Food security in southern Africa a serious concern: WFP

26 Jan 2016 17:00pm
WINDHOEK, 26 JAN (NAMPA) – An estimated 14 million people around the world are facing hunger following prolonged dry spells that led to a poor harvest last year, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) says.
WFP in a media statement issued last week said the El Niño global weather phenomenon, which is leading to even worse drought across the southern African region, is already affecting this year’s crops.
“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 number of people without enough food could rise significantly over coming months as the region moves deeper into the so-called lean season, the period before the April harvest when food and cash stocks become increasingly depleted. Particularly vulnerable are smallholder farmers who account for most agricultural production,” it cautioned.
Poor rains in Namibia have caused a low harvest not only in commercial farming areas but also in communal areas, and impacted on overall national food security. A WFP report released at the end of last year stated that more than 42 per cent of people in Namibia suffer from a lack of adequate nutrition.
The report, titled ‘The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015’ said heavy reliance on food imports makes Namibia susceptible to high food prices, which increases pressure on vulnerable households’ food security. Low-income earners struggle to meet their minimum daily food intake requirements, as reflected in the fact that 42.3 per cent of the population is undernourished.
The WFP report released last week made reference to the current drought situation in southern Zambia - one of the biggest breadbaskets in the region. The situation there is causing serious concern not only for that country, but for all countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. Worst affected in the region by last year’s poor rains are Malawi where about 2.8 million people are facing hunger; Madagascar where nearly 1.9 million people are facing hunger and Zimbabwe, where about 1.5 million people are in a similar situation because of a massive crop failure as last year’s harvest was reduced by half compared to the previous year. In Lesotho, the government last month declared a drought emergency and some 650 000 people – one-third of the population – do not have enough food. Also causing concern are Angola, Mozambique and Swaziland.
Food prices across southern Africa have been rising due to reduced production and availability. The price of maize – the staple for most of the region – is 73 per cent higher in Malawi than the three-year average for this time of year, according to the report.
WFP’s food security assessment analysts estimate that more than 40 million rural and nine million urban people in the region live in geographic zones that are highly exposed to the fall-out from El Niño, the strongest such weather event for more than three decades. South Africa, the major breadbasket of the region, has indicated that this El Niño-induced drought is the worst the country has suffered in more than half a century, which leaves various neighbouring states hungry.
“One particularly worrying symptom of southern Africa’s vulnerability to food and nutrition security is the alarming rate of chronic malnutrition. Levels of stunting among children in Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia are among the worst in the world. This affects children’s physical growth, cognitive development, as well as their future health and productivity,” it warned.
WFP is looking to scale up its lean season food and cash-based assistance programmes in the worst hit countries but faces critical funding challenges.