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SOUTHERN AFRICA: Focus on WFP/FAO assessments

Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN)

This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations
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JOHANNESBURG, 20 June (IRIN) - Interventions by governments, aid agencies and NGOs have contributed to an improved food security situation in most parts of Southern Africa affected by large-scale crop failures last year.

The World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) have released the findings of a joint Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to the six countries in the region affected by the past year's food shortages, brought on largely by drought, failed government policies and the impact of HIV/AIDS.

Of the countries worst-affected by the regional food shortage, Zambia and Malawi had made a "substantial" recovery. In Lesotho and Swaziland, which were somewhat less affected, "a combination of better, though below average, domestic cereal production and improved commercial import capacity suggests that there will be no cereal shortages at the national level [in these countries]," the WFP/FAO mission found.

ZIMBABWE STILL WORST-AFFECTED

However, Zimbabwe once again had the highest number of people in need of food aid in the region. The WFP/FAO report noted that the government's controversial fast-track land reform programme was a major factor, leading to food production of half the five-year-average.

"The major causes of the much lower than normal production of cereals this year include erratic rainfall, limited availability of seed and fertiliser ... and the newly settled farmers not being able to utilise all the land due to lack of adequate capital and inputs, or collateral to procure them. Following the land reform programme, the large-scale commercial sector now produces only about one-tenth of its output in the 1990s," the FAO/WFP mission noted.

The mission estimated "that 4.4 million people in rural areas and 1.1 million in urban areas will require food assistance in 2003/04".

The 2002 population census had shown a population figure of 11.6 million, "considerably lower than the 13 million used in last year's report", when it was estimated that 7.2 million people required food aid, the report commented.

Cereal production for consumption in 2003/04 was estimated at 980,000 mt, 41 percent higher than last year's, but 51 percent below the 2000/01 harvest, which was itself significantly below average.

"Production of maize, the main staple, estimated at 803,000 mt, is 61 percent up on last year, but 46 percent lower than in 2000/01," the mission found.

In Mozambique, total cereal production was estimated at over 1.8 million mt, some 2.5 percent above last year's. However, the national production figure masked regional disparities.

"In [the] southern and some of the central provinces, prolonged dry spells and high temperatures caused almost total failure of the maize crop," the agencies observed. Consecutive natural disasters - floods and drought - had badly affected rain-fed agricultural production in the semi-arid southern and central provinces, where average food production was normally insufficient to cover requirements.

Emergency food aid of about 156,000 mt would be needed for some 949,000 drought-affected and vulnerable people in parts of the southern and central provinces.

"Severe difficulties in marketing surplus production from the north and centre to the south, due to high transport costs and local municipal taxes," hindered distribution of food products to the needy parts of the country.

SUBSTANTIAL RECOVERY

In Zambia, production of maize, the country's main staple crop, was estimated at about 1.16 million mt, "almost double the output of the 2002 season (602,000 mt) and about 28 percent above the average of the last five years", the WFP/FAO mission found.

"Within the last two weeks of May 2002, government announced that there is to be no free distribution of food relief this year ... the statement against free general distribution is not opposed by WFP."

Both the government and WFP recognised that there was "no large-scale food emergency this year, and that efforts should focus on recovery".

However, there remained "localised pockets of poor harvest due to erratic rainfall or flooding" and households affected in these areas, mostly in the Southern province, would need both food and seed.

"Nutrition-focussed interventions for those living with, or affected by, HIV/AIDS will also be necessary," the agencies said.

In Malawi, maize production was expected to increase by 22 percent over the 2002 final harvest estimate. "There should be adequate food supply. Substantial but unrecorded quantities of maize and rice continue to be informally imported into Malawi from neighbouring countries," the WFP/FAO report noted.

These informal imports, together with "substantial carryover stocks and other crops, should obviate the need for additional cereal imports".

As with Zambia, there were several areas which had experienced crop failures in Malawi. It was estimated that about 131,500 people would require food aid beginning in July. The agencies also warned that this figure would peak at 400,000 people in January 2004.

GOOD RAINS AND TIMELY INTERVENTIONS

In both countries, good rains and timely and targeted distribution of agricultural inputs to farmers had made the difference between last year's poor harvest and this year's generally better one.

In Zambia, the FAO/WFP noted that the "main factors responsible for maize and other staple crop production recovery are: more favourable rainfall over much of the country, a highly effective fertiliser distribution programme by the government (with 50 percent subsidy), and the combined effort of various national and international NGOs and the government in providing seeds of various crops".

Higher rainfall in Malawi and "more widespread use of improved maize seed and fertilisers largely account" for the increased maize production.

TARGETED ASSISTANCE

The aid agencies noted that in Swaziland "an extremely targeted approach to food aid is required, focused primarily on mitigating the effect of HIV/AIDS, and also including direct support to households unable to access available food and agricultural inputs".

While domestic maize production was 6 percent above last year's, the mission estimated that some 132,000 Swazis required food aid "immediately". The agencies warned that this would increase to 157,000 from July to December and peak at 217,000 during the between-harvest lean season from January to March.

In Lesotho an estimated 32,000 mt of cereal food aid would be needed for distributions to targeted households. "The number of beneficiaries will vary from 125,000 to about 270,000 during the lean period," the aid agencies said.

The mission recommended targeted food assistance to households that had lost their crops entirely and had no livestock, and those affected by HIV/AIDS.

"Emergency provision of agricultural inputs to these families for the next cropping season will also be necessary," the WFP/FAO report added.

It observed that agriculture in Lesotho faced a long-term decline should current trends continue.

"Severe soil and land degradation, lack of proper land and crop husbandry practices, inefficient use of improved seeds, fertilisers and pesticides" were among the factors hampering agricultural production.

The six country reports stressed the need for ongoing support of the agricultural sector to assist the regional recovery.

For a full PDF version of the reports go to:

Zimbabwe report: http://www.fao.org/WAICENT/faoinfo/economic/giews/english/alertes/2003/f1234e/f1234e00.pdf

Mozambique report: http://www.fao.org/WAICENT/faoinfo/economic/giews/english/alertes/2003/g1234e/g1234e00.pdf

Lesotho report: ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/005/y9666e/y9666e00.pdf

Zambia report: ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/005/y9664e/y9664e00.pdf

Swaziland report: ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/005/y9665e/y9665e00.pdf

Malawi report: ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/005/y9667e/y9667e00.pdf



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