A regional food security assessment indicates that southern Africa has a cereal deficit of more than 5.4 million tonnes this year following a subdued 2018/19 farming season.
This is according to a Synthesis Report on the State of Food and Nutrition Security and Vulnerability in Southern Africa approved by the SADC Regional Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis (RVAA) Programme Steering Committee that met on 05 July in Windhoek.
Based on the 11 SADC member states that provided cereal balance sheets for the 2018/19 harvest year, the region produced about 37.5 million tonnes of cereals compared to 42.9 million tonnes in 2017/18.
The countries that provided cereal balance sheets for the 2018/19 season are Angola, Botswana, the DRC, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The report revealed that cereal production in South Africa, which usually accounts for the largest proportion of regional output, decreased by 19% from 18.7 million tonnes during the 2017/18 season to 15.1 million tonnes this year.
Zambia, which has during the past few years significantly contributed to regional cereal output, suffered a 14.7% decline in production from 2.6 million tonnes in 2017/18 to 2.2 million tonnes in 2018/19.
The largest drop in output is in Botswana where cereal production is estimated to have declined by 92% during the 2018/19 season, while Namibia and Lesotho experienced 53% and 50% decreases, respectively.
The least affected countries are Angola and Tanzania, which recorded decreases of only 1% and 4% respectively.
Maize accounts for 80% cereal production in southern Africa. Other important cereals are wheat, sorghum, millets and rice.
According to the regional food security assessment report, the decline in cereal production indicates that "an estimated 41.2 million people in 13 SADC Member States are food-insecure this year."
The 13 countries are Angola, Botswana, DRC, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The remaining three SADC Member States - Mauritius, Comoros and Seychelles - did not provide figures on their food security and vulnerability assessments, meaning that the number of food-insecure people in the region could be much higher.
"When comparing the 11 Member States that provided data last year and this year, food insecurity increased by 28%," according to the report. It also noted that food insecurity this year is even higher than the devastating drought of 2016/17.
"Namibia is responding to the drought by distributing food relief and agricultural inputs, as well as the provision of water to the affected population," Namibian Deputy Director for Policy, Disaster Risk Management Directorate, Anastasia Amunyela, said at the SADC RVAA meeting.
Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe are importing grain to supplement their reduced yields.
The plight of the three countries was worsened by the impact of Cyclone Idai that hit the region in March.
Other contributing factors that worsened the low harvest in most SADC member states include the Fall Army worm infestation.
In the medium to long term, the Synthesis Report on the State of Food and Nutrition Security and Vulnerability in Southern Africa urges SADC member states to move to crop and dietary diversity through the growing and consumption of diversified diets, including indigenous foods.
Furthermore, the region should improve its transport network so that agricultural produce can move smoothly from one place to another. It is also critical to invest in 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 in SADC is estimated to be as high as 40%.
Since its establishment, the SADC RVAA Programme has made significant strides in providing timely and credible information that has influenced policies, and its products are now a vital reference point for decision makers in addressing food and nutrition security issues.
Southern African News Features are produced by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC) which has monitored regional developments since 1985.