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SADC - Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Vulnerability Assessment Committee


The food security situation in the months ahead depends on many inter-related factors: the actual level and timeliness of commercial imports, the donor’s response to appeals for humanitarian assistance, the logistics of moving food into the region, across borders and within countries, price levels, and the ability of people to afford food, along with numerous country-specific factors. Looking further ahead, agricultural recovery during the upcoming 2002/03 cropping season will be critical to improve national and household food security in the countries already facing serious food shortages. Key factors for the season ahead include the availability and accessibility of agricultural inputs, especially by poor households, and rainfall performance.

Planned Imports: Determining food aid needs is in part based on assumptions on the level of commercial imports that will help offset domestic cereal shortages. In these analyses, “commercial imports” include those by both the private sector and by government. Deriving an accurate estimate of planned imports can be difficult, especially if the private sector will play an active role and there are many small and medium-scale traders. Furthermore, commercial import plans change over time, thus changing the potential magnitude of the unfilled import gap. If actual imports fall short of plans, either in absolute quantity or over time, the food situation could further deteriorate from the scenarios suggested by the current round of emergency food security assessments.

Policy Environment: The respective roles played by government and the private sector will also be a factor in determining whether food security conditions improve or deteriorate in the months ahead. Government policies are sometimes unclear, or even contradictory, in that they may call for a reduced role of government in trade and marketing systems, without providing an enabling environment for the private sector to operate efficiently, and profitably. In some cases, government policy aimed at ensuring the food security of all citizens, such as consumer subsidies, price controls, and direct government imports, may undermine the ability of the private sector to effectively participate and compete in trade and marketing activities, thus decreasing their potential contribution to filling the food gap.

Market Prices: Until the next harvest, prices of staple foods will be a major determinant of household food security. Prices are already well above where they should normally be at this time of year and household purchasing power is extremely low, especially in areas suffering from a second consecutive poor season. When determining the potential role of the commercial sector in filling production shortfalls, it is assumed that if staple food is available in the marketplace, that a certain percentage of people will be able to buy it. As prices rise, however, so too does the proportion of people unable to afford basic staples, thus increasing the number of people who will require food assistance.

Recovery and Rehabilitation: A good harvest from the next cropping season, ending in April/May 2003, will greatly ease the immediate food crisis and the emergency response. However, even if the harvest is good, asset levels and coping capacity of households will have been weakened considerably by the crisis. This implies a need for recovery and rehabilitation interventions, such as livestock restocking, irrespective of the size of the 2002/03 harvest. If the harvest is poor, this could be the third consecutive year that the most seriously affected areas suffer from production shortfalls, with disastrous food security ramifications. The major factors that will determine the outcome of the production season include input availability and accessibility, and rainfall performance.

Agricultural Inputs: At the regional level, key inputs, particularly seed, are available. South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe have surplus supplies of maize seed. Mozambique is has adequate national supplies of seed. Lesotho and Swaziland typically import their seed from South Africa, and no problems are expected there. In Malawi, there could be problems with national level availability, as they will need to import some 8,000MT of hybrid maize and 300MT of open pollinated varieties to meet the requirements of planned input supply programmes that will target almost 3 million farmers. While seed availability is unlikely to be a problem this season, accessing seed in a timely manner will be a problem, especially by poor farmers given their low levels of income, depleted food stocks and the high cost of staple foods. With only weeks remaining before the start of the planting season, most poor farmers are unsure where or how they will obtain their agricultural inputs. Well targeted and timely humanitarian assistance providing input supply will be essential to supplement government efforts to restore productive capacity within the region.

Climate Outlook: A weak to moderate El NiСЃo event is expected to persist throughout most of the 2002/03 cropping season. While experts agree that a weak El NiСЃo would probably have minimal effect on rainfall levels in the region, a moderate to strong El NiСЃo would be more likely to lead to dry conditions that could adversely affect crop production. National, regional and international climate experts met in early-September to develop a consensus seasonal forecast1. Because a weak El NiСЃo event was assumed, most of the region is forecast to receive normal to above normal rainfall during the first half of the season, although some parts of the countries currently facing exceptional food shortages have a slightly enhanced probability of receiving normal to below normal rains. For the second part of the season, January to March 2003, all of the affected countries are likely to receive normal or below normal rainfall, with the exception of northern parts of Zambia and Malawi, which have an enhanced probability of receiving normal to above normal rainfall. In December, when the strength of the El NiСЃo is known, climate experts will meet again to update the forecast for the second half of the season.

  1. The forecast is based on probabilities derived from 30 years of historical rainfall data, and considers the state of the global oceanicatmospheric system and its implications for the region. Climate experts caution that the forecast is relevant only for seasonal time scales and for relatively large areas, and that local and month-to-month variations should be expected.
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