Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Food security consequences of Southern African floods

The recent floods in Southern Africa have not been as devastating, in human casualty terms, as those in South America, but the long-term consequences are likely to be severe thanks to the dramatic effect on the farming sector.

The FAO is warning that food shortages could be precipitated by the effects of flooding. An FAO team visit to Lesotho found that in some flooded areas up to 60% of crops had been destroyed and 4700 small stock animals killed. Mozambique has also experienced crop losses. Across South Africa, in 33 municipalities, a disaster has been declared, with massive agricultural losses, a situation made more difficult by the fact that the government, faced with the massive cost of rebuilding infrastructure across the country, has made it clear that they will be able to offer little help to farmers.

South Africa should be in a better situation than some of its neighbours because last year's bumper harvest should have left the country's grain reserves well-stocked - making it possible for government to support the food requirements of those left destitute by a growing season's harvest devastated by the floods. In Mozambique, on the other hand, the FAO was already expressing concern before the flooding, due to lower-than-expected cereal production in 2010 (especially rice) and fears that households, particularly in the Southern and Central areas, would require assistance.

Protecting livelihoods is even more difficult in floods than in drought situations but efforts desperately need to be made to prop up agricultural sectors in Southern Africa, to ensure long-term food security - or at least to prevent the region dropping further into food insecurity, to deal with the immediate need and to prevent an even larger gap opening up between urban and rural income opportunities, thereby further impoverishing already struggling rural areas and making them more vulnerable. The FAO also notes that the rainy season is only half way through.

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