13 June 2003, Johannesburg/Rome -- Southern Africa still requires substantial food aid despite the fact that more food was produced in the region than during last year's severe food crisis, according to reports released by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

This was the stark finding of joint FAO/WFP assessment missions announced at a meeting in Johannesburg on 12 June of United Nations agencies, government representatives, SADC, donors, and non-governmental organizations (NGO's) examining the humanitarian assistance needs in southern Africa.

The missions covered Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Zambia.

As a whole, the region has produced enough food to meet more than two-thirds of its food requirements, with the general food security situation improving regionally helped by the increased production in Zambia and Malawi.

Production, however, has been uneven, with Zimbabwe producing barely enough to meet 40 percent of its needs.

Acute food shortages in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe faces acute food shortages with some 5.5 million people in need of food aid. Food production in Zimbabwe has fallen by more than 50 percent, measured against a five-year average, due mostly to the current social, economic and political situation and the effects of drought.

The situation was compounded by the marked reduction of the large-scale farm sector, which produced only about one-tenth of their 1990s output. As a result, about half of the regional food deficit of some 2.65 million tonnes is in Zimbabwe.

The shortfall means that Zimbabwe will need to import almost 1.3 million tonnes of food, either commercially or through food aid, to meet the minimum food needs of its people.

In Mozambique, food production surged in the north of the country, but parts of the south and central region continue to face serious food shortages affecting 949,000 people in 40 districts. Some areas in Swaziland and Lesotho also continue to face shortages.

Over the next year, the six southern African countries will need to import at least 2.6 million tonnes of food to meet their minimum food needs. Food surpluses in South Africa far exceed this amount and some cross border trade among other countries will continue to take place.

In addition, for the region to resume agricultural growth, increased and carefully targeted support will be needed for the agriculture sectors of the six countries.

Access to food

Cereal production has increased from 5.4 million tonnes in 2001/02 to nearly 6.3 million tonnes this year across the region. However, the key issues remain physical and economic access to food for certain segments of the population.

In Lesotho, the overall situation has improved because of better production and commercial import capacity. In Malawi, crop production has improved significantly since the widespread food shortages in 2002. Malawi has managed to produce or has in reserve this year about 2.3 million tonnes of cereals, leaving a national shortfall of only 90 000 tonnes.

Swaziland's food security has improved slightly over the last year, but the country has had its third consecutive poor harvest and will again require food aid this year. In Zambia, cereal production is estimated at about 1.3 million tonnes, almost double the output of 2002.

HIV/AIDS pandemic

Other reasons for continued food aid assistance, despite increased overall food availability, are household vulnerability caused by the on-going HIV/AIDS pandemic and the fact that last year's severe food shortages forced many people to use up the limited resources they had just to survive.

HIV/AIDS infection rates in southern Africa are the highest in the world, making those infected all the more vulnerable to health complications and death when food shortages occur and affecting the lives and livelihoods of communities as a whole. An alarming increase has been found in households headed by children and grandparentsin the region.

The joint FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment missions bring together leading agricultural and food vulnerability specialists and include observers from governments, SADC, donor agencies and NGOs.

The reports constitute the most objective and authoritative study of the crop and food supply situation in the region and are used by donors and aid agencies to determine food and agricultural assistance requirements for the year ahead.

John Riddle
FAO News Group
email: john.riddle@fao.org
(+39) 348 2572921 (mobile)

Trevor Rowe
WFP Chief Spokesperson
(+39) 06 6513 2602

Mike Huggins
WFP Johannesburg
(+27) 11 517 1662 (office), (+27) 832 913 750 (mobile)

Jennifer Abrahamson
WFP Johannesburg
(+27) 11 517 1656 (office), (+27) 833 004 958 (mobile)