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Southern Africa: Food Emergency Shortfall

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Oct 18, 2005 (051018)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

With attention diverted and disaster fatigue accentuated by response to the hurricanes in North America, the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) as well as private agencies are finding responses slow to the earthquake in South Asia and to food crises in Africa. The WFP appeal for Niger, which briefly hit world headlines in July, has still only raised $36 million of its $58 million target; the appeal for 12 million people in Southern Africa has only raised $245 million out of an estimated $622 million needed.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a press release from the World Food Programme on the hunger crisis in Southern Africa, news reports from the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) on the food situation in Malawi and on the most recent South Africa contribution to the World Food Programme, and an update from the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS) on the food situation in Zimbabwe.

For more and regularly updated information, see the web sites of the World Food Programme (, ReliefWeb ( and FEWS ( In addition to alerts, FEWS features a regular two-page executive summary of threats to food security in Sub-Saharan Africa.

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Critical window closing for 12 million in southern Africa

World Food Program

Lilongwe, Malawi, 13 October 2005 - A top WFP official has warned that a critical window is closing fast for 12 million people across southern Africa to receive urgent help from the international community - including five million people in Malawi facing the toughest 'hunger season' in more than a decade.

WFP Deputy Executive Director Sheila Sisulu, a prominent South African, said in the Malawian capital of Lilongwe that WFP was racing against time to ensure sufficient food aid is delivered to six worst-affected southern African countries, including Malawi, to prevent mass suffering before next April.


"It is deplorable that enough donations only come in when images of emaciated African children starving in large numbers start appearing on television screens around the world." said Sisulu.

"Hunger doesn't have to be inevitable in Africa but once food needs start to peak, it will be too late for many of the weakest, especially children, and the cost of saving lives will escalate significantly."

Massive shortfall

Sisulu arrived in Lilongwe on Tuesday for a four-day visit for talks with the government and to check on WFP's operations in Malawi, just as the organisation is facing a massive shortfall in contributions to run critical feeding programmes.

"Malawi is not a repeat of Niger - yet. There is still a chance to help the most vulnerable," Sisulu said.

"If we all act now, there is no reason why the situation should deteriorate further. But the world should be under no illusion, the clock is ticking and the outlook is bleak. We need money pledged now to feed the hungriest in a few months' time."

Imminent food crisis

For Malawi, WFP still needs US$76 million to feed up to 2.9 million people before the next harvest in April/May 2006. Regionally, WFP requires US$185 million to feed up to 9.2 million hungry people in Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Over the past six months, WFP and other aid agencies have warned of an imminent food crisis in Malawi and the rest of southern Africa.

So far, the biggest single donor to WFP in Malawi is the Government, which received significant support from Britain and the European Commission. However, no new contributions have been received since September 22.

Food aid on the ground

It can take up to six months for donor pledges to WFP to appear as food aid on the ground in southern Africa.

The annual hunger season in Malawi, for instance, usually starts in December and peaks in January/February before the new maize harvest in March/April, but this year it has started several months earlier and rising maize prices are already pushing vulnerable populations to the brink. Supplies of cooking oil and pulses are particularly needed.

WFP also needs to preposition three months of food supplies as some southern areas in Malawi are often completely cut off for weeks at a time once the rainy season starts in November. This makes the need for cash contributions to buy food locally even more critical.

Honouring pledges

Sisulu urged all donors "to open their hearts at this most critical time" as well as honour pledges made in the last few months. "The time to step up the humanitarian response is now, but this can't be achieved without international support," Sisulu said.

Spiralling maize prices in Malawi months before the hunger season point to food shortages in the first quarter of 2006 being worse than 2002, when drought put millions of people at risk of dying.

WFP fed 2.9 million people across Malawi in 2002. This year, WFP is striving to feed a similar number of people, but in just seven districts in the worst-affected south.

Voucher scheme

In addition, the United Kingdom's Department for International Development and the Government of Malawi are distributing food rations through vouchers in the South, Central and Northern Regions.

The voucher scheme should eventually reach up to 2.2 million people in 16 districts. The number targeted by the scheme in October is almost 460,000 people.

WFP is currently feeding more than 1.2 million people in the south as well as providing food to malnourished children and their mothers at government-run Nutrition Rehabilitation Units across the country. It also supports people with HIV/AIDS and development projects such as irrigation schemes.

One meal or less

Hundreds of hungry people not registered for food assistance through Village Relief Committees are turning up at WFP food distribution points. Many say they are eating one meal or less per day and some are resorting to eating wild foods that have little nutritional value, and in some cases are very toxic and can cause death if not properly prepared.

The number of malnourished children under the age of five arriving in Nutrition Rehabilitation Units (NRUs) across Malawi is increasing. In August, the NRU admission rate rose by 29 percent across the country as compared to the same period in 2004.

Combination of problems

The food shortage in Malawi is caused by a combination of problems that include:

  • the poorest maize harvest since 1994
  • erratic weather
  • shortages of seeds and fertilisers at the critical planting time
  • high prices for available food
  • chronic poverty (at least 60 percent of Malawians live below the poverty line)
  • the impact of HIV/AIDS on agriculture
  • over reliance on rain-fed crops, particularly maize
  • the fact that only two percent of arable land is irrigated and most of this is linked to commercial farms for sugar cane, tobacco, and tea


HIV/AIDS is a major factor in limiting people's ability to grow food. Many families are forced to spend meagre resources on medicine or funerals for those affected by the virus, leaving nothing to buy seeds and fertiliser at the most critical planting time.

Malawi has an average adult HIV prevalence rate of 14.4%. Pockets in the country are considerably higher.

Malawi, like the rest of southern Africa, is beset by a rising number of orphans due to HIV/AIDS, placing a heavy burden on families struggling to cope with food shortages. Even after good harvests, many of the poorest families have difficulties feeding themselves.

Malawi: Mutharika declares disaster as food crisis deepens

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Networks

[This material is from IRIN, a UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]

Johannesburg, 17 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - Malawi's worsening food crisis has been seized on by opponents of President Bingu wa Mutharika, intent on forcing him out of office.

Apparently bowing to opposition pressure, Mutharika on Saturday declared a state of disaster in all 28 districts of Malawi in response to widespread food shortages - an indication that the food crisis had become politicised, said Rafiq Hajat of the Blantyre-based Institute for Policy Interaction.

Hajat noted that the declaration came several weeks after the UN launched its US $88 million Flash Appeal for Malawi and was tantamount to "closing the stable door after the horse has already bolted".

"It's basically long overdue - some of us in civil society have been raising the alarm over the impending food crisis since December 2004 and January this year. The crisis was created by a combination of factors, such as the non-delivery of subsidised fertiliser last year and the erratic rainfall - it did not take a rocket scientist to figure out that we were going to face a food crisis this year," Hajat commented.

Aid workers told IRIN the Flash Appeal had been out since the end of August and it was unlikely that a state of disaster would deliver significant new levels of funding.

According to the Financial Tracking System of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, $28 million had so far been received towards the $88 million Malawi appeal.

Mutharika has been fighting for his political survival since June, with the food crisis seemingly overshadowed as opposition parties forged ahead with plans to impeach him.

The fight has pitted Mutharika against former president of the country and now chairman of the United Democratic Front (UDF), Bakili Muluzi, with the UDF proposing an impeachment motion after Mutharika left the party which had sponsored him in the national elections.

On paper the opposition parties form the largest bloc in parliament, though Mutharika formed his own political organisation, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), it does not have any seats.

Earlier this month, British High Commissioner to Malawi David Pearey said the ongoing political crisis was distracting government and had caused parliament to lose focus amid a worsening food crisis. He warned that the political imbroglio could also jeopardise foreign development assistance.

"Certain quarters seem hell-bent on self-destruction. It's the old African adage: 'When the elephants fight the grass gets trampled underfoot'," Hajat remarked.

The World Food Programme (WFP) spokeswoman in Malawi, Antonella D'Aprile, said the government - with donor backing - was already distributing food aid in the central and northern parts of the country, alongside WFP's efforts in the worst-affected southern districts.

"The situation is, however, complex and we've been monitoring the maize price over the past six months, and we knew something big was coming [in terms of needs]," she said.

The volume of food aid required was "much higher now, and we are now looking at five million people in need [of food aid]". Earlier estimates had put the number at 4.2 million.

South Africa boosts aid to region

Johannesburg, 3 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - South Africa has announced a R140 million (US $22 million) donation to the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to alleviate food shortages in Southern Africa.

The Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs said in a statement that the government had agreed "to provide humanitarian food aid assistance and to support the rehabilitation of agricultural production in seven countries in the region ... Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe".

"It [the government] has agreed in principle to make R140 million available this year, with the main focus on rehabilitation of agricultural productivity, and in proportion to the identified respective country needs," the statement noted.

Of the total donation, 70 percent - R98 million ($15.4 million) - would be used to assist households to become agriculturally productive again. Aid agencies have blamed drought, a shortage of seeds and fertilisers and weakened capacity due to HIV/AIDS as the main factors responsible for the agricultural decline in Southern Africa.

Twenty-five percent of the total donation - R35 million ($5.5 million) - would be allocated to direct food relief through WFP, while the remaining five percent - R7 million ($1.1 million)- would be used to support the regional early warning system.

"The South African donation comes at a time when nearly 9.2 million people require emergency food aid in Southern Africa. This is the third major South African donation to WFP, and clearly shows the government's support for the people of the region," WFP spokesman Mike Huggins told IRIN.

The details and timing of the assistance were still to be finalised in collaboration with WFP and FAO, but the South African government has stipulated "that procurement in terms of this donation will be done within South Africa and the region".

In 2002/03 South Africa donated R170 million ($26.7 million) to WFP for food aid in the region, followed by a R100 million ($15.7 million) in 2003/04 for both food aid and agricultural rehabilitation programmes.

Zimbabwe Food Security Emergency 12 Oct 2005 - Staple foods limited, cost of living rising

Limited Staple Food Availability and High Cost of Living Seriously Constrain Food Security

Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET)

[For more information, including the figures accompanying this text, see the FEWS NET Zimbabwe Country Center at: The Famine Early Warning Systems Network is an USAID activity managed by Chemonics International Inc. Contact us at]

The levels of food insecurity continue to worsen for both urban and rural populations, due to the reduced availability of staple cereals and the ever rising cost of living.

Household food stocks are running low as the hunger season (September - January) is starting. More people are being forced to look for maize and maize meal on the market. While tremendous effort is being made by the government to import food into the country to cover the production gap, officially estimated at about 1.2 million MT of maize, in-country grain distribution problems arising from shortages of fuel and trucks are restricting the amount of grain available on the market, particularly in the remote parts of the country. At current importation rates, the government will manage to import about 80 percent of its targeted maize imports of 1.2 million MT. If the pledges from government cooperating partners to bring 300,000 MT of grain into the country in the current marketing year materialize, the national deficit will be closed.

Since the harvesting period (around May), informal maize trade prices have increased significantly in response to both inflation and reduced availability. The traditionally grain deficit southern districts had the highest informal market maize price increases. Here, maize prices had gone up by at least 50 percent by August 2005. Maize availability in these areas is at critical levels; even people with money are finding it difficult to buy maize or maize meal. Private traders and local shops in these areas are now taking advantage of the situation and asking for between Z$4,400 and Z$5,600/kg for maize grain. On the other hand, maize price increases were as low as 25 percent in the north central districts of Mashonaland provinces and Manicaland were local production was the dominant source of maize grain. Farmer to farmer to maize transactions were taking place at between Z$2,200 and Z$2800/kg in these areas (Figure 1b).

The hyper inflation charactering the Zimbabwean economy continues to push the cost of living beyond the reach of most households. The gains that had been made in the fight against inflation throughout 2004 and the first quarter of 2005 continue to be reversed. The Central Statistical Office (CSO) measured an annual rate of inflation that stood at the unprecedented level of 623 percent in January 2004, but had gone down to 124 percent in March 2005. Since then inflation has risen sharply to 360 percent in September 2005. In July alone general prices levels leapt by a massive 47 percent. Though the month on month inflation for August went down to 8.3 percent, the September rate shot up to 33.3 percent as result of the official depreciation of the Zimbabwe dollar against major currencies, fuel price hikes and increases in value added tax take in August and September. The International Monetary Fund's 2005 economic review for Zimbabwe forecast annual inflation rate of 400 percent by December 2005. The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) monitored monthly food and non-food basket for low-income urban households of six stood at Z$5,401,440 in July 2005, marking an increase of 27 percent from June 2005 level of Z$4,247,808. By mid August 2005 the cost of the same basket had moved up by about 13.5 percent to reach the record high level of Z$6,129,900. At the end of September the cost of the CCZ basket had soured to Z$9.6million. Not only do consumers have to contend with exorbitant prices of basic commodities and services but they also have to grapple with rampant shortages of basic food stuffs such as salt, sugar, cooking oil and flour.

Given all these challenges the number of food insecure people is already substantially higher than the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee's (ZimVAC) estimate of 1.5 million food insecure rural people from July to September 2005. The urgent need to update the ZimVac projections of food insecure people can, therefore, not be overemphasized as affected populations require immediate food assistance to survive the hunger season.

Poor preparations for the 2005/06 Agricultural season lend little confidence to Zimbabwe's prospects for coming out of the current food security crisis in the next marketing year.

Climate experts predict that Zimbabwe's cereal crop producing region has greater chances of good rainfall in the 2005/06 cropping season. However, Zimbabwean farmers may not be able to take advantage of the potentially good rainfall season because of serious shortages of critical inputs. Maize seed, fertilizers, fuel and spare parts for farm machinery are likely to be in serious short supply in the 2005/06 cropping season. Seed companies in Zimbabwe estimate that as of August 2005, they held in stock a total of 26,000 MT of maize seed. Prior to 2000, Zimbabwe used to use about 36,000 MT of maize seed and produce enough to feed the nation and export some maize to other countries. Assuming national maize yields will approximate those attained by communal farmers in the 1990s and the national maize grain requirements are about 2 million MT, close to 56,000 MT of maize seed will be required in the 2005/06 agricultural season. The fertilizer companies told the a parliamentary committee in early August that they had no fertilizer stocks, and hardily any production of the commodity was taking place because of lack of foreign currency to import the required raw materials. In the 1990s Zimbabwean farmers would use an average of about 400,000 MT of fertilizers, about 40 percent of which was used for the maize crop. National fertilizer production capacity cannot meet this demand in the time left even if adequate foreign currency is made available to import the critical inputs. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that adequate foreign currency to import the required fertilizers could be secured if none could be availed for the raw materials.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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