Slight improvement in food production

Rising poverty levels and HIV/AIDS continue to exact a heavy toll on vulnerable households in Southern Africa, despite a slight improvement in food production over the 2004/05 consumption period, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) noted in its latest report.

Updated estimates of cereal availability in the region put domestic production at 26.6 million mt in 2003, improving to 27.48 million mt for this year.

Overall, far fewer people were in need compared to the past two years, with the number of those who were food insecure falling from 14.4 million in 2002/03 to 5.4 million in 2004/05, the early warning unit said.

With the exception of Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland and South Africa, crop yields in many of the region's countries had improved.

More than a million people in Malawi will need food aid until March 2005 due to poor harvests, mainly in the south and centre of the country. Vulnerability assessment reports have indicated that some 56,000 mt of cereals will be required to assist those in need.

Results of the latest crop assessment in Lesotho had shown a harvest less than half that of the previous year.

The World Food Programme (WFP) expects to be feeding 168,500 vulnerable Swazis in 2005. A WFP and Food and Agriculture Organisation assessment in August estimated that Swaziland's crop production in 2005 would be between 30 and 60 percent of a normal year's output.

The early warning network noted that many governments had put in place intervention measures to assure production recovery. In Malawi, for example, plans were underway to introduce a subsidised inputs programme to increase crop production next year. Ongoing input subsidy programmes have also been planned in Zambia, where the government targeted 150,000 farmers last year.

FEWS NET noted that humanitarian assistance providing input supply would also be essential for supplementing government efforts to restore productive capacity in the region.