Millions face hunger in southern Africa

Johannesburg – Around 14 million people across southern Africa face going hungry after a prolonged drought wrecked harvests, with Malawi among the worst hit countries, the UN’s World Food Programme said yesterday. A poor harvest last year has been followed by an even worse drought this year caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon, the WFP said in a statement warning that “the outlook is alarming. The number of people without enough food could rise significantly over coming months as the region moves deeper into the so-called lean season . . . when food and cash stocks become increasingly depleted,” it said.

“Particularly vulnerable are smallholder farmers who account for most agricultural production.”

Little rainfall in 2015 has left 2.8 million people in Malawi facing hunger, 1.9 million in Madagascar where last year’s harvest was half of the previous year.

The WFP said food prices were rising across the region, with the cost of maize in Malawi 73 percent higher than average.

Last week, South Africa said it would have to import half its average maize crop after 2015 was declared the driest year in the country for 112 years. Sparked by warming in sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, El Nino periodically wreaks havoc on world weather patterns, causing drought in some parts and floods in others.

Meamwhile, as the crippling drought continues, South Africa might need to import between five and six million tonnes of maize, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana has said. “From the food security perspective, reports point out that the country’s infrastructure might struggle to cope with the volume of maize imports required if a drought, exacerbated by the El Niño weather phenomenon, further disseminates the local crop,” he told reporters in Pretoria.

“In the worst case scenario, the nation would probably need to import as much as four million tons of maize. There is a possibility of five to six tons import needs of both white and yellow maize. Combining with the predicted regional needs such as Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana and Swaziland, import needs will be at 10.9 million tons, covering other commodities such as soya and wheat,” said Zokwana.

Zokwana said conditions were poor in the maize triangle (Mpumalanga, Free State and North West), with conditions in Mpumalanga slightly more positive. The country has seen higher temperatures coupled with little rainfall, which is impacting on farmers. – AFP

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