FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission to Swaziland

Originally published


Mission Highlights

- Prolonged dry spells and high temperature levels at critical stages of the maize crop development have decimated Swaziland's maize crop, resulting in the lowest annual harvest on record.

- Maize production in 2006/07 is estimated at about 26 000 tonnes, nearly 60 percent below last year's level.

- Total cereal import requirement in the 2007/08 marketing year (April/March) is estimated at about 173 800 tonnes, of which 129 000 tonnes are expected to be imported commercially.

- With about 4 800 tonnes of food aid in stocks and in the pipeline as of 1 April 2007, the uncovered deficit, for which international assistance is needed, is estimated at 40 000 tonnes.

- Extended dry conditions and ensuing water shortages caused some stress on livestock, but late rains improved pasture and animal conditions in most parts of the country. Livestock production is expected to help offset, to some extent, the impact of crop failure.

- The high prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS will likely exacerbate the already severe impact of adverse weather through ill health, income inequality and poverty.

- A targeted approach for food aid is required, focused on mitigating adverse effects on the most vulnerable households, and on direct support to those with no access to sufficient food and agricultural inputs.

- Timely support is also recommended with agricultural inputs, including seeds, fertilizers, credit facilities, as well as tractor availability to revive production capacity in time for the 2007/08 cropping season.

- The apparent pattern of erratic and late rains in the last several years requires a speedier uptake of appropriate farming strategies and techniques.

- A total of about 407 000 food insecure and vulnerable people will need assistance of approximately 40 000 tonnes of food to meet basic consumption needs and protect their livelihoods..


Swaziland continues to suffer below-average and declining maize production because of erratic rainfall patterns, which are exacerbating the impact of rising unemployment and increased poverty. The rainfall pattern in the 2006/07 cropping season was generally characterized by a late start in November and a prolonged dry spell coupled with high temperatures in most parts of the country affecting maize at the critical development and flowering stage between January to March. Concerned about the potential impact of the dry spell on the nation's staple maize production, the Government of Swaziland requested FAO and WFP for assistance in assessing crop performance and overall food situation for the 2007/08 marketing year (April/March).

Consequently, an FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission visited Swaziland from 8 to 22 April 2007 to estimate the 2006/07 maize harvest and import requirements - including food assistance - for the 2007/08 marketing year (April/March).

The Mission's findings are based on discussions held with relevant government units, including various departments of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MoAC), Central Statistical Office (CSO), National Meteorological Services (NMS), National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA), Central Bank of Swaziland, United Nations Country Team, various NGOs, parastatals such as National Maize Corporation (NMC) and National Agricultural Marketing Board (NAMBOARD), major milling companies including Ngwane Mills, and Swazi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (VAC).

Field visits were conducted in four teams to all Rural Development Areas (RDA) of the country's four regions. Available relevant reports and documents were reviewed, and satellite-based estimated rainfall and normalized difference vegetation indices (NDVI) were analysed. Pre-harvest data on area were provided by CSO and preliminary model based yield estimates were later provided by NMS. The Mission then crosschecked and adjusted data where necessary, following field inspections, interviews with farmers and extension and senior extension officers and spot-check crop measurements, where possible. The Mission was accompanied in the field by government officials from MoAC, CSO, NMS, Ministry of Health and Social Work (MoHSW), NERCHA, NDMA; NGO representatives from World Vision International (WVI) and Lutheran Development Service (LDS); Africa Cooperative Action Trust (ACAT); and from the UN agencies of UNICEF and WHO. Members of the UN country team also joined the mission at various locations.

The Mission found that the 2006/07 agricultural season was characterized by erratic rainfall (started late with unusually heavy rains in November and December followed by a prolonged dry spell in the critical months of January to March) and below-average cumulative rainfall. Unusually high temperatures accompanied the dry spells, thus increasing moisture loss. The most important damaging factor in the 2006/07 crop production is the prolonged dry spell during the second half of the agricultural season (January to March 2007) - the most critical period of maize development.

Overall, the Mission estimated the 2006/07 maize production at 26 170 tonnes, which is about 60 percent below the previous year's crop. Other important crop sources of food and cash such as cabbage, beans, potatoes, cotton and sugar cane were also observed in farmers' fields. However, with the exception of vegetables in places where late rains encouraged production, yield stress and decline in production were reported for these other crops. The extended dry periods and resultant water shortages caused some stress on livestock, but late rains improved pastures and animal condition in most parts of the country. Livestock production is expected to help offset, to some extent, the impact of crop failure. However, livestock prices, although stable, may start to decline with increased sales to buy grain.

Prices of major cereals have increased significantly in response to the shortages, locally and as a result of significant maize price increases in South Africa, the main exporter to Swaziland. The upward trend in prices is expected to continue during the rest of this year as supplies from domestic and regional sources may be rather limited due to poor rainfall conditions in South Africa and other neighbouring countries.1 The cereal import requirement in 2007/08 marketing year (April/March) is estimated at 173 800 tonnes, of which an estimated 129 000 tonnes are expected to be imported commercially. With food aid in stock and in the pipeline estimated at about 4 800 tonnes, the uncovered deficit for which international assistance is required is estimated at 40 000 tonnes.

Field observations confirmed that the poorest households currently have either no cereals in stock or enough to last a month. Farming households typically producing sufficient food are facing a prospect of food shortages before the next harvest. With markets already responding to the reduced supply access to food by vulnerable people is expected to be very difficult. The mission therefore recommends that assistance be programmed for a total of about 407 000 food insecure and vulnerable people who are unable to meet their food requirements. Approximately 40 500 tonnes of food would be required to meet their basic consumption needs and protect their livelihoods.

General mission recommendations include increased surveillance of the health and nutrition situation. In the short term increased targeted food assistance which this year may need to include selected areas in the Middleveld and Highveld that were never targeted before. Linking these interventions to community asset and value creation, such as water harvesting projects, is important.

Furthermore, timely assistance is required to support agricultural production in the next cropping season through the provision of farm inputs including seeds, fertilizers and credit facilities to minimize further depletion of valuable assets such as livestock and farm implements. With current erratic rainfall trends there is also a need to pursue vigorously appropriate technologies, such as small scale irrigation and water harvesting, and crop diversification.