19 pandemic made landfall in the region and disrupted economies and livelihoods.
The scale of disasters, which have spilt into 2021, have seen individual and bloc appeals for assistance to the international community to tackle immediate humanitarian needs as well as build medium and long-term capacity to prepare, manage and recover.
Reporting by Tiri Masawi in Windhoek, Bright Mpepe in Lilongwe & Gracious Madondo in Harare