Southern Africa's Agricultural Policies Key to Boosting Food Security

The success story of southern Africa’s turnaround from being a food deficit region to one producing surplus grain underscores the point that agricultural policies are key to boosting production and improving food security in the region.

Since the adoption of various agricultural commitments such as the Dar es Salaam Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in 2004, most SADC Member States have recorded good harvests every year.

A recent report on the state of vulnerability to food insecurity and poverty in SADC acknowledges that in addition to “the generally good rainfalls” a number of countries are implementing different types of programmes to increase yields.

These strategies include investing more in improved agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizer as well as targeted subsidy programmes that result in farmers accessing agricultural inputs and farm implements at cheaper rates.

Countries such as Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe that have vigorously implemented the input subsidy programmes have seen production rising steadily.

For example, in the 2007/08 farming season maize production trebled from about 1.2 million tonnes to 3.4 million tonnes in Malawi. This phenomenal increase in production has saved the country a yearly budget of more than US$120 million that it had spent importing food.

Some SADC Member States have also allocated at least 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture and rural development to improve food security in the region. This intervention is in line with the African Union declaration that calls for adequate budget allocation towards agriculture.

Efforts have been intensified to improve infrastructure such as roads and rail to promote the smooth movement of food surplus to deficit areas more efficiently and cheaper.

The large size of the region and diverse agro-ecological and climate variations assure good production potential in some parts of the region in any given year, hence the need to move surplus food to areas that may require additional food.

Cross-border trade has played a critical role in this regard, allowing the region to be self-sufficient in food. Another important intervention that has been employed by SADC to avert food insecurity in the region has been the establishment of agricultural storage facilities such as silos.

Silos have helped member countries to store their surplus cereal crops for use in poor seasons. A recent study by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that most countries in southern Africa lose up to 40 percent of their produce after harvest because of poor storage facilities.

To improve food security in the region, SADC has encouraged countries to continue growing other traditional cereals such as sorghum and millet as well as non-cereal crops such as cassava and plantain.

This shift away from what is a clearly drought-vulnerable staple maize crop has helped southern Africa to avert hunger in the face of persistent droughts that have been worsened by the global financial crisis and the effects of climate change.

According to a SADC report on the state of food security, there has been a 32 percent increase in cereal production between 2005 and 2009.

In period under review, the highest increase was recorded in Botswana (though not a major cereal producer in SADC), thus highlighting how all countries are working towards boosting production and improving food security in their respective countries as well as the entire SADC region.

For the 2010/11 season, cereal surplus in SADC is estimated at 2.3 million tonnes, and a number of member states are expecting a good harvest. South Africa estimates a maize surplus of about 6 million tonnes, which can be exported to neighbouring countries that may require additional imports.

However, despite the cereal surplus in the region, the number of people requiring food and non-food assistance in SADC remains a regular feature due to various factors.

These factors include high prices of fuel, agricultural inputs and food as well as low incomes, low prices for some of the cash crops and outbreak of livestock diseases.

SADC is working towards addressing some of these challenges through the input subsidy programmes as well as improved prices for cash crops. To deal with droughts, SADC member states have intensified efforts to invest in irrigation as overdependence on rain-fed agriculture has impacted on crop production.

Hence it is important that the way forward in promoting sustainable food production centres on the promotion of appropriate irrigation technologies and sound management and efficient use of limited and sparsely distributed water resources.

Thus regional water infrastructure development becomes important as it would not only provide water security for irrigation, but would also be used for other competing demands, including power generation, environment, flood mitigation, domestic water supply and sanitation.

The potential for irrigating land in the SADC region is large as the region is hugely endowed with water courses such as the Congo, Limpopo, and Zambezi.

To boost production, some SADC countries have embarked on land reforms as land is one of the most important primary factors of production for most Member States. Land is the most constraining factor for attainment of sustainable food security at national and household levels.

Hence guaranteeing access to land and security of tenure have been key conditions for enabling producers to invest in land, improve the productivity of their farms and improving their livelihoods.

The Extra-Ordinary Summit on Agriculture and Food Security, held in Dar es Salaam in 2004, agreed that Member States would accelerate land policy reform initiatives.

However, progress has been slow in some countries due to lack of adequate financial resources for purchasing land at market prices, which are often very high.

SADC Council approved in 2010 the establishment of the Centre for Coordination of Agricultural Research and Development for Southern Africa (CCARDESA) to coordinate agricultural research, technology generation and dissemination of research information.

The establishment of a sub-regional organisation for this purpose is part of the implementation of the SADC Multi-country Agricultural Productivity Programme (MAPP) whose objective is to promote agricultural production and productivity with the aim of reducing food insecurity in the region.

Agriculture is the backbone of most economies in southern Africa and SADC has identified the sector as a priority for development.

The Dar es Salaam Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security, which has been under review, identifies a number of priority areas on which southern Africa should focus in the short-term (2004-2006) and medium-to-long term (2004-2010) to achieve food security in the region.

Short-term measures included the availability and access to key agricultural inputs for farmers, consisting of improved seed varieties, fertilizers, agrochemicals, tillage services and farm implements.

In the medium-to-long term, southern African leaders agreed to meet the African Union target to allocate at least 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture and rural development.

A recent progress report prepared by SADC Ministers responsible for Agriculture and Food Security said the implementation of the declaration has significantly contributed to food security in the region with some countries experiencing bumper harvests in the last few years. SADC Today