The 2019 Synthesis Report on the State of Food and Nutrition Security and Vulnerability in Southern Africa, has found that Southern Africa has significantly higher levels of food insecurity than it did last year. It also noted that the region has recorded a cereal deficit of over 5.4 million tonnes. The roots of the situation are complex; they stem from persistent drought, flood, pests, conflict, economic problems and poverty, all of which have been compounded by climate change. As a result, estimates indicate that 41.2 million people in thirteen countries will be food-insecure this year, a 28 per cent increase from last year. These figures are the highest in ten years. The current figure is also 7.4% higher than that resulting from the 2016/17 El Niño event, which was responsible for a severe drought during that year. The southern African food crisis is especially acute in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Zambia, which account for 75 per cent of the people needing food assistance.
The high levels of food insecurity in southern Africa are particularly concerning at this time of year, as it is currently the post-harvest season, which generally leads to significantly improved food security outcomes. This year, households are expected to exhaust their food reserve crops within three months, compared to three to five months in normal years. By the September to January period, more households are expected to face crisis levels of food security and acute food insecurity is likely to be exceptionally high across the region.
The causes of the crisis are complex and each of the worst-affected countries can trace its food insecurity levels to a different major problem. Zambia, which last year registered its second-biggest harvest, received below average seasonal rains this year, leading to a prolonged drought, a sharp decrease in agricultural production and widespread crop failures. As a result, Zambia now has a cereal deficit of close to a million tonnes. Food security in Mozambique has suffered as a result of the damage caused by Cyclones Idai and Kenneth, which destroyed crops and infrastructure, as well as conflict in the north of the country. Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, food security has been compromised by a combination of drought and a volatile economic situation. These factors have increased fuel and food prices and limited household access to food.
Poor food security is also likely to create economic conditions that exacerbate the spread of food insecurity. Because better-off households have lower stocks of food and cash at present, labour opportunities in affected regions are likely to be depressed for the next few months. As a result, poor households will have limited means to buy food. Food prices in many of the worst-affected areas have also increased, which will further diminish food purchasing power. While food prices decreased in parts of Southern Africa, they have spiked in countries such as Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Food inflation rates in Zimbabwe, for example, reached 126 per cent in May.
In the short term, food insecurity in Southern Africa is likely to reach alarming levels. It will take major economic and infrastructure reforms to prevent situations like this from occurring in the future.