Late rains, floods dampen regional food security situation
Mar. 2015 Southern African News Features by Kizito Sikuka - SANF 15 no 10
Late rains and floods that affected most parts of southern Africa late last year and early this year have subdued the overall food security situation in the region, which has otherwise been impressive over the last few years.
This was said by the SADC Executive Secretary Dr. Lawrence Stergomena Tax at the recent SADC Council of Ministers meeting held in Harare, Zimbabwe on 6-7 March.
“The food security situation in the region is expected to be less that satisfactory during the 2015/16 marketing year as a result of poor rains in most parts of the region, dry spells in some areas, and floods in other areas,” she said.
Dr Tax could not, however, give the estimate figures on what the region is expected to harvest this year, saying that SADC “will continue to monitor the situation and support early warning for food security and vulnerability assessments in the member states.”
According to a regional food security assessment presented at the 34th SADC Summit held in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe in August last year, the region had recorded a cereal surplus of more than 670,000 metric tonnes during the previous agricultural marketing season year.
Factors for this surplus included good rainfall, better access to inputs such as seeds and fertilizer, as well as credit facilities and extension services.
While significant progress has been made by the region to provide improved inputs and services to farmers, natural conditions such as rainfall and floods have affected the 2015/16 marketing year.
For example, recent floods that affected parts of southern Africa between December 2014 and February 2015, have caused extensive damage to crops, livestock and infrastructure in countries such as Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Malawian President Peter Mutharika had to declare a state of disaster in 15 districts after more than 200 people died and 500,000 more displaced by floods.
In Mozambique, at least 27,838 households were reported to have suffered crop losses over an area of 33,648 hectares due to floods.
“We wish to express our sympathies and condolences to the governments and people of Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe for the loss of lives and destruction of properties as a result of the recent floods in these member states,” Dr Tax said.
Chairperson of the SADC Council of Ministers, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi said it was now time for the region to seek innovative ways of dealing with such problems associated with changes in weather patterns.
“Increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods will adversely affect key sectors of the regional economy including agriculture,” Mumbengegwi, who is also Zimbabwean Foreign Affairs Minister said.
“While this is not a new phenomenon it calls into question our readiness to deal with major disasters.”
For example, to deal with poor rains, SADC could invest more in regional water infrastructure development such as irrigation, allowing the region to farm all year around and not only depend on climatic conditions.
The potential for irrigating land in the SADC region is large as the region is hugely endowed with watercourses such as the Congo, Limpopo, and Zambezi rivers.
To address the situation of less food in one particular season, or other parts of the region, SADC needs to improve its transport network and storage facilities so that agricultural produce can move smoothly from one place to another.
Furthermore, storage facilities allow farmers to store their harvest for use in poor seasons, and according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, post-harvest crop losses is SADC is estimated to be as high as 40 percent.
Other key interventions to boost agriculture in SADC include increasing budget allocations to agriculture as well as targeted subsidy programmes that result in farmers accessing agricultural inputs and farm implements at cheaper rates.
This is in line with the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) which was formulated in 2003 by the African Union to encourage countries to reach a higher path of economic growth through agriculture-led development.
Under this continent-wide programme, African governments made a commitment to allocate at least 10 percent of their national budgets to the agricultural sector each year.
Ultimately, this ambitious and broad vision for agricultural reform in Africa aspires for an average annual growth rate of six percent in agriculture.
Agriculture is the backbone of most economies in southern Africa, and more than 62 percent of the SADC region’s 277 million people are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods.