ROME, 18 July - The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has launched an aid appeal in support of seven million people in Southern Africa which are severely hit by a food crisis.

FAO called for US$25 million to finance 13 agricultural emergency interventions in Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, according to a statement published today. The appeal is part of the UN Consolidated National Appeals for the Humanitarian Crisis in Southern Africa.

Close to 10 million people of the sub-region are currently facing severe food shortages. Food crops were sharply reduced for the second consecutive year.

The food crisis has been caused by drought and partly floods. It is aggravated by several structural, chronic and political problems such as high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, lack of public financial resources, low purchasing power of the population, poor management of strategic grain reserves in particular in Malawi, land degradation, and land reform activities, particularly in Zimbabwe. The most affected are Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

In Malawi, FAO is already assisting 50 000 drought-affected farming families to grow crops during the winter season in July. In addition, FAO is planning to distribute maize and bean seeds, hand tools, fertilizer and small water pumps to about 118 000 drought and flood affected farm families. Projects will also aim to increase cassava production. The costs are estimated at US$1.6 million.

For Zambia, FAO proposed to distribute essential agricultural kits, including locally adapted improved maize, sorghum, cassava and legume seeds, and hand tools to 62 000 drought affected farming families. Around US$2.6 million are needed to finance these emergency activities.

In Zimbabwe, FAO is planning to increase agricultural production of about 400 000 farming households by providing them with seeds, fertilizer, treadle pumps and hand tools. To improve household food security of an additional 200 000 vulnerable families in communal areas, FAO wants to provide small ruminants and poultry.

Emergency activities will also focus on 200 000 fishers and their families to improve protein supply and incomes. FAO will also contribute to the eradication of foot-and-mouth disease in southern parts of Zimbabwe, improving the food security of an additional 300 000 vulnerable households. For these projects, around US$16 million will be needed.

In Lesotho, around 100 000 most vulnerable farming families are in need of seeds, tools and fertilizer to resume cultivation. The project costs are estimated at US$3.3 million.

For Swaziland FAO appealed for US$1.4 million to support 21 000 drought-affected families. They are in need of seeds, fertilizer and equipment for irrigated vegetable gardening, restocking and feeding of poultry and pigs, the distribution of cotton and cowpea seeds to cotton-growing small farmers.

All projects are aimed to restore the self-reliance of vulnerable farm families and reduce their dependence on food aid. Most of the inputs will be required for the main planting season in October/November.