Some 23 million people in southern Africa are in need of urgent support to be able to produce enough food to feed themselves and avoid being dependent on humanitarian assistance until mid-2018, the United Nations agricultural agency has warned.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), if farmers are not able to plant by October, the result will be another reduced harvest early next year, severely affecting food and nutrition security as well as livelihoods in the region.
“The main way people are able to access food is through what they themselves produce. Assisting them to do this will provide lifesaving support in a region where at least 70 percent of people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods,” David Phiri, FAO Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa, said in a news release issued by the agency.
“We must make the most of this small window of opportunity and make sure that farmers are ready to plant by October when the rains start,” he added.
To respond to this developing humanitarian situation, FAO aims to ensure that seeds, fertilizers, tools, and other inputs and services, including livestock support, are provided to small-holder farmers, agro-pastoralists and pastoralists to cope with the devastating impact of an El Niño-induced drought in the region.
The agency has estimated that at least $109 million is required to provide this urgently needed support.
The precarious situation has been brought on by the worst drought the region has witnessed in 35 years, with widespread crop failures exacerbating chronic malnutrition. Vulnerable families in rural areas have been hit hardest by the ensuing increase in prices of maize and other staple foods.
Furthermore, as the impact of El Niño continues to be felt in the region, FAO has projected that almost 40 million people could face food insecurity by the peak of the coming lean season, between January and March 2017, when the effects of the drought are expected to peak.
All countries in southern Africa are affected and more than 640,000 drought-related livestock deaths have been reported in Botswana, Swaziland, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe alone due to lack of pasture and water as well as outbreak of diseases.
In the news release, FAO urged investments that equip communities with the ability to produce drought-tolerant seed and fodder, along with climate-smart agriculture technologies like conservation agriculture. The aim is to enable rural families to build resilience and prepare for future shocks.
Meanwhile, El Niño's counter-phenomenon, La Niña, is likely to occur later this year and while it could bring good rains needed for agriculture, the agency noted that measures must be taken to mitigate the risk of floods which could destroy standing crops and threaten livestock. Such measures could include strengthening river banks and stockpiling of short-cycle crop varieties which can be planted after flooding subsides and still yield a decent crop
Separately, concluding a week-long visit to southern Africa, the Deputy UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Kyung-wha Kang called for increased efforts to help mitigate the impact of the La Niña weather phenomenon.
Coordinated regional response
Given the complexity and scale of the crisis, FAO is working closely with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) an inter-governmental organization that is working to promote socio-economic cooperation and integration as well as political and security cooperation among its fifteen southern African member countries. FAO is also collaborating with other UN agencies, humanitarian partners, regional authorities and national governments.
The agency's call for more funding comes on the heels of an SADC regional humanitarian appeal, launched in Gaborone on 26 July by the SADC Chairperson and President of Botswana, Seretse Khama Ian Khama.
The SADC appeal put the overall price tag of helping all sectors of the region's economy recover from the 2016 El Niño at $2.7 billion, of which $2.4 billion is yet to be funded.