Thabiso Scotch Mufambi
Harare – An estimated 47.6 million people in 10 SADC countries are food insecure, a 5.5 percent increase from last year, the latest Synthesis Report on the State of Food and Nutrition Security and Vulnerability in the region shows.
Last year, a record 49.1 million people in 13 member states faced food shortages.
The report, released last week, attributes food insecurity – which is expected to peak in January-March 2022 – to the COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters, climate change, conflict and poverty.
Above-average rainfall in the last summer cropping season was both a blessing and a curse: boosting yields in some areas and flooding others as cyclones damaged over 219,000 hectares of farmland and affecting more than 500,000 people.
Angola, the DRC, Madagascar, Mozambique and Namibia also experienced localised prolonged dry spells.
The DRC, with 27.3 million food insecure people, and Madagascar, which is in the grip of a severe drought, are among the worst affected SADC countries.
“The situation in southern and eastern Madagascar has worsened significantly. About 1.14 million people (43 percent of 2.7 million people assessed) are facing high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or above) from April to September 2021. It is projected that 1.31 million people, representing 49 percent of people assessed, will be facing high levels of food insecurity between October and December 2021,” SADC said in its said.
The report shows that regional food insecurity is 34.3 percent above the five-year average. Acute malnutrition has worsened markedly, with almost 19 million children with stunted growth.
But, all is not gloomy.
The number of people facing food shortages in Zimbabwe declined by 46 percent from 5.45 million last year to 2.93 million; while in Mozambique the figure fell from 2.3 million to 1.6 million.
Good rainfalls led to improved cereal and livestock production, particularly in South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
“South Africa continues to meet food requirements at national level, with a combination of domestic food production and imports. A maize harvest of 16.18 million tonnes is expected, which is 5.8 percent higher than last year. There is ample maize supply to meet national demand in the human and feed markets and to export into neighbouring countries.
“Zambia produced 4,461,188 tonnes of maize against a national requirement of 2,932,208 tonnes, thus recording a surplus of 1,528,980 tonnes. Zimbabwe increased maize production by 199 percent to reach 2,717,171 tonnes, which provides a surplus of 828 263 tonnes.”
ESwatini, Lesotho and Namibia, which traditionally depend on cereal imports, also recorded improved harvests.
Maize production in eSwatini is expected to increase by 15 percent this year to 98,988 tonnes; while Namibia recorded a cereal harvest of 157,000 tonnes – 29 percent above average but slightly lower than the 162,500 tonnes recorded last year.
“However, even with sufficient production, lower or lost incomes due to COVID-19 have led to a reduction in household purchasing power. The lockdown has caused a catastrophic seven percent contraction in regional gross domestic product. Diets continue to worsen as diverse varieties of food become unavailable, inaccessible, and unaffordable to the most vulnerable households, contributing to malnutrition. The pandemic is reversing the progress made in poverty reduction in the region over the past two decades,” the report said.
Southern Africa, designated a “climate hotspot” by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is prone to recurrent extreme shocks like droughts and floods.
“Although climate change will have a major impact on the region’s economic sectors, there are likely to be some opportunities for growth due to changes in seasons and production cycles. The need to respond to climate change is also an opportunity to drive economic transformation in the region: climate-resilient, low-carbon development that boosts growth, bridges the energy deficit, and reduces poverty,” SADC said.