Food security prospects brighten for Southern Africa

from Southern African Research and Documentation Centre
Published on 20 Jun 2006
by Patson Phiri
Food security prospects in southern Africa have brightened amid indications that most countries in the region are poised for a bumper harvest this year.

Almost all mainland member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have indicated they are likely to harvest enough maize to meet domestic requirements and, in some instances, to export to other countries.

Countries such as Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe that have been worst hit by a series of droughts since the 2000/01 season, have for the first time this year said they will have enough food.

The four rainfall seasons since 2001 have largely been drought years save for 2003/4, which had sufficient and well-distributed rains that aided agriculture production in most parts of the SADC region.

For the first time in five years, drought-prone Malawi expects to harvest about 2.35 million metric tonnes of the staple maize crop, up from just 1.3 million tonnes in the 2004/05 season.

Malawi's domestic annual maize consumption is two million tonnes. The country's last bumper crop was 2.3 million tonnes in 1999/2000.

Officials attribute this year's improved harvest to better weather conditions and government initiative to subsidise seeds and fertiliser, which made them affordable.

The country is now forecasting its economic growth to surpass the eight percent mark this year on the back of the better crop harvests. The Malawian economy heavily depends on agriculture. v"In 2006, real GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is expected to grow by 8.4 percent on account of the anticipated bumper harvest due to good rains and the successful fertilizer and maize subsidy introduced last year," said finance minister, Goodall Gondwe.

Aid agencies in Malawi have, however, warned of shortages in parts of the country, mainly Kasungu, Karonga and Rumphi districts, that were affected by drought and floods.

The government has appointed a Vulnerability Assessment Committee comprising non-governmental organisations and UN agencies to assess harvest prospects throughout the country and identify areas needing assistance.

Zimbabwe, which has also experienced food shortages since 2001, is forecasting 1.8 million tonnes of maize for the 2005/06 season. Last season's output was a mere 550,000 tonnes. vThe country requires about 1.8 million tonnes of maize per year for human consumption, stockfeeds and industrial use.

In Mozambique, Agriculture Minister Tomas Mandlate said the country's grain harvest this year is forecast at around 2.1 million tonnes, up 10 percent on the 2004/05 output of about 1.9 million tonnes.

About 1.5 million tonnes of the grain output will be maize, representing an 11 percent increase over last season.

Mozambique's annual domestic maize consumption is about 1.4 million tonnes, making the country self-sufficient this year.

However, the bulk of the maize production was in the fertile northern provinces, and transporting grain surpluses from the north to food deficit areas in the south is expensive.

The good rains in the 2005/06 season are also reflected in the high production of vegetables and cassava, which rose by 9.6 and 13.8 percent, respectively.

At 1.4 million tonnes of maize produced during the 2005/06 season, Zambia has a food surplus of 160,000 tonnes this year compared to last year's 85,000 tonnes deficit.

Zambia experienced a critical shortage of food last year, resulting in President Levy Mwanawasa declaring a national disaster.

The Zambian government has launched an initiative to provide subsidised fertilizers to farmers and employ agriculture extension officers to educate farmers on farming best practices.

Although final figures are not yet out, estimates show that South Africa, the traditional exporter of maize in the region, had planted some 1,584 hectares of maize by January.

Namibia is also hoping for a favourable yield following the above-normal rains received in the northern regions of the country.

Final figures are yet to be released by Lesotho, one of the SADC countries most vulnerable to drought and food shortages.