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Regional themes > Food security Last update: 2020-11-27  

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SADC - Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Vulnerability Assessment Committee


Cereal entitlement: At the household level, a short hand proxy for changing food aid needs over time is the concept of cereal entitlement. This is defined as current plus expected access to cereals—directly (through own production, food aid, food for work or gifts) and indirectly, through purchasing power. The emergency assessments used the concept of cereal entitlement to come up with a short-hand measure of household food aid needs. The table showing the number of households in need of food assistance on the previous page shows when entitlement is expected to be exhausted.

Cereal availability: It should be noted that the totals in the table do NOT include those households that are food insecure due to supply side factors, that is, those households that have purchasing power, but are unable to access cereals simply because they are not available on the market. Data from the assessments indicate that a high proportion of households are experiencing difficulty in accessing cereals due to supply side issues.

Coping strategies: Without substantial imports, food shortages will intensify, prices will continue to rise and households will be forced to intensify coping strategies. These can be categorised into income increasing strategies, expenditure reducing strategies, food consumption reducing strategies and migration strategies. Throughout the region, the majority of vulnerable people have already engaged in distress coping strategies—behaviours in response to the crisis that may meet immediate needs but can have detrimental effects on long-term livelihoods. For example, in each country children are being removed from school due to a shortage of cash for fees and/or the need to have the child’s labour at home. In Zimbabwe, 18% of the households reported removing children from school within the past two months.

The most frequently cited type of coping strategy is a change in consumption patterns. Throughout the region, roughly 80% of the households report eating smaller portions, skipping meals in the day, or even skipping whole days without eating a substantial meal. Changes in consumption patterns, in terms of frequency of meals, are generally followed by reduction in expenditures (for example on health care and school fees), then sale of capital assets (such as farm equipment and livestock), and then migration strategies. Other commonly cited coping strategies include prostitution (putting women and young girls at high risk of HIV/AIDS), eating wild foods (while sometimes normal, some people are eating wild foods that are poisonous when not properly prepared), rural-urban migration (typically by men, leaving women and children at the village home) and gold panning in Zimbabwe (having detrimental effects on the environment). The direct and indirect impacts of these and other distress coping strategies could send vulnerable households into a downward spiral that could undermine their livelihoods for years to come.

HIV/AIDS and household food security: Although not directly measured by the emergency assessments, the impact of HIV/AIDS on household food security was highlighted as a major problem at the community level. In Lesotho for example, HIV/AIDS was cited as a major factor increasing vulnerability to the current crisis in about 30% of the communities visited. The potential “overlap” between HIV/AIDS affected households and households experiencing acute food shortage will vary by country and will be different in rural versus urban areas. However, the numbers directly and indirectly affected by the overlap will be very considerable indeed, especially in Zimbabwe because of the very high number of those in need of food assistance and the high HIV/AIDS prevalence rate. Some idea of the likely “overlap” is illustrated by comparing the stark figures of HIV/AIDS rates to the proportion of the rural population in need of food aid. Known rates of sero-prevalence amongst adults range from a low of 13% in Mozambique to a high of 34% in Zimbabwe, the average for the six countries being 24% (UNAIDS, 2002). Emergency food distributions are necessary for an estimated 25% of the rural populations in the six countries. The assessments have confirmed that those most affected by the current crisis are poor, have few assets, few entitlements and are therefore highly vulnerable to livelihood failure. HIV/AIDS adds to this vulnerability.

Gender and household food security: The assessments found that female-headed households are being affected more adversely in the current crisis than male-headed households. In each country, there were higher proportions of female-headed households in the poor and very poor wealth categories than maleheaded households. The average size of the cereal gap for female-headed households was larger than for male-headed, with particularly large variations in some countries.

Urban household food security: There is a lack of knowledge on how urban households are being affected by the current crisis. Apart from Zambia, urban food security was not covered in the emergency assessments. The Zambia study estimated a total of 97,000 orphaned and vulnerable children in urban areas in need of assistance. Recent studies in Zimbabwe indicate that 850,000 people in urban areas of the country are in need of food assistance. There is now an urgent need to conduct emergency food needs assessments in urban areas in the region, to determine the extent of the problem and the required response.

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