Malawi + 3 more

Southern Africa food crisis deepens

News and Press Release
Originally published
CARE Australia warns a deepening humanitarian crisis is looming -- with up to 13,000,000 people threatened by severe famine -- across southern Africa, including Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
As the United Nations' World Food Program preferred partner for emergency food distributions in the region, CARE advises that 8,000,000 people are already on the brink of starvation. Immediate emergency food assistance is needed, as previously predicted food shortages now begin to bite.

According to CARE Australia CEO, Paul Mitchell, the mounting famine is the result of a combination of devastating drought (the worst in 20 years), critical harvest failures (between 76% and 100% of crop losses are common) and resultant sharp price increases (up by 300%), and difficult political factors. All of which has been exacerbated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic sweeping much of the continent.

"Lean harvests are common in rural Africa and villagers are adept at managing and surviving," Mr Mitchell said. "But this is much different. The crop collapse this harvest-time is causing a crisis, expected to escalate over the next 12 months.

"In some instances, Malawi, Lesotho, Zambia, Swaziland, parts of Mozambique and much of Zimbabwe have seen entire subsistence crops of the staple maize, as well as groundnuts, cotton and even drought-resistent sorghum, completely fail. Even the game and wild fruits that communities rely on in times of trouble are now all but gone.

"Families are forced to sell livestock and other possessions, at low prices, for food. But this is only a temporary solution. Starvation now threatens around eight million people, most vulnerable are the children, the elderly, pregnant and nursing women, and those already sick and isolated by the spread of HIV/AIDS."

The drought has been devastating. Zimbabwe has had its lowest rainfall in 20 years -- there has been no rain since last November. Greater food pressures are expected until the next main harvest, around April next year.

"Throughout the region, coping mechanisms like reducing the number of meals, resorting to eating seed stock, and in desperation eating poisonous wild foods and selling assets such as livestock, are already taking place," Mr Mitchell said. "Naturally, people are concerned for the here-and-now, but consumption of seed stock will have damaging implications for next year's harvests, with less seed available to plant.

"Prices for available food, where it is available, have soared by 300% making it prohibitively expensive. In many areas there is simply no food in the markets or stores. Around four million tonnes of food will need to be delivered to meet immediate survival needs.

"Already the death rate from starvation is rising, and widespread malnutrition and stunting of children has been reported."

CARE is responding to this 'creeping' crisis with emergency food assistance programs throughout the region, including feeding children and general food distributions in Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique to address immediate survival needs. These operations are in addition to long-term food security projects, averting future food crises, CARE is supporting throughout southern Africa.

Note: Please scroll down for a FACT SHEET denoting Background, Situation Reports and CARE's Response for each of these countries.

CNN have footage out of Malawi, taken in the last week.

Media Contact: For more information or further comment from Mr Mitchell, contact Brett Heffernan on (02) 6279 0250 or 0419 567 777.


The United Nations' run Food and Agriculture Organisation has declared the current crisis to be one of southern Africa's worst agricultural disasters in a decade. In response, CARE has been working with communities in southern Africa to address their most threatening problems, to harness the ingenuity and determination of local people to find lasting solutions to poverty.



With 9.4 million people, the central African country of Zambia encompasses 750,614 square kilometres (slightly smaller than New South Wales) and borders The Democratic Republic of Congo in the north, Tanzania in the northeast, Malawi and Mozambique in the east, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia in the south, and Angola in the west. Lusaka is the capital and largest city.

85% of Zambians work the country's relatively infertile soil as subsistence farmers; commercial agriculture is mostly confined to a small number of large farms. The leading crops are corn, sorghum, rice, peanuts, sunflower seeds, tobacco, sugarcane and cotton. Zambians also raise cattle and other livestock, and support a small fishing industry.

The average life expectancy in Zambia is 37 years. The country has an infant mortality rate of 112 per 1,000 live births and a maternal mortality rate of 650 per 100,000 live births.

Situation Report:

Severe food shortages and hunger are expected to affect 2.4 million people as a result of two years of drought and poor harvests. The April harvest is low as a result of severe drought in the southern and western provinces.

A recent CARE assessment of crop failure found that 8 out of 10 surveyed reported maize crop losses of 76-100%. Groundnut crops have also been destroyed.

Average household maize yields are estimated at two 90kg bags, compared to the requirements of 15 bags. 80% of households have already run out of maize, the staple diet.

Coping mechanisms normally activated in November when food shortages set in have already begun, such as reducing number of daily meals, eating green unripe crops, selling livestock and eating seeds. This will negatively impact upon the next year's harvest to reduction in seed stock for planting.

CARE Response:

In Zambia, CARE is refocusing food distributions to hard-hit areas. CARE is chairing a group of government agencies and non-governmental organisations with a focus on food security, advocacy and lobbying regarding the drought and food needs. CARE has mounted the country's only comprehensive food-shortage survey, which will contribute to a larger, multi-organisational assessment of the situation in Zambia. The results will help efforts to provide food now and develop strategies for the future. CARE also is assisting agencies working in other critical regions of the country, such as Eastern province.

  • Preparing for major emergency response.

  • World Food Programme's favoured partner for emergency food distributions. Currently implementing food distribution activities in Southern Province of 1,200MT/month with possible increases to over 3000MT/month in near future.

  • Heading up Food Sector sub committee of emergency response forum. Has conducted food security assessment in Southern and Western regions.

  • Currently designing food for work programs ad assessing feasibility of province wide school feeding and nutritional surveys, feeding programs for HIV/AIDS vulnerable children and agricultural input activities.

  • CARE began operations in Zambia in January 1992. An estimated 550,000 people have since benefited from our programs.



Zimbabwe is a 390,000 square kilometre country (roughly half the size of New South Wales) in south-central Africa, bordered on the north by Zambia, on the northeast and east by Mozambique, on the south by South Africa and on the southwest and west by Botswana. Harare is the capital and largest city.

Zimbabwe's official language is English. Zimbabwe's economy is basically agricultural, with tobacco the principal cash crop and corn the chief food source. Other products include cotton, sorghum, peanuts, wheat, sugarcane, soybeans and coffee. There also are numerous tea plantations in the country, and dairy production is important in the high veldt. Forests in southeastern Zimbabwe yield valuable hardwoods, including teak and mahogany.

Situation Report:

  • Zimbabwe is experiencing the longest dry spell in 20 years, where it has not rained since November, translating into poor harvests and subsequent shortages of maize meal -- the staple of the local diet.

  • According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), there has been a 54% reduction in the area planted for maize on large-scale commercial farms, leading to a significant decline in the overall maize harvest.

  • Up to 500,000 people face severe hunger, according to World Food Programme (WFP).

  • Despite government-imposed attempts to control prices, the cost of maize has increased 300% in recent months.

  • The overall cereal deficit is 1.5 million tonnes, even after current food aid pledges.

  • 6 to 8 million people are estimated to need emergency food aid.

  • Food shortages are being experienced nation-wide.

CARE Response:

  • Providing supplementary feeding for 125,000 children under the age of 14 daily, which is expected to be scaled up.

  • General food distributions for WFP for 200,000 people since March, also likely to be scaled up significantly.

  • In discussions to move food for sale into rural areas.

  • CARE Australia has a food security project in Zimbabwe.



  • At 118,485 square kilometres, the east-central African country of Malawi (roughly half the size of Victoria) is home to more than 9 million people. It borders Zambia in the west, Tanzania in the north, and Mozambique in the east, south and southwest. Lilongwe is the capital and Blantyre is its largest city.

  • About 90% of Malawi's population is rural.

  • English and Chichewa are the official languages.

  • Malawi is among the world's least-developed countries, with most of the population involved in subsistence agriculture. The principal crops are corn, cotton, millet, rice, peanuts, cassava and potatoes. Tea, tobacco, sugarcane and tung oil are produced on large estates.

  • Deforestation is a problem in Malawi as the growing population uses more wood (the major energy source) and forests are cleared for farms. Malawi's few manufactures are limited to basic goods, such as processed food and beverages, lumber, textiles, construction materials and small consumer goods.

  • According to a recent World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) assessment, 3.2 million people in Malawi need food aid, owing to, among other things, several poor harvests, low stocks of maize and rapidly rising food prices.

Situation Report:

  • Dry spells and food shortages earlier in the year forced farmers to consume their crops prematurely.

  • Maize harvest is now poor for the second year running and coping mechanisms have already been activated.

  • Assets such as livestock were consumed earlier in the year.

  • Abnormally high rates of malnutrition have already been recorded.

  • More than 3,000,000 people are seriously affected by reduced food and will require emergency food aid over the year ahead.

  • No food reserves are available in the country to mitigate the disaster.

CARE Response:

In Malawi, CARE has expanded our agricultural activities and is distributing extra cassava cuttings to farmers. CARE belongs to a network of community groups and organisations that has called for the government to distribute free maize to the most vulnerable people and to establish a plan to prevent future food shortages. This network has targeted 90,000 farmers through the distribution of pamphlets explaining what people can do to support members of their community. In addition, CARE is preparing for a long-term emergency response.

  • CARE Australia is supporting long term livelihood security activities for poor farmers in Malawi.

  • Preparing for emergency response.



  • At 799,614 square kilometres (roughly the size of New South Wales), and located in southeast Africa, Mozambique borders the Indian Ocean and is home to some 19 million people. Maputo, the capital city, lies at the southern tip of the country.

  • Mozambique was ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world in 1994, but achieved one of the highest economic growth rates in the world in 1997-98.

  • The country is still struggling to recover from a 16-year civil war that ended in 1992.

  • Residents of Mozambique have an average life expectancy of nearly 46 years and an average literacy rate of 40%.

  • Portuguese is the official language.

  • The country's economy is largely dependent on agriculture, which employs 80% of the population. Major crops include cotton, cashew nuts, sugarcane, tea, cassava, corn, rice and tropical fruits.

Situation Report:

  • Through the first half of 2002, almost no rain fell in the southern half of Mozambique.

  • According to the Ministry of Agriculture, almost 83,690 hectares of crops have been lost this season and 69,900 households have been severely affected.

  • In affected regions, 90-100% crop loss.

  • Severe food shortages evident and expected to continue for 6-10 months starting May 2002.

  • Availability of traditional coping mechanisms limited due to effects of drought.

  • Households already vulnerable with few assets from last years floods.

CARE response:

In Mozambique, CARE is expanding our agricultural and income-generating activities. We're preparing to distribute water cans and provide seeds for crops with staggered production cycles, which will allow a continual harvest for several months. The crops (tomato, onion, lettuce, Brussels sprouts and cabbage) grow quickly and can be watered by hand. CARE will continue introducing communities to drought-resistant crops, such as sweet potatoes and pineapples. And we're working with the government and non-governmental organisations to develop a strategy for a sustained response to the drought.

  • Supporting long term food security programs with drought resistant crops.

  • Currently designing mitigation activities to be followed by later emergency response activities.

  • Planned activities include seed distribution for fast growing crops, small scale irrigation projects, food for work activities and later free food distributions.