With only a few weeks before land preparation begins for the next main cropping season, some 23 million people in Southern Africa urgently need support to produce enough food to feed themselves and thus avoid being dependent on humanitarian assistance until mid 2018, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said at the end of July 2016.
An FAO-prepared response plan aims to ensure that seeds, fertilizers, tools and other inputs and services, including livestock support, are provided to smallholder farmers, agro-pastoralists and pastoralists to help them cope with the devastating impact of an El Niño-induced drought in the region. At least USD 109 million in funding is required to provide this urgently needed support.
Two consecutive seasons of droughts, including the worst in 35 years that occurred this year, have particularly hit vulnerable families in rural areas, as the prices of maize and other staple foods have risen. The result is that almost 40 million people in the region are expected to face food insecurity by the peak of the coming lean season in early 2017. All countries in Southern Africa are affected.
The FAO response plan covers 10 countries - Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe - which requested specific assistance.
Preparing rural families for future shocks
The impact of El Niño continues to be felt, with the effects of the drought expected to peak during the lean season between January and March 2017, FAO said.
Widespread crop failure has exacerbated chronic malnutrition in the region. More than 640,000 drought-related livestock deaths have been reported in Botswana, Swaziland, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe alone due to lack of pasture, lack of water and disease outbreaks.
FAO urges investments that equip communities with the ability to produce drought-tolerant seed and fodder, along with climate-smart agriculture technologies like conservation agriculture. The aim is to enable rural families to build resilience and prepare for future shocks.
El Niño's counter-phenomenon, La Niña, is likely to occur later this year, and while it could bring good rains that are positive for agriculture, measures must be taken to mitigate the risk of floods which could destroy standing crops and threaten livestock, including making the animals more vulnerable to disease.
Key mitigation measures include strengthening river banks, building small dams to reduce flash flooding and stockpiling short-cycle crop varieties which can be planted after flooding subsides and still yield a decent crop.