- According to a new assessment of food security in Southern Africa, the region "will continue to face critical food shortages" during 2004-05, in particular Lesotho, Swaziland and Malawi. Although South Africa's harvests are below average, the region's largest grain producer may export enough grain to cover needs in Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia and Swaziland.
According to the latest Southern Africa update by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS), released this weekend, the upcoming consumption period will again see major deficits. Several Southern African nations have been hard hit by adverse crop growing conditions.
- An overall cereal production shortfall of 1.468 million metric tonnes is currently projected for the region, the FEWS report reveals. While Mozambique appears to have fared better this year, Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland are foreseen to "experience higher production deficits than those faced last year."
But also the regional food basket, South Africa, can expect lower levels of total cereal production this year, compared to last year. South Africa's grain production is expected to be reduced by 7 percent this season, compared to last year's very bad harvests.
Nevertheless, South Africa still will be able to export an estimated 2 million tonnes of grains, mostly to its neighbouring countries. This had been reported by South Africa's Statistics Directorate of the National Department of Agriculture (NDA). After last year's season, however, South Africa had exported more than 3 million tonnes.
The most disastrous situation described in the FEWS reports is again the total crop failure in Lesotho. Last year, Lesotho's total grain production only reached 94 tonnes, down from a ten-year average of 159 tonnes. This season, production is even foreseen to have dropped to 51 tonnes - representing a 68 percent drop from the ten-year average.
Also in Swaziland, the situation remains critical. The small kingdom is expected to experience higher production deficits than those faced last year. Here, grain production for the current season is 15 percent lower than the ten-year average.
For the past four rainy seasons, Lesotho and Swaziland have endured consecutive years of drought conditions that have adversely affected all agricultural production and hence the livelihoods of the affected communities. Extended periods of food insecurity and the impact of HIV/AIDS have weakened the resiliency of households, as well as setting back agricultural recovery.
For the current season, parts of Malawi are also included in the region's areas, facing critical food shortages. While Malawi experienced excellent harvests last season - finally putting an end to years of hardship - grain production has failed in some of the southern parts of the country this season.
Lesotho, Swaziland and parts of Malawi will therefore depend on food aid and commercial imports from South Africa in the upcoming consumption period. Also Namibia and Botswana - traditionally food deficit countries relying on commercial imports - will have their share of South Africa's exportable grain surplus this year. Also Angola is expected to have its grain import needs increased.
Other highlights in the FEWS report include the better-than-expected harvests in Mozambique, which this year expects a small grain surplus. This season, Tanzania has turned last year's deficit into a surplus, while the Zimbabwean grain deficit has decreased dramatically. The Zambian surplus this year has even grown compared to last year.
- Overall, and contrary to indications at the start of the season, the production estimates indicate a marked recovery in yield prospects for many countries in the region, the FEWS report concludes. "Production shortfalls will not be as severe as earlier assessed previously projected, due to an improvement in the distribution and amount of rainfall in the second half of the cropping season."
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