Nairobi/Rome, 16 April 2002 - More than 4 million people in southern Africa are threatened by serious food shortages, because of declining food production caused by prolonged dry spells, floods and disruption of farming activities, according to a report released today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe are the worst afflicted, but the situation is also difficult in Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland. In Angola, the report says the food situation remains precarious due to the long-running civil conflict.

FAO's tri-annual Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa, says 19 countries* in the region are facing "exceptional food emergencies," for a variety of reasons ranging from civil strife, drought, excessive rain and flooding to population displacement.

In southern Africa, the report warns, "a food crisis looms over several countries following sharp falls in maize production in 2001 and unfavourable harvest prospects this year. Acute food shortages have emerged in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia, where food reserves have been depleted and food prices have soared undermining access to food for large sections of their populations."

Maize production in Malawi declined by more than 33 percent last year, mainly due to excessive rains and floods, coupled with reduced and late delivery of agricultural inputs, such as seeds and fertilizer. According to the FAO report, "The strategic grain reserve has been depleted and importation of maize is seriously constrained by transport bottlenecks. As a result maize prices have risen by over 300 percent since July last year." The Malawi government has declared a state of emergency and appealed to the international community for food assistance to avert famine.

The report calls the outlook for Zimbabwe's food security "bleak," noting that the depletion of official maize reserves and the continuing deterioration of the economic situation point to a looming food security crisis in 2002/03.
According to the report's editor, Mwita Rukandema, "The 2001 maize crop was down 28 percent on the previous year and well below average. The decrease was mainly due to a reduction of 54 percent in the area planted on the large-scale commercial farms, as a result of disruption by land acquisition activities."

Though the government planned to import up to 200,000 tonnes of maize, only 10,000 tonnes had arrived in the country by end of March this year, mainly because the country has a severe shortage of foreign exchange. The Zimbabwe government has appealed for international food assistance, but by late March pledges to provide that assistance covered only 30 percent of the need.

The report says that Zambia also faces an "extremely tight" food situation as a result of a poor cereal crop last season and delays in importing maize. Prices for maize meal are at extremely high levels, seriously restricting access to food for large sections of the population. Zambia has appealed for international food assistance for 2 million people in districts it has declared to be in a state of emergency.

In Mozambique the report calls the food situation "serious in the southern provinces of Maputo, Gaza and Inhambane, where the 2001 cereal harvest was significantly reduced." Some 172,000 vulnerable people in these provinces are receiving emergency food assistance.

Lesotho and Swaziland are also having food supply problems because of reduced cereal production in 2001 due to erratic rains and a cold wave in Lesotho and a long dry spell that affected crops in Swaziland. Elsewhere in the sub-region, Angola and Namibia also face precarious food situations cased by the long-running civil conflict in Angola and a reduced harvest last year in Namibia. In Madagascar, marketing of food and non-food commodities is being adversely affected by the current political crisis."

One bright spot noted in the report is South Africawhere prospects for the 2002 maize crop are favourable and production is anticipated to recover from last year's below average level. South Africa is the sub-region's largest producer and exporter of maize.

In other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the report finds the food situation has generally improved with the exception of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Great Lakes region, where civil strife continues to undermine the food security of millions of people. Following two successive good harvests in Rwanda and Burundi the food situation is significantly better, but sporadic violence in some provinces of Burundi continues to displace rural populations and disrupt food production. Eastern Africa's overall food supply situation has improved considerably since last year, but according to the report, "acute food shortages persist in most pastoral areas of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia due to continued drought conditions. In Eritrea, despite an improved harvest, large numbers of internally displaced people and refugees returning from Sudan depend on food assistance."

The report says that the food outlook for 2002 is "generally favourable" for western Africa following above-average to record harvests in the Sahelian countries and satisfactory crops elsewhere. However, Mauritania, Liberia and Sierra Leone are all threatened by food supply problems caused by below average harvests in the case of Mauritania and civil strife in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The report warns that Liberia and Sierra Leone "will continue to rely on international food assistance for some time to come."

Sub-Saharan Africa's cereal import requirements are expected to remain high in 2002, according to the report. This largely reflects the anticipated sharp drop in cereal production in southern Africa. FAO puts the 2001/02 cereal import requirements for the region at 16.6 million tonnes, including 1.8 million tonnes of food aid.

*The 19 countries facing exceptional food emergencies are: Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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While FAO's Global Information and Early Warning Service monitors the food and crop situation in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere in the world, the Emergency Operations Service of the Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division of FAO provides assistance to rural people affected by natural and man-made disasters. The Emergency Operations Service is at work in a number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan. The Service provides assistance to the livestock, fisheries and agriculture sectors to resume food production as soon as possible following a disaster. The aim is to ensure the food security of the population while reducing the risk of dependency on food aid.