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SADC to focus on food security in 2005

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The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) will this year focus on improving regional food security through increased production and the establishment of a regional reserve facility to deal with emergencies. In his 2004 year-end speech spelling out the priorities of the bloc in 2005, SADC secretary-general Prega Ramsamy said the region should intensify food production. Despite a drop in the cereal deficit from 2.96 million tonnes in the 2003/04 marketing season to the current 1.96 million mt, many countries still faced huge shortages and food crises of varying proportions. The SADC Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources directorate would spend 2005 implementing the organisation's Dar es Salaam Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security, adopted by heads of state at a meeting in the Tanzanian capital in May 2004. Ramsamy said SADC had come up with a Strategic Action Plan, which seeks to boost food availability and accessibility, promote food emergency preparedness and regional trade, and also contains long-term investment programmes to improve economic performance. The region would incorporate food security planning into the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Programme (RISDP), a master plan that sets strategies and targets for achieving regional food security by 2020. Business plans being prepared for the RISDP would be submitted to the SADC Council of Ministers in the first quarter of 2005. The Regional Food Reserve Facility, a priority component of the declaration, will act as a food reservoir in case of emergencies. A plan to control livestock and crop diseases to boost production has also been drawn up. "We have drafted a regional migrant pest control strategy to focus on quelea birds, red locusts, army worms and grain borers. It will also focus on the control of common livestock diseases," Ramsamy announced. He called on large- and small-scale farmers in the region to diversify crop-farming activities to include 'energy farming', such as growing sugar cane for the extraction of ethanol, and oil-bearing crops for fuels like bio-diesel and household cooking oil. Apart from creating rural employment, energy farming also contributes to satisfying local and national energy needs. Largely because of drought, many southern African countries suffered shortages in 2004. With the exception of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, all southern African countries are listed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as food-deficit areas. According to the UN Humanitarian Early Warning System (HEWSWEB), Zimbabwe, Malawi, Swaziland and Lesotho faced major food crises during the past year. Crop and livestock diseases remained a problem, with Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe all recording outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease. Zimbabwe and Malawi ended the year facing serious outbreaks of army worm just as the cropping season began. Chris Kaye, who heads the regional UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)), told IRIN that his organisation was working closely with SADC to develop strategies aimed at improving regional food security. Country-by-country vulnerability assessment surveys were being conducted in cooperation with the SADC Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Directorate to get a regional picture of the situation. "We have adopted a holistic approach, which includes research on various elements that impact on food security - we are looking at the effects of such diseases as HIV/AIDS, and other [factors]," said Kaye. "OCHA is also providing technical and material support to food security initiatives in the region."
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