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Southern Africa facing food crisis

29 January 20160 comments

The global refugee crisis is set to worsen as southern Africa faces dire food shortages after extensive crop failures following record low rainfall.

In a region in which almost 30 million people already don’t have sustainable access to enough affordable and nutritious food; the poor harvest could see the onset of famine and more mass migration.

Dire food shortages will worsen the global refugee crisis

Dire food shortages will worsen the global refugee crisis

“With little or no rain falling in many areas and the window for the planting of cereals closing fast or already closed in some countries, the outlook is alarming,” the World Food Programme (WFP) reported.

“The region is ill-prepared for a shock of this magnitude, particularly since the last growing season was also affected by drought. This means depleted regional stocks, high food prices, and substantially increased numbers of food insecure people,” the UN agency said.

Southern Africa is feeling the impact of an El Nino effect and continued below-average rainfall and high temperatures are likely to persist in 2016, with the food crisis lasting into 2017, the WFP said.

Paradoxically, global food prices are at their lowest level in many years, but the strong US dollar means people in developing countries suffering climate-related food shortages are not benefiting.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Food Price Index – a measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities – for 2015 was 19 points down on 2014, the fourth consecutive annual decline.

“Abundant supplies in the face of a timid world demand and an appreciating US dollar are the main reasons for the general weakness that has dominated food prices in 2015,” an FAO report said recently.

The food price shocks of 2007 and 2011, which squeezed family budgets and drove the poor deeper into poverty, are over. The major producers responded to the high prices by boosting output, leading to the current surpluses.

But several developing countries currently need to import as a result of poor agricultural seasons, and “what you pay for in food imports is a function of the strength of your currency against the dollar and its purchasing power,” the FAO said.

Among the worst-affected countries is South Africa, traditionally the region’s food bowl.

Southern Africa’s leading maize producer saw output fall 30 per cent below the 2014 season and it may have to import around 6 million tonnes.

In Malawi, the 2014-15 cereal harvest was 24 per cent down on the five-year average. Currently, 2.8 million people out of a total population of 16 million are deemed to be ‘food insecure’, lacking access to food that’s sufficient to lead healthy and active lives.

Zimbabwe’s harvest was 42 per cent down on the five-year average. An estimated 1.5 million people are food insecure, with 600,000 in ‘crisis’ – meaning they are forced to skip meals.

There are high rates of malnutrition and many farmers have sold their livestock to make ends meet.

Namibia and southern Angola have seen drought conditions over the past year. Namibia appears on top of its crisis but Angola, even though it is Africa’s second largest oil producer, is struggling.

In Cunene province, 800,000 people – or 72 per cent of the population – have been hit by crop losses and livestock deaths, with child malnutrition rates beyond the emergency threshold of 15 per cent.

Mozambique, Zambia, and Lesotho are also threatened by drought and food shortages.

More than 176,000 people are in ‘crisis’ in the Mozambique provinces of Gaza, Inhambane, Sofala, and Niassa, until at least the next harvest. A further 575,455 people are food insecure.

Zambia has been an exporter of maize to the region, but last year’s production was 21 per cent down on 2014. Zambia’s ample stocks enabled it to still export to neighbouring and needy Zimbabwe, but close to 800,000 Zambians are also at risk of food and livelihood insecurity.

Around 650,000 people – one third of the population of Lesotho – do not have enough food.  Some reports say the numbers affected could surpass 725,000. Water rationing is underway in several districts, impacting not just agriculture, but also industries, schools, and hospitals.

In the island nation of Madagascar, nearly 1.9 million people – or 46 per cent of the population – were ‘food insecure’ in 2015, with 450,000 of them in crisis, the FAO said.


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist