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Snapshot of food security

Maize crop Flickr
Economic conditions in most southern African countries declined as a result of the global recession, pushing many more people towards greater food insecurity. According to a new food security update which focused on some southern African countries, food prices have risen and are still climbing in several countries.

The price of most fertilizers doubled in 2008 and continued to rise through 2009, affecting the quantity of crops planted throughout the region. High input costs prompted many governments to either extend their input subsidy programme or consider implementing one.

Here is a snapshot of food security in the region, based on an update compiled by the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

Lesotho | Namibia | Madagascar | Malawi | Mozambique | Swaziland | South Africa | Zambia | Zimbabwe |

Agriculture Area planted increased since 2008, but most parts of the country have experienced dry spells since December 2009. About 57 percent of communal farmers received input support, but input schemes face critical shortages of ammonium nitrate, which has compromised crop quality.
Food availability
Farmers' stocks have been depleted. Food aid and purchases are now major sources of cereals. Basic foodstuffs easily available in markets. Tax-free import of food items extended to 31 July 2010.
Food access/prices Declining supplies driving up maize prices. Around 1.6 million people will be food insecure between January and March 2010, with about 1.9 million receiving food aid.
Nutrition/Health At least 35 percent of children are severely malnourished. Measles outbreaks reported in 16 of 62 districts. A few cholera cases reported in 10 districts by 3 January 2010.
Comments Economic recovery sluggish. Amount of foreign currency in circulation still limited. Provision of basic services still problematic.

Agriculture Rains were on time, but area planted by end of December 2009 dropped by 25 percent compared to previous season. Government subsidized seeds and fertilizer by between 30 and 50 percent.
Food availability
The only country in southern Africa where food production fell in 2009, perhaps because farmers could not afford inputs. Government will have to import cereals from South Africa.
Food access/prices Between 400,000 and 450,000 of Lesotho's 2.1 million people will need food aid before the next harvest in April 2010.
Nutrition/Health Data from a food consumption survey by WFP, UNICEF and the National University of Lesotho yet to be analyzed.
Comments Government income from the Southern African Customs Union, a major source of revenue, fell by 35 percent in 2009/10 and is expected to shrink further in 2010/11.

Agriculture Rainfall has been erratic and insufficient. Few farmers have ploughed their fields.
Food availability
Rural households have no food stocks. Namibia will need to import between 150,000mt and 156,000mt of grain according to various estimates - almost its entire requirement of 159,000mt.
Food access/prices Most households have depleted their stocks and depend on markets and or government food aid.
Nutrition/Health African swine fever was reported in the Ohangwena region of northern Namibia, affecting transportation of inputs to the neighbouring fertile Kavango region.

The report on the 2008 Demographic Health Survey is still being finalized; the 2010 survey is being planned.
Comments Chronic food insecurity in the northern communal crop-producing areas was worsened by shocks such as droughts and floods in 2009. Namibia is a net cereal importer

Agriculture Irregular and poor distribution of rainfall and very high temperatures have affected crops, mainly in the south and central provinces.
Food availability
Food is available because of the good 2008/09 season, but food security could become critical in the southern and central provinces.
Food access/prices Maize prices have risen. At least 267,000 people will need food aid until the harvest in April 2010.
Nutrition/Health Chronic malnutrition levels are high - 44 percent- according to the last survey in 2008.
Comments The National directorate of water has forecast a high risk of flooding until March 2010 in the Zambezi River basin in the central region, and the Messalo River basin in the far north.

Agriculture Long dry spells have affected crops in most districts. An attack of army worms has also affected maize, rice, millet and sorghum crops.
Food availability
The food security situation remains favourable in most parts of the country.
Food access/prices Most markets have recorded a slight increase in maize prices but generally it is affordable and accessible.
Nutrition/Health The findings of a 2009 micronutrient survey have yet to be released.
Comments Food is available in the Karonga district of northern Malawi, which experienced a series of earthquakes in December 2009

Agriculture Input prices have gone up by between five and 10 percent but subsidies have been suspended, which could adversely affect food production. The cyclone season began in December 2010 and the island will remain under threat until April 2010.
Food availability
Supplies of the staple cereal, rice, are adequate.
Food access/prices A good harvest in 2009 reduced the number of food insecure among poor and vulnerable households from 65 percent in 2008 to 40 percent in November 2009. Local rice prices are stable.
Nutrition/Health The country has the highest levels of acute malnutrition (15 percent) and chronic malnutrition (53 percent) in southern Africa.
Comments More than 200,000 jobs were lost in 2009 as a result of the economic and political crisis. The USA has terminated its trade benefits because of the political situation and another 500,000 jobs could be lost. The UN Country Team has raised concerns over the approaching cyclone season, which usually affects some of the poorest regions of Madagascar.

Agriculture Government increased the number of people receiving subsidized fertilizer by halving the amount given to each household.
Food availability
The country has surplus food and will not require imports.
Food access/prices Maize prices stable until the end of 2009, yet remain high compared to previous surplus years, probably because of high input costs. High prices are expected to affect low-income households.
Nutrition/Health High food prices and recurrent floods have pushed up child malnutrition levels, according to the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection in Zambia.
Comments Food has been pre-positioned for the current rainy season in the three most flood-prone districts.

Agriculture Government has announced a plan to subsidize inputs later in 2010.
Food availability
Annual maize harvest improved but the country still needs to import around 90,000mt to meet requirements.
Food access/prices At least 256,000 people are facing food shortages.
Nutrition/Health The last nutritional survey in 2008 found chronic malnutrition of around 40 percent. Maternal nutrition figures indicate a problem of over-nutrition rather than under-nutrition among women.
Comments Trend analysis shows that increasing levels of stunting could result from both economic decline and continued high HIV prevalence rates.

South Africa
Agriculture Most of the country received good rainfall but some drought conditions related to El Nino experienced in central and western parts.
Food availability
The country is expected to produce a surplus.
Food access/prices Food prices have come down slightly but remain high.
Nutrition/Health Infant mortality is high - 49 out every 1,000 infants born every year die, largely because of HIV/AIDS.
Comments Government is working with agriculture and health institutions to improve existing food security initiatives.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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