Johannesburg, July 7, 2005 - In 2002, WFP launched a massive regional appeal to help feed 14 million of hungry people in Southern Africa. Three years later, the agency is still struggling to feed millions of hungry people in six countries - and the humanitarian crisis is far from over.
Reports compiled by WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) - following recent joint Crop and Food Supply Assessment Missions (CFSAMs) - show that Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia have not been able to grow enough food to meet domestic needs and that serious food shortages will persist from now until the next harvest in May 2006.
Other Vulnerability Assessment Committee (VAC) reports, compiled by the southern Africa Development Community, together with the United Nations, non-government organisations, and the governments of Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe all reinforce the need for large-scale food assistance across the region at the household level.
The CFSAM reports indicate that about 2.8 million tonnes of food will need to be commercially imported in the six countries to meet the largest part of the shortfall. In addition, the VAC reports estimate that the international community will need to provide about 730,000 tonnes of food aid to support the region's most vulnerable people.
In total, over 10 million people will need international assistance this year in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. WFP plans to feed 8.3 million of the most vulnerable through to June 2006, reassessing needs after next year's harvest.
Of the total amount of food aid required by the six countries, US$266 million or 477,000 tonnes must be pledged immediately so that WFP can either buy food locally with cash donations, or ship it to the region in time to meet the escalating needs between now and the next lean season from January to March 2006 - the period when food stocks are scarcest and people's access to cash reserves and other assets are at their lowest point.
This year's food shortages are caused by a number of factors, but primarily, erratic weather and late or unaffordable inputs such as seeds and fertilizer have played the biggest roles. The impacts of HIV/AIDS and chronic poverty are also significant contributors to the region's continued problematic agricultural output.
With nine of the ten highest prevalence rates in the world, HIV/AIDS has brought a new deadly dynamic to the food shortages of southern Africa.
In the worst-hit areas, the virus' debilitating effects means farmers can't plant their land, let alone obtain seeds and fertilisers. Agricultural knowledge traditionally passed down from generation to generation is being lost.
Use this country-by-country guide for quick updates on the status of the southern Africa food crisis.
Even though Lesotho produced 15 percent more maize this year than in 2004, assessment teams suspect the country's cereal production is in a downward trend because of long-term soil erosion, erratic weather and the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
It is estimated that 549,000 people will face significant food shortages from now until May 2006, and more than 20,000 tonnes of maize will be needed to shore up the national cereal gap.
Malawi is facing its lowest maize harvest since 1992, producing just 1.25 million tonnes or 37 percent of the 3.4 million tonnes of cereals needed for national consumption each year.
This decline was caused by erratic weather which has plagued Malawi together with problems in the supply of agricultural inputs.
Hopes of a good harvest this year were dashed by a prolonged dry spell at the most critical growing stage.
The Malawi VAC estimates that 4.2 million people or 34 percent of the population will need assistance equivalent to 272,000 tonnes of maize over the year ahead. The number of people in need will rise if maize prices increase significantly.
Much of Mozambique experienced a reasonably good cereal production in comparison to other countries in the region.
According to the Mozambique CFSAM, the country produced about 1.92 million tonnes of cereals, just three percent lower than a year ago, but the production disparity between the north and the south increased significantly.
Three provinces in the north produced increases 12 percent above last year, while the harvest in the south of the country declined by 43 percent.
While national cassava production improved, an estimated 70,000 tonnes of cereals to feed 580,000 people will still be required this year, according to the Mozambique VAC.
The need will be particularly acute in the south and central provinces where HIV/AIDS, recurrent disasters, weak health services and poverty are combining to undermine the country's food security.
While Swaziland's CFSAM indicates maize production at just over 82,000 tonnes or about 10 percent higher than last year's harvest, it is still six percent below the five-year average.
The improvement is attributed to more favourable rainfall and increased use of chemical fertilizers combined with farmyard manure in the Highveld and Middleveld.
However, the Lowveld and parts of Lubombo suffered serious crop failure due to poor rainfall. The assessment team also urged an urgent reform of the country's existing maize pricing and marketing policies.
The Swaziland VAC estimates that up to 227,000 people will face severe food shortages from August through to the next harvest.
In Zambia, a series of dry spells and early cessation of rains, especially in the southern and western provinces, together with constraints related to seeds and fertilizers, sharply reduced yields and cereal production.
According to the Zambia CFSAM, the late availability of seeds and fertilizers were also factors in the country's lower cereal production.
As a result, Zambia needs to import 269,000 tonnes of cereals this year, compared with a surplus of 280,000 tonnes last year.
The Zambia VAC estimates that 185,000 people require immediate food or cash assistance, rising to 1.2 million people by January.
A preliminary Zimbabwe VAC report indicates that 2.9 million people will require food aid over the year ahead or an estimated 36 percent of Zimbabwe's rural population.
The number of people in need is based upon the Government's announced plan to import 1.2 million tonnes of maize to address food shortages, caused by drought, inadequate access to inputs and limited tillage.
However, if this maize is not made available through the Grain Marketing Board, or if it increases in price, the number of people requiring food assistance could rise substantially.
As a contingency, WFP plans to assist up to four million people in Zimbabwe in the year ahead.