Maize harvest rises - but so does hunger

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Timo Shihepo & Tiri Masawi

Windhoek – Southern Africa’s overall staple maize harvest is up around eight percent from the 2018-2019 summer cropping season – but the number of food insecure people in SADC is also up nearly ten percent.

This is contained in the 2020 Synthesis Report on the State of Food and Nutrition Security and Vulnerability in Southern Africa released by the SADC Secretariat this week.

The report says around 44,8 million people in the region could require food aid this year due to a combination of adverse weather in 2019 and the economic shocks being caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The numbers represent 75 percent (33,6 million) of the rural population and 25 percent (11,2 million) of the urban population.

In addition, more than 60 million people lost their jobs, were placed on reduced working hours or were economically inactive at the height of new coronavirus-induced lockdown measures.

These adverse factors have offset a 69 percent increase in maize output in Zambia, and a 38 percent increase in South Africa.

This is South Africa’s second largest maize harvest on record, and the country has over the last decade accounted for more than 30 percent of the cereal produced in Southern Africa. 

But this has proved too little to improve the food security situation, and with the bloodbath in the labour sector, governments are being urged to quickly come up with safety nets to cushion citizens.

The 2020 Synthesis Report says, “One of the sectors that is hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts is the employment and labour sector. As the economy, including enterprises, has been affected by measures to contain the spread of the disease, employment levels have dropped across sectors with increases in underemployment, informality, and working poverty being expected throughout 2020.”

It also notes: “Overall, at least 60 million jobs were affected though reduced working hours, lay-offs and general inactivity during the height of the lockdown measures.

“The worst affected workers are those in the informal economy who constitute the majority, accounting for at least 50 percent of the employed in more than half of the member states,” SADC said.

On food insecurity, the Botswana-headquartered bloc said around 44.8 million people across 13 countries were affected as a result of droughts and floods in the past main cropping season, and the economic shocks from COVID-19.

It is forecast that the number of food insecure people will further rise in light of the fact that the full impact of COVID-19 on the urban vulnerable is yet to fully materialise, while the region has historically experienced leant times between November and January when the bulk of cereal crops are put in the field.

SADC faces the triple threat of malnutrition, over-nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies.

The 2020 Synthesis Report says children under the age of five are predominantly fed a poor diet, and nine out of the 16 SADC members have reported stunting rates above 30 percent. Micronutrient deficiencies are widespread and reduction in stunting is occurring at a slow pace.

And with restrictions on economic activity and movements, food diversity has been constrained, and many households will increasingly reduce the quantity and quality of what they consume.

Overall, SADC projects that 8,4 million children could suffer from acute malnutrition across the region in 2020, and 2,3 million of these could require life-saving treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

“The food and nutrition security of school-aged children has been particularly affected during the pandemic. The disruption and closure of schools and school meal programmes in the region due to COVID-19 will have a negative impact on the adequacy of food and nutrition services to children.

“According to the United Nations World Food Programme Global Monitoring Report on School Meals, it is estimated that 20,5 million SADC school children will not have access to regular school health and nutrition services due to the school closures,” the report adds.

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