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Swaziland VAC: Annual Vulnerability Monitoring Report - May 2004

 
Executive Summary

  • National economic slowdown

    The current national economic slowdown is proving to be exceptionally deep and broad. The structural context constraining livelihood options remain little changed over the past three-to-four years. Depressed employment opportunities, poor agricultural production, plus rising staple food prices and the effects of HIV/AIDS have undermined livelihoods. High levels of household vulnerability combined with the shocks of three years of erratic weather patterns and a lessening of economic growth (2000-2003) precipitated a crisis for many Swazi communities. Poverty is endemic on Swazi National Land (SNL) where 70% of the population contribute to the agricultural sector's modest 10% share of GDP.


  • Falling employment, disposable income and livestock levels

    Several factors affecting the vulnerability of Swazis underlie the current emergency situation. Economic growth has been quite limited since the mid 1990s with a significant fall-off of Swazis employed in South Africa as the decade progressed. Employment levels within Swaziland have been at a virtual standstill for several years in private and public sectors. The reduction of incomes and remittances in Swaziland has had significant implications for the ability of many households and communities to purchase food and other essential household items and access basic social services. In addition, the reduced disposable income of families has resulted in fewer casual employment opportunities being offered for less well-off members in the communities. Economic hardship and food insecurity has increased in the Lowveld because of a virtual collapse of the cotton industry - reducing incomes of producers and casual labour opportunities for many other households. Livestock condition has been poor countrywide for several years and overall numbers of cattle and goats have been declining, especially in the Lowveld, because of poor grazing conditions and water availability. Animals have had very little chance to recover their condition after each shock has hit.


  • Late and intermittent rains in the main planting season 2003/4

    In the current season late and intermittent rains in all parts of Swaziland between October and December have had a detrimental impact on agricultural production. However, much improved rains between January and March have reduced the anticipated national maize deficit with some maize production in the Highveld, Middleveld and even some patches in the Lowveld. The late rainfall did allow some households in the Middleveld and Lowveld to plant in January but it has been difficult to gauge the extent of land cultivated during this last phase and its possible impact on national production. The improvement in rainfall will not help many households in the Lowveld, dry Middleveld and Lomahasha areas that failed to plant. Above normal rainfall in March and April has damaged maize crops during the drying phase. Legume crops have had a poor season.


  • Depressed cereal and cotton production and increasing informal maize prices

    The downward national production trends outlined in chapter 3 go someway towards highlighting the strain that rural livelihoods have been facing during the past three to four years in securing income and household production to ensure food security and other basic household requirements are met. Following the below normal and erratic rains in the current season, there is depressed agricultural production both by yield and area cultivated compared to the five year average to 2001/2. Combinations of other factors apart from the weather have detrimentally affected agricultural production as exemplified by increasing inability of households to afford the requisite inputs and also the difficulties farmers faced accessing tractors for land preparation at optimal times. Household income earning potential for poor and middle wealth groups has been negatively influenced by the overall production climate but just as importantly it has been dented by declining overall access to markets. Maize and cotton markets, both of which play key roles in rural household incomes, have been depressed by production conditions but also by marketing arrangements. The informal maize market is large while official maize sales are small overall and recent price levels have not been sufficient to attract sale by farmers. It is fundamental to Swaziland to have a maize production industry with a supporting maize marketing infrastructure that maximises production and incomes. Maize production in 2003/4 represents the fourth consecutive year of below normal cereal production. The cereal balance indicates that even after planned imports are accounted for the cereal gap is almost 75% of current production. Low cereal production has large implications for the food security, well-being and assets of the rural Swazi population. A high maize price, caused by current and anticipated shortages is likely to compound the problem of poor people accessing available food in the coming months and throughout 2004/5. Monitoring of (informal and formal) maize prices needs to be improved and actions within the maize marketing infrastructure need to reflect the importance that maize prices play (as food and cash crop) in people's lives in rural and urban areas.


  • Increasing morbidity and mortality associated with HIV/AIDS is entrenching downward national production trends and increasing vulnerability

    Sitting on top of the economic difficulties being faced by rural households previously described has been HIV/AIDS. The virus has increased morbidity and mortality rates, vastly reducing the viability of already weakened livelihood strategies, encouraging and entrenching poverty. Orphan numbers and other chronically vulnerable households are growing at a significant rate contributing to the growing levels of livelihood failure and destitution of many poorer groups throughout the country with an increasing inability of communities to cope. Women and children are taking the brunt of the disease. Regional health services report that they are struggling countrywide and greater levels of morbidity are anticipated in future.


  • Vulnerability is increasingly widespread throughout the country

    Vulnerability to food insecurity and livelihood decline can no longer be defined only in terms of the Lowveld. The VAC analysis points to increasing problems across larger sections of the country. The vulnerability of populations depends on the livelihood patterns employed in the different zones of the country and the wealth status of households. Most notably depressed conditions in the Timber Highlands, Lomahasha Trading and Arable and the Dry Middleveld areas are affecting households' income and food access. However, Lowveld communities continue to face very difficult times. Analytical breakdown by socio-economic group demonstrates that in most instances the poor are facing the biggest income/food deficits. The populations in several of the zones previously mentioned are feeling the impact of cumulative shocks over a number of years covering several of the mainstay production sectors.


  • Communities prioritise access to water for domestic consumption and cash crop production

    Communities were consulted about what their priorities may be for community development action during the field interviews that were carried out as part of the assessment. The issues raised are highlighted for each zone in the livelihood zone reports (see chapter 4). Access to adequate water sources was described by all communities as the biggest impediment not only to household hygiene and sanitation but also to development and income potential - especially through production of cash crops for sale. Others highlighted earth dams as crucial to reduce the vulnerability of livestock during drought periods when water access (and grazing) is poor and cattle condition reduces.


  • General lack of awareness of current sectoral policies

    The VAC stakeholder meeting in early May demonstrated that there was a fundamental lack of awareness of the existence of current national policies on health, education, agriculture, water and other key sectors among the VAC stakeholders (covering Government Ministries, NGOs and UN agencies). Furthermore, if current policies were known about few individuals were able to explain what the policies entailed and most doubted the extent of their implementation. There is clearly a need for agriculture and health technical staff for instance, to have read and understood their own current sectoral policies. Lack of current policies (i.e. not draft or statements or action plans) on key sectors such as agriculture and HIV/AIDS is apparent.


  • Responses to income/food deficits

    Table 5 (page 33) provides planners with more concrete ways of analysing the income/food deficit outcomes outlined on the cover page. Cash transfers (that households could use to purchase their food requirements) are incorporated in order to provide decision-makers with alternatives to (the sometimes automatic reliance on) food aid in order to off-set the income/food deficits being faced by the majority of the rural population. While food aid will continue to play an important role in the short to medium term to meet on-going food insecurity in the most vulnerable areas of the country it should not be the automatic and only answer for populations affected. Alleviation of chronic poverty will not be achieved by continuous distributions of food aid. Programmes that incorporate cash transfers may provide additional benefits by stimulating a multiplier effect within cash strapped communities across Swaziland. It is becoming increasingly evident in other African countries such as Ethiopia, Lesotho and Malawi that plausible ways, such as cash transfers through distribution of vouchers or other non-food welfare provision (e.g. public works programmes), may be more appropriate to support chronic poverty and chronic food insecurity. Increasingly donors and agencies are viewing these alternatives in a positive light. Table 5 is provided in order to give policy and programme decision-makers with ball-park figures so that the deficits can be understood in monetary/income terms (USD 21.5 million) as well as food tonnages (28,300 MT).
Key Recommendations:

  • A Government led comprehensive disaster response strategy is required that will meet short and medium/long term needs as a natural development following the disaster declaration by Government. It should provide leadership to the humanitarian and development community including donors that takes on board the income/food deficits outlined in this report, the reasons for them and the numerous responses that may be utilised to off-set them. A wide consultation is important including the UN, NGOs and donors.
  • Increasing vulnerability and destitution around the country means that a centrally administered and integrated social/economic safety net systems needs to be established in Swaziland led by Government.
  • Creation of sustainable employment needs to be central to Government objectives.
  • Increasing and improving agricultural production is very important for rural food access and incomes.
  • Livestock rehabilitation and commercial development of appropriate livestock is encouraged (bearing in mind issues of over-stocking).
  • Access to water sources by rural communities for household hygiene as well as small-scale irrigation for cash crops needs to be prioritised.
  • Government and civil society need to work harder to ensure that current policies are widely dispersed and fully understood. Sectors that do not have policies such as HIV/AIDS and agriculture require national policies and implementation plans.
  • Swaziland needs to develop a sustainable vulnerability monitoring system housed within Government (with continuing links with and support from the UN and NGOs) that may continue to inform on key vulnerability issues linking together multi-sectoral analyses for policy-makers and programme interventions. Good quality statistics from ministries that is accessible is essential for analysis. Up to date statistics on livestock and crop production, food prices, employment levels etc. are vital for vulnerability analysis. More effort is required by ministries to ensure that information is credible, accessible and timely.
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