Mbabane — The food security situation in southern Africa has remained subdued over the past few years due to a variety of factors, hampering efforts to deepen integration and promote sustainable development.
According to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Early Warning and Vulnerability Assessment Systems, at least 27 million people – about nine percent of the population of the region – are food insecure this year as a result of the poor 2015/16 farming season.
The poor season has largely been due to low rainfall, mainly caused by the strongest El Niño weather phenomenon ever in southern Africa. The current El Niño-induced drought in SADC is the worst in 35 years.
So what is SADC doing to address its food security situation to ensure sustainable development?
The region has established a regional El-Niño response team to coordinate a regional response to the impacts of the 2015/16 El-Niño phenomenon on livelihoods in close collaboration with member states.
The SADC El Niño Response Team was set up in May following a directive issued by the SADC Council of Ministers that met in mid-March.
The team has so far prepared a regional drought appeal for assistance with the aim of mobilizing resources to meet the needs of people requiring humanitarian support in the region.
SADC chairperson, President Seretse Khama Ian Khama of Botswana launched the regional appeal amounting to US$2.7 billion.
Significant resources have so far been realised since the appeal was launched in July.
“Following the launch of the appeal, the region has received assistance and pledges from a number of partners, including the European Union, the United States and Japan,” SADC Executive Secretary, Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax said ahead of the two-day 36th SADC Summit, which opens 30 August in Mbabane, the Kingdom of Swaziland.
In addition to this, SADC has also adopted a number of other measures to revolutionize the agricultural sector, which contributes between 4 and 27 percent of the regional gross domestic product, and about 13 percent of the total export earnings.
The measures include promotion of investment in research and improved access to financial resources for smallholder farmers.
Other strategies are measures to strengthen the capacity for the dissemination of research technologies to farmers, particularly smallholder farmers, who make up the majority of farmers in the region.
Access to such information is critical for planning purposes, especially when farmers want to diversify into new crops or livestock.
With regard to water infrastructure development, SADC is investing in irrigation to enable farmers to grow crops all year round and not only depend on climatic conditions.
There is vast potential for irrigation in SADC as the region is endowed with large watercourses such as the Congo, Limpopo, and Zambezi rivers.
The Water Sector Plan of the SADC Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan (RIDMP) contains a total of 34 infrastructure projects aimed at improving access to water in the region.
At the national level, various SADC Member States are capacitating their farmers to embrace new technologies and ensure that they get increased productivity per unit area of land, rather than by increasing the area of cultivated land.
Individual countries are also improving their storage facilities to allow farmers to store their harvest for use in poor seasons.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, post-harvest crop losses are estimated to be as high as 40 percent in southern Africa.
SADC has also finalized the Regional Agricultural Policy (PAP) that was adopted in 2014. The plan seeks to ensure long-term food security and the reduction of social and economic vulnerability of the region’s population by enhancing sustainable agricultural production in the changing socio-economic and climatic conditions.
The region is implementing the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which aims to boost food production in the continent.
Adopted by the African Union (AU) in 2003, the CAADP encourages countries to reach a higher path of economic growth through agriculture-led development by allocating at least 10 percent of their national budgets to the agricultural sector each year.
Ultimately, this ambitious and broad vision for agricultural reform in Africa aspires for an average annual growth rate of six percent in agriculture.
It should also be noted that the budgetary target does not only focus on the agricultural sector per se but also seeks to address inter-linkages between agriculture and other sectors. For example, investment in infrastructure development such as road and rail is critical to promoting the smooth movement of agricultural produce from one place to another.
In the same light, improvements in science and technology promotes development of appropriate innovations including fertilizers and other farming inputs such as seeds.
Agriculture is an engine for socio-economic development in most countries in southern Africa. The 36th SADC Summit set for 30-31 August is expected to come up with more measures to consolidate the drive towards food security.
The theme for the 36th SADC Summit is “Resource Mobilisation for Investment in Sustainable Energy Infrastructure for an Inclusive SADC Industrialisation for the Prosperity of the Region.”
At the summit, King Mswati III of Swaziland will assume the rotating SADC Chair from President Seretse Khama Ian Khama of Botswana. sardc.net
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