That there has been a food crisis in Southern Africa needs no debate. That the SADC region is facing growing food insecurity also needs no debate. What is the subject of wide ranging debate among scholars; policy makers and other stakeholders are the causes and remedies of this agrarian malaise and the ever-rising food insecurity. Various aspects of this debate have sought to answer such crucial questions as: How did Southern Africa's food situation deteriorate to such disturbing levels? What are the fundamental causes of food deficits of this magnitude in the SADC region? How have SADC governments intervened in the food and agricultural sector? What about country disparities - why do some countries seem to cope better than others? What are the key on-going policy processes, especially at regional level, to deal with the problem, and who are the key actors?
To throw light on some of these questions, this paper discusses the current status of food security at both Africa and SADC levels. It then discusses the twin concepts of food self-sufficiency and food security in the context of improved household livelihoods and nutritional status. The paper then goes on to discuss the fundamental causes both at Africa and SADC level. It then attempts to propose a cross section of strategies, mainly of a qualitative nature, to address the current causes. The qualitative strategies are discussed as a basis for further research to develop evidence-based quantitative data as a basis for policy reform. The paper takes the view that food security is a regional objective and concludes by discussing the key on-going regional policy processes and the current key regional players in the food sub-sector.
In discussing the current status the paper points out what has been described as the "lethal mix" of "HIV and AIDS, recurring drought and failing governance" (WFP, 2005) as the leading causes of social disintegration in the SADC region. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is named as a contributing factor in declaring a state of food emergency in Lesotho and Swaziland; although the disease is deeply affecting the entire sub-region. The paper discusses the declining food output per capita in Africa as a region (FAO, 1993). It observes, however, that most countries in the SADC sub-region recorded an overall production output growth over the period 1992-2002 - and that food insecurity in the sub-region was precipitated mainly by the recurrent 1991-92 and 2001-03 food crises. The declining growth rate of food production is discussed especially in the context of an average annual population growth rate of 3%.
The shift in food trade positions is discussed - declining exports and expanding food imports. The increasing dependence on food aid in the period 1992-2005 for a sub-region that was almost free of food aid in 1981(except for Mozambique) is discussed as a sign of danger (World Development Indicators, 2002). The paper takes the view that food is the most basic necessity for all human beings and providing sufficient food of adequate nutritional quality for everyone, in Africa and the world at large, should be the first development objective of every government.
In discussing the twin concepts of food security and food self-sufficiency, the paper points out that there is a basic difference between food self-sufficiency and food security regardless of which concept of food security is emphasised. While self-sufficiency emphasises domestic production and internal food sufficiency - food security accommodates other variables like livelihoods, nutritional value, coping structures, vulnerability and food imports and food aid - both sub-sets of economic interdependence. In its broader perspective, food security should address the question of poverty within the households. Mazonde, 1999, argues that the concern for food security is rooted in the uneven distribution of income and that in most African countries there is considerable disparity among the population. This is what prompts Mkandawire and Matlosa, 1999, to suggest that food insecurity in Southern African countries clearly assumes a clear-cut class character and that researchers need to move to addressing the social-political and policy-related structural changes central to the region's food insecurity
Several definitions of food security are discussed and the essential elements isolated. According to the FAO, 2003, the essential elements are identified as ensuring availability through production of adequate food supplies, maximising stability in the flow of these supplies, and access to the available supplies on the part of those who need them. Food utilisation - both the way that food is prepared and distributed between individuals within the household, and the individual capacity to absorb and utilize nutrients in the food consumed - is discussed as a very critical component as well (www.ifad.org/gender/thematic/rural/rural_2.htm). The paper observes that, food availability is no longer the key issue in many parts of the world. Access and utilisation are now the priorities but in many countries in Southern Africa, issues relating to food availability remain central. According to FFSSA, 2004,internal coping structures within a society are critical to achieving food security- especially in the face of the recent food crises. The paper points out, that food insecurity, in turn, then implies the lack of access to enough food. This, therefore, means that there are two kinds of food insecurity - chronic and transitory - where chronic food insecurity refers to a continuously inadequate diet caused by the inability to acquire food and transitory food insecurity to a temporally decline in a household's access to enough food.
The paper then discusses the causes and drivers of food insecurity at length. The following key causes are discussed: the structural characteristics identifiable with the patterns of production, consumption and exchange of the African economy; wrong assumptions about low technology adoption levels by smallholder farmers; the politics of food; the "cash crop syndrome"; and population growth and urbanisation. Inadequate food production is also discussed as one of the major causes especially in the context of low scientific and technological application; low technology adoption levels by smallholder farmers; the unrecognised role of women producers, low research of food crops; over emphasis of cash crops; low diversification of food production capacity and low public investment in the food sub-sector. The "lethal mix" of HIV and AIDS, drought and failing governance are also discussed. The paper discusses increasing food imports and food aid, economic failures and increasing household vulnerability as the other attendant causes. The structural causes discussed include: the predominance of subsistence production and commercial activities; the narrow production base with ill-adapted technology; the neglected informal sector; the degraded environment; lopsided development due to urban bias of public policies; the fragmentation of the economy; the openness and excessive dependence of national economies on external factor inputs and influence; weak institutional capabilities; and inappropriate government agricultural policies
Many strategies for achieving food security are discussed mainly from a qualitative view that is aimed at stimulating quantitative and action research aimed at yielding evidence-based data that would lead to policy reform. The strategies discussed include: complementary Support Systems for smallholder farmers which include access to more efficient technologies and credit, intentional increased women access to factors of production, and improved domestic markets. Increasing domestic production through the development of regional natural resources, strengthening and diversifying food production capacity, increasing public investment allocations to the food sub-sector, providing simple low-cost technology packages to small farmers, increased human and capital investments, and new innovative institutional arrangements, is discussed. Agricultural and macro-economic reform, new levels of political commitment; and an improved agric-industrial sector are also discussed. Increased social and nutritional research, special attention to soil and water; resources, and a conducive economic environment are discussed as critical pre-requisites. Special public effort in increasing rural non-farm employment is discussed as a critical alternative to any efforts to improve household food security. Improved macro-economic policies accompanied by new levels of political will are discussed as the critical drivers for any meaningful gains. The rate of economic growth, the direction of growth, the institutional structure of the national economy, the distribution of income, the national trade policy regime, exchange rates, interest rates; political will for policy implementation are all discussed as critical determinants for any progress in agriculture. A new transformational ethic and philosophy, a new political transformation is discussed as the only real basis for turning the situation around. Food security must be tackled as a regional objective. International and regional food trade must take a new turn.
Selective support for food production to avoiding over production, country specialisation, Strengthening the subsistence sub-sector, changing pricing policy to favour producers, producer incentives; guaranteed minimum price for food crops through food reserves are all discussed as critical strategies. Institutional reforms for improved land tenure including land reform laws and access to sufficient land are also discussed. The paper also discusses the need for new set of supportive policies for women producers and these have been classified as: stimulative; supportive and sustaining policies. A new focus on extension services for women has been discussed including training more female extension workers; women group loans; innovative methodology to improve women's functional literacy levels; economic incentives as well as business and enterprise development skills. New public efforts to tackle the impact of HIV and AIDS on agriculture and food security have been recommended. There is urgent need for governments in the SADC region to quantify what prevalence levels ranging from 20 - 40 percent mean in terms of food security in the short, medium and longer term.
Key on-going regional policy processes by different stakeholders in the FANR sector are discussed in the paper with the view to building synergy as well as identifying gaps that could be filled by other stakeholders especially civil society and other social movements. Six regional processes have been discussed. The SADC-FANR directorate is currently involved in the following regional policy processes and programmes: The Regional Food Reserve Facility; SADC Agricultural Information and Management System (AIMS); SADC-FANR Institutional Strengthening Programme; Food Security Capacity Building Programme; Statistical Crop Forecasting Methodology Programme; Multi-Country Agricultural Productivity Programme (MAPP); Agricultural Water Management for Food Security Programme; SADC Bio-safety Programme; Regional Land Reform Technical Facility; Agricultural Trade Platform; the SADC biofuel project - farming for energy; the SADC Seed Security Programme, and the SADC Regional Remote Sensing Unit. The four pillars of the NEPAD's Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) have been discussed. These include: Extending the area under sustainable land management and reliable water control systems; Improving rural infrastructure and trade related capacities for market accesses; Increasing food supply, reducing hunger, and improving responses to food emergency crises; and improving agriculture research, technology dissemination and adoption - to provide the scientific underpinning necessary for long-term productivity and competitiveness. FAO, DFID, EU and USAID regional programmes and initiatives are also discussed.
The paper finally discusses the key regional players with a special focus on civil society regional networks involved in policy programmes in the FANR sector at regional level. The main purpose of this is to explore opportunities for linkages and synergy. The policies and programmes being implemented by these actors are discussed. The following players are discussed in the paper: SADC's FANR directorate; ZERO regional organisation; IUCN Regional Office for Southern Africa (ROSA); the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN); the Southern Africa Regional Poverty Network (SARPN), the Participatory Ecological Land-Use Management Association (PELUM); and the SADC council of NGOs
In conclusion, the thematic thrust of the paper is that food security is a regional objective beyond the confines of a single state and that collective self-reliance is the most critical strategy that will enable the region to harness it resources and ensure a food secure population. The paper is a call to other actors, especially civil society and the private sector to join hands with the main actor at regional level - the national governments - and jointly design a new scheme of things - policies based on a new transformational ethic - that will transform the food sub-sector into a real engine for economic growth and ensure food security in the long term.