The coronavirus (Covid-19) which is ravaging the SADC region and the world has brought to the fore the urgent need to ensure food security in the region’s member states.
With the prospect of finding a vaccine for the virus remote, there are fears that most SADC states which have already been facing prospects of drought, will be the hardest hit.
What is more worrying is that Covid-19 has limited the movement of goods and services across the borders as countries embark on lockdowns in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.
This therefore means urgent solutions must be found, and soon, to ensure citizens who are already reeling under the lockdowns have adequate food.
As we have already been pointing out since the beginning of the year, it is turning out that the SADC region might once again be hit by another devastating drought, throwing member countries into a tailspin as lack of rains is a big blow to their agro-based economies. The unforeseen outbreak of the Covid-19 virus has therefore compounded the already bad situation.
Unlike predictions by weather experts last September, the region looks like it is headed for famine as the rains were scarce. Normally, this time of the year, farmers would be busy harvesting their fields and moving the food to various centres for easier access by consumers.
But since December last year, there has been scant rainfall throughout the region and the harvest in most countries across the region has been reduced, which means these countries need food assistance. Maize is the staple food in many countries across the region and in times of deficits, like this year, they would import from other countries in the SADC or from other countries overseas.
Climate experts who met in Gaborone, Botswana, in September had predicted that the region was likely to receive below normal rainfall from October to December this year and normal to above normal rains from January to March 2018.
The SADC climate scientists had also predicted that some parts of the region would be hit by another drought and floods this year.
According to SADC experts, the first phase of below normal to normal rains could result in some countries suffering a devastating drought while the second phase could result in other member states facing a humanitarian disaster due to floods caused by abnormal rains.
Therefore, they said this called for member states to plan carefully and ensure that there were measures in place to deal with issues of security and disaster in the event of flash flooding.
Experts at the SADC Secretariat now fear that while there have been good rains in the northern half of the region, low rainfall in the southern half could lead to crop failure and a devastating famine.
In their Food Security Early Warning System Agromet Update released early this week, the experts warned that vegetation conditions had deteriorated in the southern and eastern parts of the region. Areas where above normal rainfall have been received include the north-eastern half of Angola, much of the Democratic Republic of Congo, northern Zambia, northern Mozambique, central Madagascar and much of Tanzania.
But areas in the southern half of the region, namely southern Angola, most of Botswana and Namibia, south-western and central South Africa, Lesotho, southern Mozambique, southern Zambia, Zimbabwe and south-western-Madagascar, have received below normal rainfall since October 2017.
The Covid-19 situation is therefore worrying. No-one saw this coming and had therefore planned on how to deal with the coronavirus, and the drought. Therein lies the region’s biggest problem.
Most countries in the SADC region are heavily dependent on agriculture, and poor rains spell doom for prospects for growth. This also means huge amounts of money would have to be channeled towards importing food, money which would otherwise have been channeled towards other needy areas like health, education and infrastructural development.
There is therefore an urgent need for countries in the SADC region to urgently find a solution that ensures food security. It is will be a tough call in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, but governments across the region cannot fathom a double-edged sword of coronavirus and starvation.