- Swaziland will once again be reliant on food aid this year to feed one-fifth of its people, according to the UN's World Food Programme (WFP).
Cereal production was even lower in 2006 than last year due to poor rains and the impact of AIDS. Swaziland has the world's worst HIV infection rate at over 40 percent of adults.
WFP plans to feed about 200,000 people from July through to December 2006. According to the agency, distributions will target HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and mother-and-child health clinics; programmes for orphans and other vulnerable children, and school-feeding programs in selected primary schools.
"The total available food after the 2006 harvest, which ended two months ago, was 81,000 tonnes of cereals. Swaziland's consumption for the year is estimated at 190,000," said Abdoulaye Balde, WFP Country Representative for Swaziland. At least 107,000 tonnes of food imports will be required to fill the gap.
"Most of the gap will be filled by commercial imports through the National Maize Board. We are calculating how much that will be, the cereals that will be available in shops for people to purchase. The shortfall will then be filled by emergency food relief," Balde told IRIN.
Since independence in 1968, Swaziland has historically been a net importer of food, never achieving production of more than 49 percent of annual consumption. However, over the last decade output has declined, related to a series of droughts and the impact of HIV/AIDS on labour availability and rural incomes.
"The old adage, 'teach a man to fish, and he'll have food for a lifetime' has been turned on its head because of AIDS. Our [just concluded] survey will show that every family is affected by AIDS. The number of child-headed households is growing, and households where only the elderly remain. Neither group is capable of implementing farming instruction because they are unable to physically work a farm," Balde said.
The liquidation this week of the Central Cooperatives Union (CCU), which for over 30 years worked to raise agricultural output and the incomes of small-holder farmers, is likely to also have an impact on food security, said Balde.
Rural instructors provided by the CCU taught small-holder farmers modern agricultural techniques, and promoted the use of fertilizers and hybrid seeds. Its principal achievement was to assist farmers to form cooperatives to reduce costs and reap the benefits of economies of scale.
The sudden demise of the CCU, which took the agricultural community by surprise, could be rooted in the debts incurred by expansion into non-core businesses. The CCU operated supermarkets, petrol stations and hardware stores in the central commercial hub Manzini, and in some rural towns.
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