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Critical food shortages forecast in southern Africa


SOUTHERN Africa will face critical food shortages in a number of countries this year despite improved crop forecasts, a US-based food security unit said on Wednesday.

T face=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fewsnet) said overall cereal production in the region was expected to post a shortfall of 1,468 million tonnes with Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland among the worst hit.

Improved weather and distribution systems have helped to alleviate the shortfall, however.

Fewsnet said Zimbabwe posed a “serious challenge” for food security analysts as President Robert Mugabe’s government has declined to permit United Nations agencies to conduct a crop assessment this year amid unexpected official projections of a bumper harvest.

It said total regional output of maize, southern Africa’s staple crop, was expected to hit 17,36 million tonnes, or six percent less than last year’s level, an improvement over a 12% drop forecast in February.

Combined cereals output for the region was forecast to be 22,75 million tonnes, hardly changed from last year’s 22,76 million tonnes and about the same as the past five year average.

Fewsnet said South Africa, Botswana and Angola would all see lower levels of total cereal production, with the sharpest drops expected in Lesotho – down 46% from last year – Malawi and Swaziland.

“Extended periods of food insecurity and the impact of HIV/Aids have weakened the resiliency of households, as well as setting back agricultural recovery,” Fewsnet said in its report.

Maize supplies were looking better with South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique among those countries expected to enjoy exportable surpluses.

Fewsnet said preliminary crop assessments indicated the small kingdoms of Lesotho and Swaziland would experience “critical” shortages of food affecting large proportions of their populations this year, while southern Malawi would also see food shortages due to poor growing conditions.

Angola was also assessed with estimates indicating that maize production has risen by about 15% over last year.

Zimbabwe, in the grip of a political and economic crisis which Mugabe’s critics blame in part on his controversial policy of seizing white-owned farms to give to landless blacks, says it no longer needs international food assistance.

Aid officials and local farmers groups have expressed doubts over Zimbabwe’s crop expectations, and a recent vulnerability study indicated that as many as 2,3 million Zimbabweans could still face food supply problems.

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