South­ern African lead­ers to meet as re­gion faces food cri­sis

The Pak Banker - - BUSINESS -

JOHANNESBURG: Lead­ers of 15 south­ern African coun­tries will gather for an an­nual sum­mit on Mon­day (to­day) as the re­gion grap­ples with se­ri­ous food short­ages that have left a record num­ber of peo­ple need­ing aid.

A toxic mix of er­ratic rains, ab­nor­mally high tem­per­a­tures and floods have wreaked havoc on farm­ing, writ­ing off the bulk of this year's crop. An es­ti­mated 27.4 mil­lion peo­ple out of the re­gion's com­bined pop­u­la­tion of 292 mil­lion -- or nearly one in 10 peo­ple -- will be depend­ing on food hand­outs by the end of the year.

Yields of the sta­ple corn have shrunk by up to 90 per­cent in some coun­tries of the 15-na­tion South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC), a June re­port by the group said. "Given the haz­ards faced, the num­ber of food in­se­cure peo­ple ... in­creased by 13 per­cent (to) 27.4 mil­lion this year com­pared to 24.3 mil­lion for last year," said the re­port. But the lead­ers meet­ing in Botswana from Mon­day are not ex­pected to launch a joint re­gional ap­peal for help.

"In­stead, in­di­vid­ual coun­tries will do so," said Mar­garet Nyirenda, di­rec­tor of SADC's Food, Agri­cul­ture and Nat­u­ral Re­sources Di­vi­sion. Malawi, Zim­babwe, Namibia and Botswana are among the worst-hit.

World Food Pro­gramme spokesman David Orr told AFP Zim­babwe and Malawi were fac­ing their "worst food se­cu­rity cri­sis" in a decade. Zim­babwe, with a short­fall of 49 per­cent, will need to im­port 700,000 tonnes of the sta­ple corn to feed 1.5 mil­lion peo­ple.

The coun­try's Vice Pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa has al­ready ap­pealed for cash from "de­vel­op­ment agen­cies and the pri­vate sec­tor" to en­sure that the vul­ner­a­ble are not "ex­posed to hunger and star­va­tion". In Malawi floods ear­lier this year rav­aged fields, killing 176 peo­ple. Tra­di­tion­ally the third largest pro­ducer of maize in the re­gion, this year it is be­ing forced to im­port from neigh­bour Zam­bia. Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial es­ti­mates, up to 2.8 mil­lion Malaw­ians will need food re­lief from year end when the food short­ages peak. The diamond-rich coun­try has al­lo­cated $44 mil­lion in emer­gency funds to tackle what the gov­ern­ment is call­ing its worst drought in 30 years.

And with re­gional bread­bas­ket South Africa record­ing a 31 per­cent de­cline in out­put this year, fears are high of a rip­ple ef­fect across im­porters Swaziland, Botswana and Le­sotho. The cur­rent maize harvest in South Africa is "the low­est yield since 2007," the coun­try's agri­cul­ture depart­ment told AFP, adding that the coun­try will have to im­port around 600,000 tonnes of maize to cover the deficit and meet its con­trac­tual ex­port obli­ga­tions. The pro­longed dry spells in parts of the re­gion have also re­duced graz­ing land and feed for live­stock, and are likely to push up the prices of red meat, milk, chick­ens and eggs.

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