Over the past decade, Swaziland has repeatedly experienced droughts or inadequate rainfall and resultant poor harvests. The rainfall this ending season, though more favourable overall, was characterized by a late start in October and deficits in December at crop establishment stage and in February at tusselling stage. Concerned about the potential impact of these breaks on the nation's food production, the Government of Swaziland requested FAO and WFP for assistance in assessing crop performance and overall food supply situation for the 2005/06 marketing year (April/March). Accordingly, an FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission (CFSAM) visited the country from 30 April to 12 May and carried out the requested task.
The Mission's findings in this report are based on intensive discussions with various departments of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MoAC), Central Statistical Office (CSO), National Disaster Task Force (NDTF), various NGOs, parastatals such as National Maize Corporation (NMC) and National Agricultural Marketing Board (NAMBOARD), major milling companies including Ngwane Mills and Universal Milling, and input suppliers such as Swaziland Farm Chemicals.
These discussions were supplemented by extensive field visits which covered all communities in the country. The Mission was accompanied in the field by government officials from relevant ministries, NGO representatives and two observers from the US Embassy. A total of 144 farmers and several field extension officers were interviewed, and standing and stored maize crops were inspected.
The Mission found that the 2004/05 agricultural season was better than last year in the Highveld and Middleveld, both zones having achieved above average production. By contrast, the Lowveld and Lubombo performed poorly due to below average rainfall and late planting. Crops failed in large tracts of both zones. Overall, maize production in 2004/05 is estimated at 82 240 tonnes, which is about 10 percent higher than last year.
Time series data indicate that maize production in Swaziland is on a downward trend. The causes need to be investigated, but it seems likely that the impact of HIV/AIDS on agricultural production is beginning to show.
The cereal import requirement for 2005/06 marketing year (April/March) is estimated at 110 600 tonnes, of which 69 700 tonnes are expected to be commercially imported. With 6 200 tonnes of food aid on hand and in the pipeline at the beginning of the marketing year, there remains an uncovered maize deficit of 34 700 tonnes which will need to be covered by additional international donor assistance.
Access to adequate food supplies remains a serious issue for poor households, in view of falling household incomes, high unemployment, and the impact of HIV/AIDS. Available data show that per capita maize consumption is falling without being substituted with other foods. This is compounded by existing inefficient marketing and pricing policies which work against poor consumers. These policies need to be reviewed and reformed.
Despite increased crop production at national level this year, food access for many households remains precarious especially in the Lowveld, Middleveld and Peri Urban regions. The contributing factors include the impact of HIV/AIDS, increasing unemployment due to recent closure of textile factories and rising poverty which have resulted in low purchasing power and diminished livelihoods. Although maize prices have dropped over the season by 10percent compared to last, the overall 45 percent price increase since 2002 continues to put a significant strain on households' budgets, making it increasingly difficult for the poor to purchase enough food.
It is estimated that 226 640 people will face severe food shortages of 4-6 months during the 2005/6 marketing year, with another 260 000 suffering from food shortages of shorter duration. The Swazi VAC estimates that approximately 27 020 tonnes of cereals (or cash equivalent) will be needed to meet the deficit of the affected households.