Malawi + 2 more

Southern Africa food crisis Oxfam International update 17 Sept 2002

Situation Report
Originally published
UN Appeal and a worsening situation

Results of a three-week Vulnerability Assessment, co-ordinated by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), indicate that the food crisis in the region is worsening faster than was originally projected. An additional 1.6 million people in the region are in urgent need of food aid and other humanitarian assistance over the next seven months - bringing the total in need to 14.4 million. The situation has deteriorated most in Zambia and Zimbabwe.

A two-week United Nations (UN) mission to Southern Africa reinforced the assessment's findings. The UN state that the crisis must be an absolute priority for the international community and that, although the most severe and widespread hunger is not likely to occur until later this year, rapidly increasing numbers of people need a steady supply of food aid now to avoid what they are calling 'a crisis of incredible proportions'. Currently, the UN Consolidated Appeal, which is looking for US$507 million to provide food aid across the region over the next nine months, stands at only 36 per cent funded. However, the UN is confident that it will receive an additional 30 per cent, which is currently under negotiation.


The current food crisis is compounded across the region by catastrophic rates of HIV/AIDS, which are undermining the ability of many families to earn money or to grow food. Women are often responsible for the production of household food crops, but in many cases they are becoming increasing involved in taking care of the chronically ill. Food production in AIDS-affected households is generally 60 per cent lower than the norm.

In Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe there has been an increase in the number of child-headed households, and it is common for grandparents to be caring for ten or more children due to AIDS-related deaths. According to UNICEF, there are 4.2 million AIDS orphans in the six worst-affected countries. One of the long term consequenses of this is that agricultural skills are often not passed down from one generation to the next.

Many of the coping strategies employed as a result of the food crisis are putting people at further risk of HIV/AIDS infection. Lack of food and money is pushing people into risky situations, including young girls and women who resort to sex work, or to sexual relationships in order to obtain food and money. There is also an added risk of HIV transmission through the increased use of truck drivers and workers involved in the transporting and distribution of aid.

Genetically Modified (GM) Maize

The GM issue has emerged as the 'Number One' political problem affecting food aid operations in Southern Africa. African governments and civil society organisations have raised concerns about the possible impact on human health of eating GM foods, possible loss of export opportunities, and potential effects on agriculture if GM genes cross into local varieties.

As a result of the GM problem, the supply of food to affected countries is in danger of being cut. This is because there are insufficient quantities of non-GM maize available in the region to provide an alternative supply. Milling is one option but donors are currently not providing the extra money needed for the milling process (Switzerland is an exception). Milling also brings other problems, including a deterioration in shelf-life of the food (from 10 to three months), lack of capacity in some countries to mill the quantities of maize needed, and delays in food distributions.

Individual governments are taking different positions on the issue of GM. Zimbabwe is agreeing to take GM maize from the USA providing that it is milled prior to distribution. Malawi is now saying that from the start of October, all GM maize should be milled (although WFP is lobbying the Malawian government to change its mind), and Zambia will not take GM maize even if it is milled. Mozambique is taking milled GM maize, and Swaziland and Lesotho are currently accepting un-milled GM maize, although Lesotho may insist that it be milled.

Oxfam's response

Aims of Oxfam's response

As well as addressing immediate needs, Oxfam's response is intended to achieve long-term solutions to overcoming future food shortages in Southern Africa. It's five objectives are:

1. Ensuring adequate access to food to meet immediate needs

2. Supporing communities to enable them to increase food production in the short- and medium- term

3. Improving the capacity of affected communities, partners and local government to respond to the food crisis with diverse strategies

4. Integration of public health measures to maximise and ensure the impact of food interventions

5. Lobbying and advocacy work at national, regional and global levels, to address causes, and ensure the quality of the humanitarian response to the crisis.

Programme Update


The primary cause of the current food deficit in Malawi is the regional phenomenon of cyclical drought, the current phase of which began last year. This, combined with sporadic flooding, and economic factors, - such as lack of credit for small farmers - has led to predictions that 3.2 million people will be vulnerable by December. The current shortage of maize, the preferred staple of the vast majority of Malawians, combined with a poor harvest last year which left few carry over stocks, has meant that many people are already reaching a stage of near destitution.

Oxfam GB is planning to work in three districts in the badly-affected Southern Region: Mulanje, Thyolo and Phalombe.

1.Ensuring adequate access to food to meet immediate needs

Last month, Oxfam GB carried out its first round of food distributions in Malawi. World Food Programme (WFP)-supplied maize grains were distributed to 11,400 people from five distribution points in Mulanje district. A second round of distributions in Mulanje district, targeting a larger number of people, will begin on 18 September. As with the previous distribution, committees made up of community members have helped to ensure that food is distributed to those who need it most. Oxfam GB plans to continue distributions of WFP food in Mulanje until April next year.

Oxfam GB is currently carrying out a four-week survey to assess nutritional needs in the districts of Mulanje and Phalombe (Medecins Sans Frontieres are looking at needs in Thyolo). The survey began on 12 September and is being funded by UNICEF. Findings will be shared with other agencies and the Malawian authorities involved in the food crisis response.

2. Support to enable communities to increase food production in the short and medium-term

Next month, Oxfam GB will be beginning a main-cropping progamme in Mulanje, Thyolo and Phalombe districts. There are plans to distribute seeds, seedlings and fertilisers, along with 450 water pumps and 7,500 watering cans. 90,000 people will benefit from this distribution.

5.Lobbying and advocacy work at national, regional and global levels, to address the causes, and ensure the quality of the humanitarian response to the crisis

Oxfam GB is involved in protection work focusing on abuses against women and children.


The crisis in Zimbabwe is more acute and on a larger scale than in other countries in the region. More than 6.7 million people (roughly half the population) are estimated to be without sufficient food.

1. Ensuring adequate access to food to meet immediate needs.

Oxfam GB is currently finishing distributions of 220 metric tonnes (MT) of maize to 11,047 people in five wards of the northern part of Zhishavane district (Midlands province). Stocks of 14MT of oil, and 29MT of sugar beans will be distributed this week. The food currently being distributed should last people for the months of September and October.

Oxfam GB is also funding partners to carry out small-scale feeding programmes. Two local partners are carrying out supplementary feeding for 6,000 children of displaced farm workers and orphans. Other partners are carrying out feeding programmes for 2,000 orphans, and up to 4,000 children in semi-urban areas of Harare. Oxfam GB is also supporting a network of Zimbabwean NGOs who are are monitoring the food-security situation across the country.

Novib (the Dutch member of Oxfam International) is supporitng a partner to carry out supplementary feeding (porridge fortified with vitamins) to 45,000 children of farm workers - meeting one-third of the children's calorific needs. There are plans to expand this programme to reach 200,000 children in East, West and Central Mashonaland, and in Manicaland. Another Novib partner is providing supplementary feeding in the form of a nutritious drink (mahewu) to nine out of a target of 30 schools. The programme began on 11 September and will be completed by 25 September, and there are plans for it to reach 13,500 children

2. Support to enable communities to increase food production in the short- and medium-term

Stocks have been identified by Oxfam GB for planned distributions of seeds and fertilisers in Midlands and Masvingo provinces. This work, along with work to support the cultivation of vegetable gardens, should begin before the end of this month. Work will be carried out in areas of Midlands province where food distributions are taking place, and in areas of Masvingo where Oxfam GB is working on development projects.


The main subsistence crop for the majority of the poor rural population of Zambia is maize. A massive shortfall in production has left four million people with insufficient food and 2.9 million in immediate need of food aid. A response by Oxfam GB will focus on the Southern and Western provinces (the most seriously affected) covering six districts in total: Monze, Mazabuka, Choma and Siavonga in Southern Province and Shang'ombo and Senanga in Western Province.

1. Ensuring adequate access to food to meet immediate needs

Oxfam GB is planning to purchase ten trucks to transport WFP supplied food from Katima Mulilo, on the Zambian/Namibian border, to WFP partners in Shang'ombo District. 4,000 MT of food will be transported to the Nangweshi refugee camp where it will be distributed by CARE and 3,655 MT will be transported to rural areas in Shang'ombo where it will be distributed by Catholic Relief Services. The trucks will be purchased in South Africa and will be driven to Zambia, where drivers will attend a two-day workshop on HIV/AIDS awareness.

2. Support to enable communities to increase food production in the short- and medium-term

In Siavonga District, in the Southern Province, Oxfam GB is working with Harvest Help to help subsistence farmers to grow a second crop for harvest in three months time. Much of this vegetable crop will be sold by the 11,000 beneficiaries in order to gain an extra income. A distribution of 75,000 seedlings is now more than 50 per cent completed, and ten pumps and 25 irrigation kits have been installed to prepare the soil for planting.

In Senanga, Oxfam GB is supporting Keepers Foundation Zambia, which has just completed a distribution of 11MT of Maize seed, and is now helping 2,200 farmers to drain flooded fields in preparation for planting this seed. A total of 5,500 tools are being distributed in sets, which include machetes, sickles, spades, shovels and hoes. These tools will be shared by farmers who will use them to dig small drainage canals around areas of land where the maize seed will be planted. 13,200 people will benefit from this project.

4.Intergration of public health measures to maximise and ensure the impact of food intervention

Only 38 per cent of the population of Zambia has access to a clean water supply. Oxfam GB is taking the lead on creating a database containing information on water sources, and agency plans for borehole drilling and repair, in the districts where we are working. Oxfam GB has plans to drill 25 boreholes across Choma, Monze, Mazabuka, Siavonga and Senanga and will hand over the co-ordination role as soon as a suitable agency has been identified.


In Mozambique, up to 500,000 people are vulnerable to food shortages in the Southern and Central Provinces. Following a food security assessment carried out by Oxfam GB in June this year, a team made up of a project manager and a health expert has just completed a 12-day food security assessment, covering four provinces in the southern part of the country: Maputo, Gaza, Sofala and Inhambane. Preliminary findings indicate that food security, followed by HIV/AIDS, is the major problem affecting these districts.

The first harvest this year in the south of the country was very poor and although the second crop, harvested this month, has been normal, it will contribute only to about 15 per cent of the total estimated food needs. Pockets of real need have been identified in this part of the country, and suitable interventions would include the reinforcement of wells used for irrigation, and restocking of small livestock. This work should be strongly linked to HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. There is also a need to examine the feasibility of transporting food from the north of the country to the south. In the south, UN and government figures state that there is a shortfall of 70,000 MT of maize; but in the north of the country there is a surplus of 100,000 MT, which is also non-GM. However the government has concerns about the cost of transportation of this maize.

Oxfam GB is currently considering an intervention in Mozambique depending on the outcome of a detailed examination of the assessment results. The work would focus on food security and support of livelihoods, and would be integrated with public health work. Programme activities could include digging and protecting wells, repairing and constructing water-harvesting systems, distributing seeds and tools, hygiene kits and mosquito nets, and livestock restocking.

Lobbying, Advocacy and Media work

Advocacy work taking place within countries is part of a wider local, national and international strategy. Oxfam International is focusing its advocacy work around three main issues:

1.To ensure that urgent humanitarian needs are met. This will highlight that more aid is needed now, before the crisis turns into a full-blown, region-wide famine.

2.To ensure the international response is effective, and of a high-quality

3. To ensure that in long-term the problem does not continue to occur, through targeting international financial institutions (International Monetary Fund, World Bank) and governments to make sure they put the right to food at the top of their agendas.

Oxfam International used the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg to raise awareness of the food crisis affecting the region. At a press conference on 1 September Oxfam illustrated the impact of the crisis using recent video footage from Zambia. Barbara Stocking (Oxfam GB Director), and representatives from Zambia and the Southern Africa region presented the policy documents: Death on our Doorstep, and The Great EU Sugar Scam. These papers clearly show how unfair trade rules and policies - made by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank - have contributed to the current crisis. Oxfam organised a high-profile stunt, which involved dumping sugar sachets at cafés and restaurants at the Summit. The sachets were emblazoned with the message: Made in Europe - Dumped in Africa. Warning: devastating to African farmers.

Media interest in Oxfam's messages was high. An indication of this was the reaction to Oxfam's press release Crumbs for the Poor (accusing the WSSD of turning its back on the poor). The 3 September release was picked up by TV and radio stations across the world including: CNN (twice), Sky News (UK), BBC World, CBS (America), ABC TV and radio (Australia), Swedish, Italian, and German TV, British Channel 5, Canadian, Dutch, and British radio, French international radio, and wire services. It was also reported on by many South African TV channels and newspapers.

In August, Oxfam Community Aid Abroad (CAA) worked with other agencies to organise a media visit to Malawi. A 15-minute documentary on the food crisis in Malawi - A Time Bomb Waiting to Go Off - will be broadcast on 18 September in Australia. CAA is continuing its advocacy efforts through a letter-writing campaign to the Australian Prime Minister on food requirements across the Region.