A special SADC Food Security and Poverty Eradication seminar in Gaborone this week brought together policy makers and decision makers led by ministers of Agriculture and Food Security to come up with solutions to address the drought ravaging the sub-continent. The immediate impact of climate change has resulted in failed crops and reduction in agricultural production in recent years throughout the SADC region, which in turn has aggravated the impact of severe droughts on food security and poverty. The leadership of the SADC, therefore, has to respond by developing short to medium term interventions that will cushion and assist our people in coping with these adversities. The latest climate data confirms that SADC region is indeed currently experiencing the worst drought conditions in over two decades. This has resulted in a decline in local food production, accompanied by a continued rise in food prices. SADC countries will soon be confronted with growing levels of food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition.
Given the severity of this looming crisis, the leadership of SADC should take stock of the situation and adopt both short and long term mitigation measures, explore practical and innovative ways of accelerating the attainment of the universal provision of our basic needs. Shocking statistics indicate that the 2015 cereal production decreased by approximately 21% compared to 2014. Crop production during the 2014/15 rainfall season was especially affected by prolonged dry spells in Botswana, Lesotho, and Namibia, which also extended to the maize belt of South Africa, southern Angola and southern Zimbabwe.At the same time, Madagascar, Malawi and Mozambique were affected by both floods and prolonged dry spells. Consequently, all SADC member states experienced significant decreases in cereal outputs.
The livestock sub-sector has not been spared by the recurring droughts in the region. Loss of grazing, diminished water sources and increased incidences and prevalence of animal diseases, has resulted in high mortalities in some countries in the region. The latest figures indicate slow growth in regional livestock production, while SADC as a whole remains a net importer of livestock products. This spells doom for most countries since livestock production remains an economic mainstay for them. According to SADC Regional Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis Synthesis Reports, 40% of all SADC citizens are currently living in abject poverty, that is, close to half of 292 million inhabitants of which 61 % live in rural areas totally depending on some form of agriculture. SADC Chairman, President Ian Khama says it is for this reason that Poverty Eradication has become the overarching objective for the SADC Regional integration agenda. The main aim for partners in this initiative is to enhance the standards of living and quality of life of all our people. The establishment of a Regional Poverty Observatory (RPO) in Mauritius in 2008, was due to the recognition of the need to eradicate poverty. This regional structure was created to oversee the implementation of the agreed poverty eradication strategies, while managing a region wide poverty information and data base.
We note ongoing regional efforts to address these challenges. In terms of poverty, these include the development of Regional Poverty Eradication Frame Work, the establishment of the RPO with its steering committees; the development and adoption of the Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI) as an alternative poverty measure for member states and stakeholders. In terms of food security, there is the Food and Nutrition Strategy, as approved by the SADC Summit in 2013; and the Regional Agricultural Policy (RAP), which was endorsed by the SADC Council of Ministers in August 2014, despite that the RAP Investment Plan is yet to be finalised. These milestones must be further translated into actions that will positively impact on the lives of our people.
As Khama noted, combating regional food insecurity and poverty in all of its forms and complexity requires an array of multifaceted actions. The political and policy environments need to be conducive, especially in the case of agriculture. Also, food security and poverty cannot be addressed in isolation. It rather requires that the practices and policies of various sectors be harmonised to address food security and poverty as a common agenda. Marginalized groups, particularly the youth and women, as well as the poor must be engaged fully in efforts to improve agricultural production and distribution. It is imperative that governments enhance policies and avail the necessary resources that facilitate their access.