FAO Regional Office for Africa

UN Agencies respond to growing food insecurity in southern Africa

Woman cooking porridge for her children in Malawi (© Photo FAO/ Amos Gumulira)

19 October 2015, Johannesburg - The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) are expanding their operations in response to growing food insecurity as a result of poor harvests across much of southern Africa. There will be an estimated 27.4 million food-insecure people in the region during the next six months, according to the Southern African Development Community 2015 Vulnerability Assessments.*

WFP, FAO and other partners are meanwhile monitoring the El Niño weather phenomenon which could significantly impact southern Africa following a poor agricultural season in 2014/15. The intensity of the El Niño is increasing towards a peak expected in late 2015, and may become one of the strongest such events on record. The region faces the risk of another poor rainfall season and harvest resulting in a “significant increase in food and nutrition insecurity in the region,” according to the latest update from the Southern Africa Food and Nutrition Working Group.

Food insecurity means that people struggle to buy or produce enough nutritious food to lead a healthy life.

Poor Harvests

Most at threat from immediate food insecurity are Malawi, Zimbabwe and Madagascar which all suffered severe crop failure due to extended dry spells (combined, in Malawi, with extensive flooding and, in Madagascar, with the effects of strong tropical storms). There are also concerns about growing food insecurity in Lesotho and the southern parts of Angola and Mozambique. While Botswana and Namibia also suffered from extensive drought earlier this year, people in these countries are not considered as much at risk.

The poor harvest experienced by farmers across the region will negatively impact the capacity of vulnerable farmers to purchase seeds, fertilizer and other necessities for the current planting season.

Malawi: Worst Food Insecurity in a Decade

Malawi is experiencing the worst food insecurity in a decade, and 2.8 million people are reported to be food insecure. FAO and WFP are implementing various measures to alleviate the situation. WFP is planning to assist 2.4 million food-insecure people during the height of the lean season, the period prior to the next harvest when domestic food stocks become depleted. Lean season activities will combine food assistance with cash transfers in areas where market conditions allow. So far this year, WFP has already provided food assistance to one million people who have been affected by floods.

FAO has supported the Government of Malawi in preparing the agricultural section of the national food insecurity response plan. The agricultural needs have been estimated at US$44 million. The response will include provision of inputs, with an emphasis on drought-tolerant crops such as cassava, sweet potatoes, sorghum and millet and on supplementary irrigation in order to cope with potential prolonged dry spells.

Zimbabwe: Harvest Down by Half

It is estimated that at least 1.5 million people will be food insecure in Zimbabwe in coming months following a harvest that was down 50 percent on last year. FAO is working with the government to support resilience building approaches among vulnerable groups. Some 34 irrigation schemes in drought prone districts are being rehabilitated. As many as 127,000 smallholder farmers are receiving support to adopt climate smart technologies and increase their access to rural finance.

In the livestock sector, FAO is providing support to 40,000 smallholder households to engage in commercial livestock production. The organization is also responding to the foot and mouth disease outbreak in some parts of the country where 5.4 million doses of vaccines are still required.  FAO has also prepared a drought mitigation programme, for which there is a financial gap of US$32 million, to support livestock and crop farmers with stock feed and seeds respectively, in the most affected parts of the country.

WFP is working with the government and partners to assist some 400,000 of the most vulnerable people, scaling up to reach 850,000 people at the height of the lean season. Assistance will be given in the form of both food and cash transfers.

Building Resilience

FAO continues to support the adoption of climate smart technologies for both livestock and crop production systems as a way to promote sustainable production and increased resilience among communities. WFP has started cash- and food-for-work projects whereby rural communities work on the refurbishment or construction of schemes such as water management systems, tree planting and terracing to prevent soil erosion.

Food Price Rises

FAO and WFP, together with other stakeholders, will consolidate efforts to help governments improve food price monitoring in their countries. Early indications point at market prices beginning to soar earlier than is normally the case. Such a development so early in the season is likely to cause further hardship for the poorest households.

Compounding the food insecurity situation are the region’s high levels of chronic malnutrition in children and of HIV prevalence in adults – both are among the highest in the world.

The UN agencies have expressed gratitude for the generous contributions made so far in support of the vulnerable people of the region. However, they are facing significant shortfalls and, unless more funding is forthcoming, it will not be possible to provide needed assistance to all those in need.

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Achieving food security for all is at the heart of FAO's efforts – to make sure people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives. FAO’s three main goals are: the eradication of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition; the elimination of poverty and the driving forward of economic and social progress for all; and, the sustainable management and utilization of natural resources, including land, water, air, climate and genetic resources for the benefit of present and future generations.


WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience. Each year, WFP assists some 80 million people in around 80 countries.

For more information please contact:

Edward Ogolla, FAO/Harare, tel. + 263 771681178, email: [email protected]

David Orr, WFP/Johannesburg, tel. + 27 82 908 1417, email: [email protected]