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Achieving long-term food security in Southern Africa:
International perspectives, investment strategies and lessons

Joachim von Braun, Peter Hazell, John Hoddinott, Suresh Babu


March 19, 2003

Keynote paper prepared for the Southern Africa Regional Conference on "Agricultural Recovery, Trade and Long-term Food Security,"
March 26-27, 2003, Gaborone, Botswana

Posted with permission of Suresh Babu, IFPRI. Website:
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Since 2002, southern Africa has been experiencing a severe food shortage due to drought, floods, weak agricultural policies and civil conflict. Though efforts to feed the affected populations and reinitiate agricultural production have been underway, new environmental shocks hit the region, impeding recovery and placing an even larger number of people in danger. Presently, about 14 million people in seven countries in the region, Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, are under the threat of a continuing food shortage. While relief aid is currently insufficient to meet the needs of the population, the combination of hunger and HIV/AIDS is taking a terrible toll on the countries. Furthermore the coping strategies of poor households, already weakened from past shocks and continuing poverty, have eroded further and are unable these families (von Braun, Teklu and Webb, 1999). What has made southern Africa so vulnerable to famine is essentially the widespread poverty in the region, and accompanying poverty has been malnutrition. In fact the seven countries rank among the highest in the world in terms of these two indicators. Malnutrition, it should be added, has meant more than just low calorie consumption: a large percentage of the poor, especially women and children, suffer severe deficiencies in such critical micronutrients as iron and vitamin A. Eliminating the threat to famine in southern Africa's future depends to a large extent on reducing food insecurity and alleviating poverty (von Braun, Teklu and Webb, 1999).

Poverty in the region-- far greater in rural areas-- has continued to exist because policies have not been directed at fostering an agricultural and rural development centered on the small producer. Hence, despite its relatively rich endowment of natural resources, southern Africa produces insufficient food even in years when environmental shocks do not occur. More specifically, productivity has been low because poor farmers have difficulty accessing inputs and cannot get their goods to market (or get low prices for them) due to poor infrastructure. Poor market integration has also prevented the transfer of food from food-surplus to deficit areas at affordable prices. Many of the natural resources have also been mismanaged. For example, soil degradation is acute and threatens future productivity. Water unavailability for small producers also remains a problem. At a deeper level, investments in agricultural research and development (R&D) in the region have declined. As a result, higher-yielding varieties of crops are unavailable. Finally, other factors formerly regarded as having only little relationship to the agricultural sector have come to play a major role. The AIDS epidemic has taken a devastating toll on the rural population and on farm production.

Recent research shows that if the countries of the region proceed with the policies they have pursued up till now with regard to the agricultural sector and continue to invest only at current levels, the food situation there will deteriorate further. Poverty, food insecurity and child malnutrition would worsen significantly. Resources will become more degraded and land productivity will decline further in many areas. As a result, crises and violent conflicts may arise, disrupting agriculture, escalating the need for and costs of emergency relief, and diverting investment from the long-term solutions the region so desperately needs to end its cycle of despair (Hazell and Johnson, 2002). In the future, the region will only become increasingly vulnerable to famine (von Braun, Teklu and Webb, 1999).

However, even with only a modest increase in investment in smallholder-led and diversified agricultural development, per capita income will rise markedly, thus alleviating poverty, child malnutrition can be reduced and a major advance towards food security can be achieved. Investing in agriculture will also provide an engine of growth with positive spillover effects on the poorest and most vulnerable by creating employment and lowering the cost of food (Abdulai and Delgado, 1995). Yet to move from food crisis to development will require the implementation of an array of integrated policy measures and programs, including those for building capacity and research support systems. This in turn will require serious commitments by senior policymakers to agricultural development, and effective governance and institutional arrangements to implement the required interventions.

The overall objective of this paper is to present an international perspective on achieving long-term food security in southern Africa and identifying potential strategies and lessons for the future. This paper consists of five parts. Part II looks at agricultural recovery from food crises from an international perspective. It examines the important role that certain sectors, programs and strategies have in recovery and looks at the innovative policy steps that other developing countries once vulnerable to famine took with regard to them to handle food crises or enhance food security. The sectors or programs considered in this part are: agricultural production, food stocks, domestic markets, and international and regional trade. This section is intended to provide general lessons from international experience and specific policy options to generate agricultural recovery in southern Africa. In Part III the question of whether there is a trade-off between relief and development is discussed. It is argued here that certain policies or investments, namely in health and education, can achieve both relief and development and thus create a "win-win" proposition. In fact, without investments in health and education for relief and rebuilding human resources long-term agricultural development will not be possible. This section also discusses the need for innovative safety net programs to avert crises and build human capital. These include public works programs safety net transfer programs, and in some cases, creative use of pension fund schemes that are already in place. In Part IV, a strategic analytical and knowledge framework to help guide policymaking is presented and the areas in which capacity development is required for sound and effective policies is discussed. Part V, the conclusion, discusses further the need for a rights-based approach to food security and its nature.

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