November 12, 2004

Facing fourth year of drought, warns minister

Swaziland faces its fourth consecutive year of drought, further jeopardising the nation's diminishing food production, the ministry of agriculture has warned. The ministry's projections of below-average rainfall are based on the latest data from the government's department of meteorology. "As the ministry responsible for agriculture and farming in the country, we are extremely concerned about the shortage of rain - this is now the planting season," the ministry's principal secretary, Noah Nkambule, said. "The meteorology department had predicted some rain in October and November, but seemingly we are experiencing the direct opposite," he added.
Due to Swaziland's proximity to the Indian Ocean, El Nino, in which warmer Pacific ocean water is drawn eastward toward the Americas, leaving cooler waters along the east coast of Africa that fail to generate rain, has been blamed for the periodic dry spells in the country. An absence of rainfall will exacerbate the desertification now witnessed in the dry northern lowveld, the hot eastern lowveld and, more recently, in the central Manzini region. The soil in some areas is still potentially fertile, but cannot be cultivated without sufficient rainfall.
Irrigation farming is not generally practiced by the majority of Swaziland's smallholder farmers, who live on communal Swazi Nation Land administered by palace-appointed chiefs. "Swazi Nation Land is entirely dependent on weather conditions," the Central Bank of Swaziland noted in its recent review of the nation's economic output. Widespread poverty also prevents investment in irrigation equipment. Maize and vegetables, like cowpeas, are normally planted in October or early November. (IRIN)

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