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SADC Food Security Ministerial Brief: 10 Jun 2003


Households and communities in the SADC region are considerably more vulnerable to food and livelihood insecurity today than they were a decade ago. This is illustrated by the impact of the 2002 food crisis compared to the 1992 crisis. In 1992, the magnitude of harvest failures were higher than a decade later, yet the impact on food security and livelihoods was lower. Households and communities are today bearing the brunt of compounded social, natural and economic shocks and trends. These adverse events and processes include: weather induced shocks, weak government institutions, inappropriate national and intra-regional policy frameworks, extra-regional trade restrictions and increasing poverty and vulnerability - exacerbated crucially by HIV/AIDS. Taken together, these issues are creating a situation which is slowly overwhelming southern Africa.

A study recently commissioned by CARE International (Frankenberger et al March 2003) argues that the severity of Malawi's food crisis was a direct result not only of short-term weather induced shocks but of longer-term adverse socio-political trends (poverty, government policies) and agronomic trends (land access, soil fertility). It was this combination of short and long term factors that finally pushed Malawi over the edge.

The policy dimensions of the 2002 food crisis are also best viewed as a combination of short- and long-term national and international policy failures and choices. These have been analyzed in a recent study commissioned by FANRPAN assisted by FEWS NET and IFPRI. Key short-term policy issues include:

Inadequate disaster management, contingency and response plans: These left governments ill-prepared to deal with a large humanitarian emergency.

Restrictions on commercial marketing and trade: The capacity and willingness of the private sector to respond to the food crisis was adversely affected by policies which enforced single channel marketing (e.g. in Zimbabwe) and more generally restricted domestic market liberalization.

Low levels of strategic grain reserves (SGR): In the countries hardest hit by the crisis (Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe) SGR levels were low. At 16,320,000 MT, regional level maize production in 2001-02 was actually higher than the previous year. At 329,000 MT, maize stocks were, however, at the lowest levels for over a decade and could not make up the domestic production shortfalls.

Long term policy issues include:

Investments in agricultural development: Country level analysis of agricultural performance since the 1992 drought indicates negative productivity trends and sluggish growth in per capita food production. Real domestic investment shows negative trends. Moreover, pricing and marketing policies have often resulted in an implicit taxation of domestic food and agricultural production. In designing livelihood recovery strategies, policy makers must balance the usual short term emphasis on input packages with provision of a permanent enabling domestic policy environment.

Macro-economic stabilization: Long-term agricultural growth and business development in the food sector will remain seriously restricted in SADC countries until stabilization is achieved. Some of the roots of current macro-economic difficulties go back to design and implementation problems with Structural Adjustment Programmes in the 1990's.

Governance: Governance challenges continue to foment sporadic political unrest and national conflicts of varying degrees of intensity across the SADC region. As slow economic growth in Africa is a direct result of risk, uncertainty and insecurity, weak institutions and democratic challenges should be considered a central cause of limited investment in agricultural growth.

Trade: To maximize the food security benefits of trade, southern African countries should eliminate barriers and trade distorting measures. These actions alone, however, will bring limited gains if industrialized nations continue to impose barriers to developing country exports, subsidies to their own export commodities and provide other trade distorting subsidies to their agricultural sectors.

The coverage of social protection interventions as an influence on current food insecurity is examined by Devereux (June 2003). In 1990, considerable social protection in southern Africa was undertaken through albeit untargeted and inefficient parastatals (food price subsidies, price controls, subsidized input credit etc.). To varying degrees in the region, this has been replaced by a more targeted approach funded by donors and implemented through NGOs. Whilst this may be more efficient (and lead to fewer distortions and disincentives to market forces) it seems clear that considerable numbers of households are "falling through the cracks", a situation undoubtedly exacerbated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

HIV/AIDS: A critical compounding factor...... HIV/AIDS has clearly played a major role in worsening the depth of the 2002 food crisis and prospects for livelihood recovery . This fact is highlighted by amongst others the UN Special Envoy (SE) for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa, and the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC). The SE report: "Next Steps for Action in Southern Africa" (April 2003), draws attention to the negative relationships between the pandemic and poverty, food insecurity and, ultimately, the social fabric of Southern African societies.

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