The 2003/04 season has been a very challenging one for southern Africa's agriculture with countries experiencing both drought and flood conditions within the same crop growing season. Overall, improved rainfall over the January-March period brought about a marked improvement in crop growing conditions and was beneficial to the late planted crop, and where applicable - a second season crop. Many countries are reporting a significant amount of late plantings as a result of the late onset and erratic rainfall that necessitated multiple plantings. Higher prices, driven by weather worries, also encouraged second season cultivation. Nonetheless, recent flooding along the banks of the main river systems, especially in Zambia and Namibia, as a result of heavy downpours, have raised concerns that crop yields could be further reduced as some crop lands have been washed away.
Projected regional maize availability has improved mainly as a result of increased harvest expectations in South Africa, where total supply (production plus opening stocks) is now expected to reach 9.85 million MT. Consequently, the commercial shortfalls in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland and Mozambique can be adequately covered with the South African exportable surplus, estimated at 1.93 million MT.
Although official forecasts are still to be released in most countries, preliminary assessments from Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe indicate significant improvements in production prospects. The major concern will be food access among the poor facing above- normal food prices.
The FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Missions and national Vulnerability Assessments to be fielded in April-May in the most affected countries of Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe will provide information that will form the basis for targeted interventions and other developmental strategies aimed at responding to the needs of the vulnerable and food insecure, and sustaining increasingly fragile livelihoods, especially in HIV/HAIDS affected households.