March 22, 2003

SOUTHERN AFRICA: Mixed prospects for food security

Food production prospects in Southern Africa are mixed with some areas showing signs of recovery from the devastating drought-induced shortages that struck the region last year. Most of Zimbabwe, southern and central Mozambique, parts of southern Zambia and Malawi and northern South Africa, have been particularly affected by below normal rains. The outlook for maize production in these areas range from mediocre to poor, the latest Southern African Development Community (SADC) Food Security Ministerial Brief warned.

However, preliminary forecasts released by a number of countries and by the SADC Regional Early Warning Unit, show that in countries most affected by production shortfalls last year - which have been receiving emergency food assistance - maize production is expected to be better than last season. In some countries it could be well above normal production.

Maize production in Zambia and Zimbabwe could be more than 50 percent above last year's poor yields. Despite some dry areas in southern Zambia, national maize production could exceed the past five year average, with the national cereal gap reduced by nearly 60 percent if cassava is included in the food balance analysis. Despite the late start to the seasonal rains in Zambia, national maize production could be up by one third from last year, although some southern areas have been affected by below normal rains and water stress. The current outstanding food gap is expected to be partially met through continued informal cross-border trade, SADC researchers said.

But in spite of improved production in Zimbabwe, national output is unlikely to be more than half of normal production, the report noted. It added that the food crisis had been exacerbated by a severe economic downturn and "policies that inhibit production, importation and distribution of basic commodities". Despite import levels that suggest improved national food security, the situation on the ground "remains dire" for a very large number of rural households. Production prospects are poor due to the reduced area planted, shortages of essential inputs and poor rainfall in central and southern areas.

Maize production in Angola, Malawi and Lesotho is expected to be up by 30 to 40 percent compared with last year, and above or very close to long-term average production levels, the report said. In Lesotho, though, maize prices are high and spending power is low. In Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia, production is likely to be down. Mozambique has been seriously affected by low rainfall in southern and some central areas, and by excessive rains leading to flooding in the central and northern regions. In Swaziland, commercial import deliveries have been far below expectations, raising concerns of further price increases from January to March. High temperatures in some areas and hailstorms in the south indicate that maize production is unlikely to be better than last year.

The report noted that during the course of a normal rainy season, the SADC region is typically affected by dry spells in some areas and excessive rains in others. Starting at the end of December, heavy rains and the effects of cyclone Delfina led to flooding and damage over parts of the region badly affecting people in Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. With the marketing year beginning in April or May in most SADC countries, initial estimates show that the region could have a surplus of 779,000 metric tonnes of maize this year, compared with a 1.5 million metric deficit last year. But to fully replenish strategic reserves, the region will need to import nearly one million metric tonnes of maize. Last year 3.2 million metric tonnes was needed.

The report said the main reasons for the improved situation this year was the prospect of increased production by over 800,000 metric tonnes and much higher levels of opening stocks in some countries, particularly South Africa, Malawi and Botswana. Malawi might even meet its consumption requirements without imports and South Africa is expecting to have considerable export capacity this year. (Malawi Standard, Blantyre)

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