JOHANNESBURG, 29 October 2002 --
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World
Food Programme (WFP) are urging the international community to
fund the purchase and distribution of critically-needed seeds
and other agricultural inputs to avoid a worsening crisis in
southern Africa next year.
planting season has already begun and the window of opportunity
to move seeds, hand tools and fertilizers into farming areas in
countries such as Malawi and Zambia is closing
rapidly," said Deborah Saidy, WFP Deputy Emergency
Coordinator for southern Africa. "If the international
community doesn't act soon, that window will slam shut and
consequently, the region will continue to suffer from lack of
food in the coming year."
September, an inter-agency fact-finding team, including
representatives from WFP, OCHA, the World Health Organization
(WHO), UNICEF, FAO and the Southern African Development
Community (SADC), visited all six countries affected by the
current crisis. The mission found that a quick response to the
crisis, including the timely provision of seeds, would be
necessary to avoid a massive deterioration of the humanitarian
situation in the coming months.
"There is no doubt that we will have a full
blown disaster on our hands if we don't act now,"
Southern Africa is facing a
long road to recovery from the crisis, which has been caused by
a convergence of poor harvests, HIV/AIDS and economic collapse
across the region.
However, a plentiful
harvest from the next cropping season, ending in April and May
2003, would greatly ease the immediate food crisis and prevent a
continuing cycle of hunger. But with the low levels of seeds,
hand tools and fertilizers currently available to farmers across
the region, the likelihood of that happening is decreasing as
each day passes.
The latest food security
assessments in the region show just how serious the situation
is, with more than 70 percent of households having no cereal
seed in Zambia and Malawi, while in Zimbabwe more than 94
percent of farmers were without seeds as of last month.
In Lesotho, teams found that almost 50
percent of households countrywide did not know how they would
access cereal seed and 60 percent were worried about getting
hold of legume seed. In Swaziland, 80 percent of households
surveyed did not have seed for the coming season.
According to Anne M. Bauer, Director of FAO's
Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division, the key
agricultural inputs, particularly seed, are available in the
region and would be bought locally.
"Because people are increasingly poor and
prices are skyrocketing, timely access to these key supplies has
become an insurmountable hurdle throughout southern
Africa," said Bauer. "Immediate donations from
the international community would allow aid agencies to get the
crucial seeds, hand tools and fertilizers into the hands of
millions of poor and hungry farmers in time for the next