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COVID-19, Locusts muzzle Africa’s informal sector, rendering Millions food insecure

Rue Jemka

WINDHOEK —Three major evils-the evil of climate change, the evil of locusts outbreaks and the evil of COVID 19 pandemic.

These are the things that have worsened the SADC’s food insecurity, with the region topping the charts for having the highest number of food insecure people it has ever experienced in the last ten years.

According to the 2020 SADC Synthesis Report on the State of Food and Nutrition Security and Vulnerability, close to 44. 8 million people in both urban and rural areas in the region face food shortages.

Food insecurity is defined by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as the state of lacking regular access to enough safe and nutritious food for normal growth, development and an active healthy life, as a result of unavailability of food or lack of resources to obtain food.

The most recent figures as suggested by the 2020 Regional Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis Programme Synthesis Report, indicates that food insecure people have increased to 51.33 million. Given the outbreak of the corona virus pandemic, the African Migratory Locust outbreak and unpredictable weather patterns in the region, the numbers are likely to increase from the 51.33 million.

The Covid-19 pandemic, whose impacts continue to be felt across the socio-economic sector of the region, has resulted in the muzzling of the informal sector that was mostly a source of income for the majority of the region’s population. Many people lost their jobs and with their economic activities crippled, they struggle to provide food for their families in an environment where the population has been having a stiff battle with poverty and hunger.

Sadly, some projects that were ongoing to train farmers on climate smart agriculture in the region under Centre for Coordination of Agriculture Research and Development for Southern Africa (CCARDESA) were also affected by the pandemic.

The African migratory locust outbreak has severely affected ten of the 16 SADC Member States namely: Botswana, Eswatini, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, with the latest outbreak being from Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

SADC Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax has described the three evils as a serious impediment to agricultural production and productivity, with the potential to compound the food shortages that the region is already experiencing. “Fortunately, the damage to summer crops of the agricultural season 2019/2020 was minimal as harvesting had already occurred. However, irrigated crops, winter crops, and the next season of summer crops of 2020/2021, for which planting starts in November, are likely to be at high risk,” said Dr Tax during a virtual meeting to launch the SADC Regional Appeal to contain the African Migratory Locust.

Information from the SADC Secretariat shows that in the past, the region’s food security has been severely affected by transboundary plant pests such as Fall armyworm, Fruit fly, Maize lethal Necrotic diseases, and the Panama disease that affects Banana plants. Moreover, the region’s food security has also been affected by high-impact transboundary animal diseases, including foot and mouth disease and avian influenza.

On the other hand, the unpredictable weather patterns are mostly attributed to the effects of climate change such as the El Nino-induced drought that started in 2016/17 season; the impacts of a number of cyclones including Cyclones Idai, Belna and Kenneth that affected the region. The battle of such unpredictable weather patterns continues in the 2020/2021 farming season as projected by the 24 th Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum.

According to the Outlook, the next farming season in the region is expected to receive normal to above rainfall while in some other parts of the regions, floods are expected. The projections suggest that the bulk of the SADC Region is likely to receive normal to above-normal rainfall for most of the period from October to December 2020. It further suggests that north-western Angola, bulk of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), most of eastern Madagascar, northern Malawi, northern Mozambique, Seychelles, Tanzania and north-eastern Zambia are projected to receive normal to below-normal rains.

The January to March 2021 period is projected to receive normal to above normal rainfall for the entire region. These normal to above rainfall is expected to bring about torrential rains, which are likely to cause flash floods across the region with implications for food security and people’s lives and livelihoods in general. Based on the information from the Outlook, it means the region has to be fully prepared for sudden disasters and secure food for the people. Again the food insecurity issue deepens. Are these SADC member states prepared for what is coming?

Back in 2011, the SADC Secretariat established a Disaster Risk Reduction Unit that is responsible for coordinating regional preparedness and response programmes for transboundary hazards and disaster, the initiative was impactful especially on the transboundary hazards. The unit coordinated well with the member states in ensuring that they minimised the impact of the transboundary hazards in the region. As soon as an outbreak occurs they alert the member states and the countries will also strategise on best ways of preventing the spread of such disasters.

However, on the issue of harsh weather patterns, the Unit has not made any difference. For instance, last year in Malawi, Cyclone Idai affected over 922 900 people across 14 districts while in Mozambique the cyclone left 141 000 affected as suggested by the UN ReliefWeb. The Cyclone Idai also killed a lot of people in Zimbabwe. The events occurred without warnings from the Unit. The SADC Secretariat had to mobilise a fund for natural disasters after the damage had already been done. Yes, the funds were needed for a relief following the floods, but this could have had less impact had the Unit predicted or forecasted the unusual event with possible solutions. Maybe if the regional bloc focuses more on the technologies of weather conditions, rescue plans among other strategies, lives can be saved from such disasters.

On the other hand if the region invests in these advanced technologies, it is also an obligation of each member state to have strategies in place to avoid severe repercussions and also up to each country to ensure that they fully implement the strategies as the regional bloc doesn’t interfere with member states operations.

Despite what happened in the past following the harsh unpredictable weather patterns in the region, the SADC Secretariat remains hopeful that the region can overcome if the member states adopt regional response approaches, share information, effectively use predictions and early warning information that is continuously generated and shared by the SADC Secretariat as well as jointly managing the challenges.

In this regard, Dr Tax urged the member states to accelerate preparedness

measures for what is coming: “I call upon the member states to accelerate preparedness measures to ensure readiness for these multiple disasters by among others.. enhancing engagement, coordination, capacity development and monitoring and evaluation at the sub-national and regional levels, while adopting resilience-building initiatives cannot be overemphasised,” she said during the same launch.

Meanwhile, Lesotho is among the SADC member states that are facing a crucial food security crisis. According to the World Food Program (WFP) at least 30% of the people in Lesotho across the 10 districts are facing acute food shortages.

This is attributed to the induced El Nino drought and continuous crop failures in the country. The crop failures have led to the more shortage of food in the rural areas, as they are forced to buy food using half of their income.

In Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee projected an estimated 5.5 million rural Zimbabweans to be food insecure during the peak of the 2019/20 lean season, with 3.8 million people in need of food assistance. Like the majority of other member states, Zimbabwe’s crops were negatively affected by the unpredictable harsh weather and worsened by the current economic crises.

The unfavourable weather conditions have also affected the yields in Mauritius. According to FAO, Mauritius’ annual food output decreased by 40 percent due to reduced planted hectarage and droughts.

In Eswatini dry spells, high food prices and increased unemployment worsened the food security situation in that country, according to FAO, with 22 percent of the population in need of food handouts.

The same story applies to other member states in the region, as such for the region to attain food security which is also inline to the SDG number two that stipulates Zero Hunger, more has to be done in the region in coordination with the SADC Secretariat, member states as well as global partners.

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