FAO GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE
WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME
Swaziland faced erratic weather for a second consecutive year, characterised by prolonged dry spells that severely affected crops during their critical flowering stage. The Government of Swaziland, anticipating another poor harvest, requested FAO and WFP for assistance in reviewing the country's food situation and outlook for the 2002/03 marketing year. Consequently, an FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission visited the country from 15 to 24 April 2002, and was joined by a representative of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Regional Early Warning Unit (REWU) as an observer.
The Mission received full cooperation from the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, the National Early Warning Unit (NEWU), the National Disaster Task Force, and the United Nations Development Programme. Discussions were also held with relevant UN agencies, donor representatives, NGOs, the National Maize Corporation, Ngwane Milling, and the National Agricultural Marketing Board. The Mission split into two groups and was able to cover all four districts and agro-ecological zones of the country. Interviews were conducted with district extension officers, farmers, households, and traders. Overall, more than 120 interviews were conducted during the course of the mission.
The Mission forecasts 2001/02 total domestic cereal (maize) production at 68 000 tonnes. According to Government statistics, this is 18 percent below last year’s poor harvest and 37 percent below the average of the last five years. Production in the dry Middleveld, Lowveld, and the Lobombo Plateau has been particularly poor, due to a long dry spell from December through February. The Highveld is the only region where cereal production is estimated to have increased on last year. Other crops which are important sources of food and cash such as cotton, beans, potatoes, cassava, tobacco and cowpeas were also observed in farmers' fields. The Mission estimated total planted area at 61 000 hectares, about 4 percent more than last year.
The estimated domestic cereal supply of 77 000 tonnes falls far short of the total national consumption requirements of 188 000 tonnes, resulting in an import requirement of 111 000 tonnes. Commercial cereal imports are forecast at 96 000 tonnes and required food aid at 15 200 tonnes.
An estimated 144 000 vulnerable people will need emergency food assistance in 2002/03, estimated at approximately, 17 720 tonnes of food, including such commodities as maize, pulses, vegetable oil and iodized salt. The Government of Swaziland has already allocated 1 500 tonnes of maize to assist the most vulnerable people.
The Kingdom of Swaziland is a landlocked mountainous country some 17 364 km2 in size, bordered by South Africa on three sides and Mozambique to the east. Arable land is only 11 percent of the total area, the remainder consisting of permanent pasture, forest and woodland. The country is divided into four agro-ecological zones and administrative units. The Highveld and Middleveld are the two most populated and intensively cultivated zones, followed by the Lowveld, and the Lubombo Plateau. Climatic conditions vary from tropical to near temperate.
Swaziland is classified as a lower middle-income country with a per capita income of US$1 360. However, per capita income of the poorest 40 percent of the population is only US$230, and 66 percent of the population live below the poverty line. The income distribution is skewed, with about 43 percent of the total income received by only 10 percent of the population.
Swaziland’s economy is largely dependent on agriculture and manufacturing sectors. During the period 1997-2000, the real GDP growth rate varied between 2.5 percent and 3.9 percent, but sharply declined to 1.8 percent in 2001 due to weak external demand and prices for its agricultural exports. The projected real GDP growth rate for 2002 is 2.1 percent. The performance of the manufacturing sector is expected to be weak due to the closure of some key companies.
The budget for fiscal year 2002/03 projects a deficit of Emalangeni 654.4 million, 5.5 percent of GDP. Total revenue including grants is estimated at E3 329.6 million, and total expenditures E3 984 million. Receipts from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) account for about 49 percent of total revenue, followed by income taxes. The total external debt at the end of fiscal year 2001 was US$ 314 million.
Swaziland’s balance of payments recorded an overall deficit of E 45.9 million in 2000 after five consecutive years of surplus. Even though the financial account posted a net inflow of E 58.4 million, the current account deficit of E 279 million was largely responsible for the deficit in the balance of payments. Main merchandise exports include soft drink concentrates, sugar, wood pulp and refrigerators. In 2000, soft drink concentrates contributed 25 percent to the total export earnings, while sugar exports increased by 24 percent despite declining world market sugar prices.
The average unemployment rate in Swaziland is about 40 percent, but higher in the rural areas. The closure of major manufacturing companies in the urban areas, retrenchment from South African mines, and limited domestic employment opportunities are some of the key causes of such a high unemployment rate. The Employment Bureau of Africa (TEBA), the recruitment agency for South African mines, secured jobs for only 650 Swazis in 2001, compared to 11 500 in 1997.
The average inflation rate in 2001 was 7.5 percent, with a peak in December at 10 percent due to a sharp depreciation of the Lilangeni against major currencies. It is expected that the rising oil and food prices will add more pressure on consumer prices and push the inflation rate to higher levels.
Swaziland’s currency, the Lilangeni - pegged at par with the South African Rand - has continued to decline against the dollar since 1998/1999. During the fiscal year 2001/02, it fell by over 38 percent against the US dollar.
There are two forms of land tenure, Swazi Nation Land (SNL) which accounts for approximately 60 percent of the total land area and Title Deed Land (TDL) which accounts for the other 40 percent. SNL is held in trust by the king and controlled and allocated by chiefs according to traditional arrangements. Because it is dependent on rain-fed cultivation, SNL is highly vulnerable to drought. It produces the national maize crop, and accounts for 80 percent of all cotton growers and 77 percent of the total cattle herd.
TDL on the other hand is freehold. Large areas are under irrigation and used for commercial production, with company estates and plantations (forestry, sugarcane, citrus and pineapples) and cattle farming. Further growth on TDL is expected from river basin development schemes. The Komati Basin scheme will provide water for an additional 7 400 hectares, and 14 000 hectares more could be irrigated if the Usutu Basin scheme becomes operational.
As in 2000/01, the rainy season was erratic in 2001/02 cropping season. In the early months of the season (September and October), rainfall was normal in all the agro-ecological zones of the country. During the month of November it was higher than normal (152 percent in the Highveld and 270 percent in the Lowveld). However, during the latter half of December, as the maize crop was flowering/tasselling, the rains tailed off, with totals falling below normal for all regions of the country, particularly in the Lowveld, dry Middleveld and Lubombo Plateau, until March. The Lowveld was very hard hit, receiving only 21 and 24 percent of its long-term average rainfall for February and March (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Swaziland: Actual vs. Normal Rainfall by Agro ecological Zone for the 2001/02 Cropping Season
National fertilizer use for food crop production (excluding commercial farming) ranged between 14 000 tonnes and 17 000 tonnes during the period 1995/96 to 1998/99, and was 12 700 tonnes in 2000/01. Fertilizers, which are no longer subsidized, are traded by the private sector and cooperatives through national networks, but farmers are becoming less able to afford them.
Hybrid maize seed use went down from 4 000 tonnes in 1995/96 to 1 183 tonnes in 2000/01. This huge decline followed a Government decision to stop providing free seeds to farmers; seeds are now supplied at market prices by the private sector and cooperatives.
The Missions’ estimates of planted areas of maize for the past growing season are based on data provided by the National Early Warning Unit as presented in its report of April 2002. The data had been collected by the Extension Service in each agro-ecological zone, and were the most reliable at the time of the Mission. The Central Statistical Office (CSO) will provide final estimates during the course of the year. The area planted to maize in each district is given in Table 1. The total national maize area (excluding TDL land), is estimated at 60 133 hectares, which is slightly lower (about 3 percent), than the five-year average.
Table 1: Total Planted Area for Maize (Hectares) in 2001/02 Compared to 1996/97-2000/01
Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives; NEWU.
Conditions for early planting of the maize crop were excellent in all regions, but as always planting dates varied and the resultant crops were affected to a greater or lesser extent by the dry conditions in December and January. Poor access to tractors, equipment and purchased inputs in some areas of the Middleveld, the Lubombo Plateau and the Lowveld also delayed or restricted planting. The estimated maize area and production in each agro-ecological region are shown in Table 2. The area planted to sorghum has declined to insignificant levels because of labour problems associated with bird scaring, lack of appropriate varieties, lack of interest in the grain for food and a poorly developed market for the crop. Even though the Mission observed efforts by the Extension Service in promoting cassava and sweet potato production, uptake by farmers has been slow and it noted the limited crop diversity in the fields of farmers, particularly in the Lowveld. Rice is grown on four irrigation schemes in the country with a total production of about 150 tonnes.
Table 2. Estimated Area, Yield and Production of Maize in 2001/02, by Agro-ecological Zone
Source: National Early Warning Unit and Mission Estimates.
1/ Swaziland National Land - State Land.
2/ Title Deed Land - Commercial farmers' land.
With further development of irrigation being planned by the Government, the area under maize is also likely to be reduced. There is potential to produce an irrigated maize crop before the sugar cane crop is planted, and this should be part of the irrigation development plan, so that maize production in the country is increased. In fact at current prices, the gross margin per hectare for maize is higher than that for sugar cane. Some 2 000-3 000 hectares of irrigated land planted to maize could augment the country’s maize production by some 10 to 15 000 tonnes.
The yield forecast for each agro-ecological zone is also presented in Table 2. When the final maize production estimates for the year 2000/01 season are released by the CSO, the yield and production figures may need to be revised. The Mission assessed crop yields on randomly selected farms in all agro-ecological regions, and this led to some adjustments of the estimates made by NEWU. Yields vary with crop management, rainfall and agro-ecological conditions even within the same agro-ecological zone. In general, production of maize has tended to decline from west to east across the country.
The Mission visited 15 farmers in different areas of this zone, the best for maize production, to accurately assess maize yields and compare with those of last year. Overall, the rainy season was considered good for maize production, provided the crop was planted early. Generally good crops were seen and some farmers had already started harvesting. Of the farmers interviewed, some felt that their yields would be lower than in 2000/01, while others expected the same yields or higher. Overall, expected production for this year may be 10 percent higher than in 2000/01.
The Mission visited 22 farmers in different parts of this agro-ecological zone, where the maize crop was fully matured for harvesting. There was a big variation in maize yield potential between the moist and the dry Middleveld areas, depending on the severity of the extended dry spell from mid-December. In general, apart from isolated pockets, the moist Middleveld suffered less and yields were only marginally lower that last year, but in the dry Middleveld yields were considerably reduced. Overall, expected production for this year may be 30 percent lower than 2000/01.
The Mission visited 10 farmers in this zone, where the crop was fully mature and harvesting had started. The crop condition was generally poor due to the poor rainfall from December to March, although the southern part of the plateau was less affected than the northern. Overall, expected production for this year may be 40 percent lower than 2000/01.
The Mission visited 25 farmers in this zone, the worst affected in the country. The dry conditions severely affected the maize crop and some 50 percent of farmers will harvest nothing. Overall, expected production for this year will be greatly reduced, maybe 60 percent lower than 2000/01.
The Mission came across farmers who had very little harvest and others who had up to 5 tonnes per hectare, within the same locality. This indicates that husbandry practices (early planting, use of appropriate hybrid seeds, proper use of fertilizer and animal manure, and rotational practices) can make a great difference to the impact of dry conditions. However, low purchasing power for poorer farmers limits their ability to purchase the necessary inputs.
In general, maize yields declined substantially compared to the average of the last five years (1996/1997 to 2000/2001). This yield decline was particularly serious in the dry Middleveld, Lowveld and Lubombo Plateau where the December-February dry spell affected the late planted crops at the critical flowering/tasselling stage The early-planted crops escaped the effects of the dry spell and generally produced good yields.
Based on the mission's investigation and assessments, the national average yield of maize on SNL for 2001/02 is estimated at 1.08 tonnes/ha. Total production at 64 984 tonnes, represents 61 percent of the average for the last five years, 79 percent of the official production figures for last year, and 90 percent of the 72 554 tonnes estimated by the assessment mission last year (Table 3). Figure 1 shows that maize production is trending downwards, despite price support. This is mainly due to adverse weather and falling land productivity.
Table 3: Total Cereal Production in 2001/02 Compared to 1996/97-2000/01 Average (`000 tonnes)
Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives; NEWU.
1/ Does not include an estimated 3 000 tonnes of maize produced on TDL.
Sugar cane is cultivated on 44 000 ha in the country; raw and refined sugar, sugar products and ethanol are now the main agricultural export and an important source of foreign currency. There is continuing development of areas for irrigated sugar cane, which has over the years fetched good export prices, but prices have fallen recently, and this could alter the cropping pattern.
Cotton, one of the major cash crops, was only planted on 11 082 ha in 2001/02 but still plays an important role in the food security of many households, particularly in the dry Middleveld and Lowveld. However, production is on the decline; the area is down 35 percent on last year’s and very much lower than the 35 000 ha grown during the 1998/99 production year. The area planted continues to decline because of poor prices.
Grapefruit, orange, soft citrus and lime also form an important part of nutrition and are another source of foreign currency. Sorghum, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, beans, peanuts, cowpeas, cassava, bananas, peaches and avocados are also produced, but in limited quantities. Sorghum has real potential for the drier parts of the country, but requires a national marketing effort because it is not a popular foodgrain.
Livestock production is a major agricultural activity, with small farmers owning about 77 percent of the total cattle population. The condition of pastures and livestock in most areas visited was reasonable. Late rains have helped to bring on a flush of grass, but this is only temporary; drinking water availability in streams and dams has not improved.
Although Swaziland has a quota to export 3 360 tonnes of beef to the EU, it only manages to export a fraction of this. Exports to the EU increased by more than 50 percent to 665 tonnes in 2000 from 416 tonnes exported in 1999. Farmers seem reluctant to sell good quality cattle unless forced by economic or climatic conditions, and this year, particularly in the Lowveld, farmers will have to sell their animals to buy maize for household consumption. Livestock prices have already started to fall.
Swaziland is a net importer of maize, wheat, dairy products and other food commodities. In a normal year, roughly 60 percent of the food consumed in the country is imported. For maize, the main staple food, imports averaged about 30 000 tonnes over the last five years, slightly over a third of national maize requirements (Figure 2). About 10 percent of domestic production is marketed, mostly through the National Maize Corporation (NMC) and Ngwane Milling. NMC is also the sole importer of maize and is a semi-autonomous non-profit organization. Ngwane mills is a major importer of wheat and its imports have averaged about 38 000 tones over the last 10 years. Importation of all foods, other than maize, is liberalized but requires a permit from the National Agricultural Marketing Board. With the exception of wheat, virtually all imports come from the Republic of South Africa (RSA).
Figure 2: Annual Maize Imports (1997/98-2001/02)
Source: National Maize Corporation
Prices of maize meal have been increasing since October last year (Figure 3).
While the Mission was still in the country, NMC announced that maize prices would be increased by about 25 percent to E2 330 per tonne. Ngwane Milling followed by announcing an increase in the wheat price by about 10 percent to E2 695 per tonne.
Figure 3: Monthly Average NMC Selling Prices for Maize
Source: National Maize Corporation
The prices for maize and wheat have continued to rise since October and it is likely that they will rise even further, given the serious decline in regional cereal production and therefore increased competition for available exportable supplies in the sub-region, mostly from South Africa and Mozambique.
Low-income families are having difficulty in coping with the increasing prices. With the high rate of unemployment in the rural areas, limited income generating opportunities and high levels of poverty, the purchasing power of the majority of the rural population is extremely low. Over the last four months, livestock prices have fallen by more than 30 percent in the Lowveld, indicating that a significant number of poor households have started to sell their livestock.
The forecast of the cereal supply/demand situation for the marketing year 2002/03 (April/March) in Table 4 below is based on the following assumptions and Mission observations.
Table 4: Swaziland: Cereal Supply/Demand Balance for 2002/03 (‘000 tonnes)
Table 4 shows a cereal import requirement of 111 000 tonnes. Commercial imports are forecast at 96 000 tonnes and food aid requirement at 15 200 tonnes which needs to be covered by the Government and external assistance.
In previous years Swaziland has imported its maize requirements primarily from South Africa, and the one-to-one convertibility of the Linengani to the Rand has meant that availability of foreign exchange has not been a major constraint. However, currently there is high demand for South African grain from other countries in the region, and available supplies will not meet this demand. As a result, Swaziland, like other countries in the sub-region, may have to import some of its grain requirements from elsewhere, and this will expose the country to foreign exchange constraints.
Food security in Swaziland depends on the availability of employment opportunities. Households that suffer the most poverty and food insecurity are those headed by individuals who have the least employment opportunities and very few assets. Even in years of reasonable harvest and stable prices, some two thirds of Swazi households are estimated to live below the poverty line. The recent dramatic increases in food prices have pushed a greater proportion of the population below the poverty line, and worsened the situation of those who were already struggling.
The great majority of rural households have to depend on cash income for survival. For most households, crop production is only one of many survival strategies. However, livelihoods strategies, especially of the poor, give more emphasis to agriculture than appears to be warranted by the economic facts alone. Thus even though agricultural production is never sufficient to meet all food needs, it does provide a vital supplement to other sources of food, as well as employment opportunities (through odd jobs during harvest and other peak demands for agricultural labour) for people who have few other employment options. Hence a crisis in agricultural production reduces employment (and cash) opportunities, while simultaneously forcing people to turn to the market for an increased proportion of their food needs. In the current situation, most rural people are being forced to obtain a higher proportion of food from the market, at the same time as market prices have reached very high levels.
The coping mechanisms of certain segments of the population are on the decline. Employment in the mines of South Africa used to be the traditional prime source of income for many male workers. But restructuring of the mining industry towards capital intensive production, combined with the depressed prices for gold in the late 1990s and South Africa’s preferential employment policy for its own nationals has resulted in increasingly reduced employment opportunities and income flows for the Swazi migrants.
It appears that school dropout rates for the Swazi children who are living in vulnerable households are increasing. The rationale is that the school fees for a quarter can feed a family for a month. The sale of livestock tends to be the coping mechanism of the last resort. Many vulnerable households consider livestock as their long term investment and do not sell until it is absolutely necessary. However, later in the year, necessity requires them to sell in droves, resulting in substantially lower livestock prices.
The extremely high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Swaziland (20-30 percent) has impacted all sectors, socio economic groups, and geographic areas. Households affected by HIV/AIDS have even fewer income-earning opportunities, but simultaneously face higher food and non-food costs. The direct linkages between HIV/AIDS and household food security include:
Even in relatively normal periods, carbohydrates (of which, roughly 80 percent is maize) account for on average three quarters of total calorie intake, and vegetable sources provide most protein. The dramatic increases in food prices has resulted in increased cereal food purchases by poor households, with a corresponding decline in purchases of other foodstuffs. Thus, there has been a decline in both total energy consumption and consumption of micro-nutrients. Intake of animal protein is negligible in most rural areas. Vegetable intake depends on whatever is harvested from small kitchen gardens, or can be gathered wild.
The hardest hit areas of this year’s reduced agricultural production have been Lowveld, dry Middleveld, and northern Lubombo Plateau. The mission estimates that a total of 231 000 people will require some type of food assistance (Table 5). The distinction of seriously and moderately affected is based on the extent of reduced harvests, but more importantly, on the differences in the coping capacities of the people.
Table 5: Number of Seriously and Moderately Affected People
Source: Mission estimates
Market interventions (price subsidies, monetization of donated food aid) can help to improve the overall food security situation of those moderately affected, by lowering prices and thus increasing accessibility. However, for individuals seriously affected, the severity of the food and poverty situation this year, along with the reduced availability and effectiveness of usual coping strategies, means that some sort of targeted food assistance will be required. The mission estimates that the people seriously affected will require six months of direct assistance and those moderately affected will need assistance for three months.
Food rations supplied through direct distribution should meet overall calorie needs, taking into account the extra calorie needs of people living in cold areas (at least during winter), and requiring additional energy to meet the physically demanding way of rural life in Lesotho. Rations should also be sufficient to meet the additional calorie requirements of people affected by HIV/AIDS (15 percent more carbohydrates and 50 percent more protein). Insofar as possible, the rations should also meet the basic micro-nutrient requirements of a population whose diet has consisted almost entirely of maize meal. Consequently it is expected that approximately 17 720 tonnes of food, including such commodities as maize, pulses, vegetable oil and iodised salt, will be required for direct food assistance.
Different approaches to food distributions should be examined. In less affected areas, self-targeting through food-for-work may be more appropriate than free distribution. In the worst affected areas free distribution will be required. However the implementation of a broad programme of free distribution should be based on a strict registration system to ensure that food aid is targeted to those most in need.
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