By Kizito Sikuka
A regional food security assessment indicates that Southern Africa has a cereal deficit of more than 5.4 million tonnes this year following a subdued 2018/19 farming season.
This is according to a Synthesis Report on the State of Food and Nutrition Security and Vulnerability in Southern Africa approved by the SADC Regional Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis (RVAA) Programme Steering Committee that met on 5 July in Windhoek, Namibia.
Based on the 11 SADC member states that provided cereal balance sheets for the 2018/19 harvest year, the region produced about 37.5 million tonnes of cereals compared to 42.9 million tonnes in 2017/18.
The countries that provided cereal balance sheets for the 2018/19 season are Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The report revealed that cereal production in South Africa, which usually accounts for the largest proportion of regional output, decreased by 19 percent from 18.7 million tonnes during 2017/18 season to 15.1 million tonnes during the just ended season.
Zambia, which has during the past few years significantly contributed to regional cereal output, suffered a 14.7 percent decline in production from 2.6 million tonnes in 2017/18 to 2.2 million tonnes in 2018/19.
The largest drop in output was, however, in Botswana where cereal production is estimated to have declined by 92 percent during the 2018/19 season, while Namibia and Lesotho experienced 53 percent and 50 percent decreases, respectively.
The least affected countries were Angola and Tanzania, which recorded decreases of 1 percent and 4 percent, respectively.
Maize accounts for 80 percent of cereal production in Southern Africa. Other important cereals are wheat, sorghum, millets and rice.
According to the regional food security assessment report, the decline in cereal production indicates that “an estimated 41.2 million people in 13 SADC member states are food-insecure this year”.
The 13 countries are Angola, Botswana, DRC, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The remaining three SADC member states – Mauritius, the Union of Comoros and Seychelles – did not provide figures on their food security and vulnerability assessments, meaning that the number of food-insecure people in the region could be much higher.
The SADC region has a population of over 327 million.
“When comparing the 11 member states that provided data last year and this year, food insecurity increased by 28 percent,” reads part of the synthesis report, adding that the figure is “7.4 percent higher than it was during the severe El Niño-induced drought of 2016/17.
To address the situation, SADC member states are putting in place measures to avert the food security situation.
These measures include assisting affected populations with food supplies as well as providing emergency livestock supplementary feeding to save livestock.
“Namibia is responding to the drought by distributing food relief and agricultural inputs, as well as the provision of water to the affected population,” Namibian Deputy Director for Policy, Disaster Risk Management Directorate, Anastasia Amunyela, said at the SADC RVAA meeting.
Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe are importing grain to supplement their reduced yields.
The plight of the three countries was worsened by the impact of Cyclone Idai that hit the region in March.
Cyclone Idai, which has been recorded as one of the worst tropical storms to affect Africa and the southern hemisphere, hit parts of Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in March 2019, and was accompanied by heavy rain, winds and storms that destroyed a large hectarage of crop in the three countries.
Other contributing factors that worsened the low harvest in most SADC member states include the fall armyworm infestation.
In this regard, countries are actively monitoring and responding to the pest outbreak as well as to livestock and crops diseases.
In the medium to long term, the Synthesis Report on the State of Food and Nutrition Security and Vulnerability in Southern Africa urges SADC member states to move towards crop and dietary diversity through the growing and consumption of diversified diets, including indigenous foods.
This includes species diversification in livestock production, especially small ruminants that are adapted to harsh weather conditions.
In addition to this, there is need to promote irrigation as well as rainwater harvesting to allow the region to farm all year around and not only depend on climatic conditions.
The potential for irrigating land in the SADC region is large as the region is hugely endowed with watercourses such as the Congo, Limpopo, and Zambezi rivers.
Furthermore, the region should improve its transport network so that agricultural produce can move smoothly from one place to another.
It is also critical to invest in storage facilities to allow farmers to store their harvest for use in poor seasons.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, post-harvest crop losses in SADC is estimated to be as high as 40 percent.
The Synthesis Report on the State of Food and Nutrition Security and Vulnerability in Southern Africa is expected to be presented to the SADC Council of Ministers and ultimately to the 39th Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government scheduled for 17-18 August in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
The agricultural sector is regarded as an engine for socio-economic development in most SADC member states, hence the drive towards deeper cooperation and collaboration to boost production and address food insecurity.
The synthesis report which was presented at the annual dissemination meeting of the RVAA Programme, held in Windhoek, Namibia, consolidated the results of the vulnerability assessments of member states
The objective of the SADC RVAA Programme meeting was to discuss and consolidate the results of the 2019 vulnerability assessments and analyses done by member states.
The SADC RVAA Programme was established in 2005 to strengthen the capacity of member states to undertake and utilise vulnerability assessments to inform policy formulation and emergency interventions that lead to a reduction in vulnerability in the region.
The first phase of the SADC RVAA Programme, which ran from 2005-2011, sought to inform broader approaches to tackling food insecurity, including safety nets and social protection.
The second phase covered the period 2012-2016 and focused on expanding the scope of the programme to include urban areas and chronic poverty issues such as gender, HIV/Aids and climate change, as well as influencing policies and programmes.
The current phase of the SADC RVAA Programme, which spans the period 2017-2021, seeks to consolidate gains from the previous phases, while at the same time broadening the programme to cover chronic vulnerability, contributing to climate resilient livelihoods and addressing the challenges of institutionalization and capacity development of national committees.
Since its establishment, the SADC RVAA Programme has made significant strides in providing timely and credible information that has influenced policies, and its products are now a vital reference point for decision makers in addressing food and nutrition security issues.
In fact, one of the major goals of the SADC RVAA Programme is the timely provision of credible vulnerability information, while building capacities to meet the ever-increasing information needs of governments and partners for developmental programming and emergency response. - sardc.net.