Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Department for International Development

  1.  In the 2001-2 agricultural season SADC countries saw a small overall increase over the previous year in their maize production (2.9 per cent) and in their production of all cereals (1per cent). The shortfall in the region was 7 per cent of requirements. Yet this apparently relatively manageable shortfall coexists with a humanitarian crisis which will see 14.4 million people needing assistance by March 2003[1]. The problem is of course one of acute supply shortage in some countries balanced by surpluses in others (in South Africa and Tanzania). But is it also, primarily, one of declining access to food; the vulnerability of poor people to shortages of food and other essentials has developed over time through a combination of successive localised poor harvests, erosion of household and common assets, and the burden of disease. At a national level a failure to come to grips with rural poverty, serious failure of governance, shortages of foreign exchange and poor information flows and planning have contributed to undermine food security.

The gathering crisis

  2.  The raw production statistics above hide the fact that the crisis is concentrated. 90 per cent of the people in the six countries covered by the UN appeal live in southern and eastern Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Zimbabwe alone accounts for half the people in need and over half the food aid requirement. These countries (and to some extent Lesotho) are experiencing a major breakdown in their rural economy which will take more than one good harvest to put right. The fact that Zimbabwe, normally a food supplier and a key transit country, has suffered such a collapse in agricultural production has made the situation in neighbouring countries worse and weakened the prospects for recovery; for the longer term, it throws into question one of the bases of food security planning in Southern Africa for the last 20 years, namely that surpluses would normally be available in Zimbabwe.

  3.  The food shortages this year come at a time of heightened vulnerability. In southern and south western Zimbabwe, Malawi and southern Zambia the previous year's maize harvest was also low. In Malawi household assets have declined over the past 10 years as remittances from mining jobs have decreased, livestock levels have reduced because security in rural areas is poor, and common assets such as woodlands and wild resources have dwindled. In Zimbabwe the most common coping strategy, that of having one or more family members in paid employment, has been eroded by the contraction of the economy and high levels of unemployment. In Zambia successive years of drought in the southern districts has been compounded by declining public services and poor economic performance throughout the 1990s. In Lesotho households have been badly hit by the reduction in employment possibilities in South Africa, rapidly increasing food prices as the devaluation of the rand increases transport and input costs. In Swaziland, the retrenchment of miners and successive droughts also continue to impact.

  4.  Comparisons between the 1992 drought, the last serious regional humanitarian crisis, and the current crisis inevitably focus on the significant differences made by HIV/AIDS. Rates of HIV+ prevalence now range from 13 per cent in Mozambique to 35 per cent in Zimbabwe, with an average over the six countries of 24 per cent. The burden of caring for HIV/AIDS sufferers and looking after orphans has increased. Not only has HIV/AIDS contributed to the erosion of household assets, it has also increased the numbers of labour-constrained (including child-headed) households, leading to lower agricultural production. It has reduced the capacity of public services (particularly the health service) to respond to the crisis. It has implications for emergency feeding (because of the need to allow for larger household sizes and to vary the ration to take account of the need of HIV+ people for additional protein in their diet). The food shortages are in turn worsening the pandemic as people with HIV lose immunity through malnutrition and develop AIDS, and hunger forces women to trade sex for food.

  5.  Poor governance has also played a major role, nowhere more so than in Zimbabwe. The WFP/FAO needs assessment in Zimbabwe in May 2002 pointed to the ill conceived land reform programme as having disrupted farming and contributed to the fall in maize and wheat production. The fact that the country's irrigated wheat crop is expected to be less than half of last year's at only 150,000 tonnes is entirely due to disruption caused by land resettlement. The report also identified lack of an attractive pre-planting price for maize, late payments by the parastatal monopoly Grain Marketing Board, and erratic distribution of inputs as disincentives to maize production in 2001-02. Apart from the well-documented shrinkage of the economy and volatility of macro-economic indicators, the effects of ZANU-PF's policies have included the creation of an entire new class of vulnerable people, farm workers and their families, who have lost their livelihood as a result of the land resettlement programme; a lack of foreign exchange to buy food; and the exclusion of the private sector from any role in importing.

  6.  In Zambia consistent disregard of rural policy by the previous government has left small farmers without access to markets or off farm income generation opportunities. In Malawi, despite a commitment to pro-poor growth and the needs of the rural poor, macro-economic management has not delivered the growth necessary to raise rural incomes, while work on safety nets, which would reduce vulnerability to external shocks, has yet to result in consistent national policy despite several years of donor support[2].

  7.  The sale of Malawi's grain reserve in 2001 considerably reduced the Government's capacity to respond to escalating food shortages in the period up to the last harvest, and the Anti-Corruption Commission in Malawi has produced a report which is with the Director of Public Prosecutions. Donors including DFID are paying for an independent audit.

The crisis hits

  8.  The lack of rain in the latter part of the growing season played an important role in precipitating the crisis. Rainfall patterns over much of Southern Africa were erratic in the period December - March, traditionally the peak growing season for maize which accounts for 30 per cent to 60 per cent of calorific intake for most households. After a normal start (though with excessive rainfall in Lesotho and Swaziland) up to December, the rains faltered in January and February over much of Malawi, southern Zambia, Zimbabwe, southern Mozambique, and Swaziland. Lesotho had patchy rainfall in the period and frosts and hailstorms in March. As a result the maize crop was seriously reduced in these areas.

  9.  The point at which it became clear that food shortages would lead to significant needs varied from country to country. It was evident from NGO reporting from August 2001 that many families in Malawi and Zimbabwe would suffer major food insecurity in 2002-03. In Zimbabwe shortages were the inevitable consequence of the disruption to agriculture and late inputs for planting. However, Government continued until early 2002 to predict very high levels of maize production arising from the fast track resettlement programme. In Malawi donors agreed with Government in August that action needed to be taken, but dialogue on the solutions was clouded by the sale of the grain reserve, and the Government decided at that time against asking for outside help. However, grain prices rose dramatically from January, and localised NGO interventions were put in place. Malawi declared an emergency on 27 February. Other affected countries subsequently declared emergencies on 19 April (Lesotho), 30 April (Zimbabwe), 29 May (Zambia).

  10.  At the request of Governments, the WFP and FAO, working with the SADC Food Agriculture and Natural Resources Unit, deployed teams in the six countries during late April and May to conduct vulnerability assessments. These compared each country's requirement with production and carry-over stocks, assessed the numbers needing food assistance or likely to need it during the course of the year, and Government and private sector plans to bring in the remainder. The overall shortfall for the six countries was estimated at 4 million tonnes, including replenishment of emergency reserves, of which the food aid requirement was 1.2 million tonnes. These assessments were published at the end of May (and are available on They envisaged that numbers needing assistance would start from a base of those who had no harvest at all, rising sharply in September and again in January 2003, peaking to 12.6 million in March 2003. (See para. 17 for updated figures).

The international response

  11.  The World Food Programme launched an appeal in 1 July for $507 million to cover nearly 1 million tonnes of food ( This was based on an assumption that food aid imports of approximately 200,000 tonnes would flow through channels other than WFP, and that Government and commercial imports would be adequate to stop larger numbers slipping into vulnerability because of absolute shortages. This appeal was intended to extend and build on WFP programmes carried over from the previous year in all the six countries except Swaziland. These programmes acted as a bridge to the main appeal and enabled feeding to continue while the larger scale operations were put in place.

  12.  At the same time it was widely recognised that this was a multi-sectoral crisis, and the WFP appeal was accompanied by plans for urgent inputs for the next planting season, health (especially for drugs and epidemiological surveillance), water and sanitation and protection of the extremely vulnerable.

  13.  The UN agencies, with backing from donors, have treated the crisis as a regional one requiring a flexible regional response. WFP set up a regional coordination and logistics unit in Johannesburg in May 2002, which now provides an overall humanitarian coordination role. At country level the response has been directed by the UN Resident Coordinators. The resources at their disposal have been strengthened in a number of ways:

    (i)  In Zimbabwe, a Relief and Rehabilitation Unit, part funded by the UK, has been running since November 2001

    (ii)  WFP nominated new representatives in Malawi and Zambia and opened a new office in Zimbabwe in the last quarter of 2001 (the WFP office in Harare had previously been a procurement office)

    (iii)  The UN Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs has been deployed to support the Johannesburg unit and Resident Coordinators in Zimbabwe and Malawi.

  The Government believes that the UN system has geared up to meet the crisis, although coordination between the agencies could be further improved. DFID has worked closely with the UN agencies in their deployment, funding a number of individual posts.

  14.  As of the end of September WFP report that 36.5 per cent of their appeal is funded. They expect further contributions shortly which will take the coverage to 70 per cent and enable them to secure the food pipeline for cereals until December. However, they need further pledges now to cover supplementary foods and the pipeline from January. The response to the non food appeals has been much lower, around 13 per cent.

  15.  The major responses to the emergency have come from the US which has committed 500,000 tonnes of cereals to Southern Africa since the beginning of 2002, and the European Commission which has committed approximately 300,000 tonnes (UK contribution 19.4 per cent) in the same period.

  16.  DFID has monitored the deteriorating situation through its network of country offices. A full time Food Security Adviser has been based in the Harare office since April 2002. Since mid-September 2002 a technical team of humanitarian experts from DFID has been deployed in Johannesburg to strengthen DFID's regional information base and to plan further UK responses. The response so far has been based on the need to strengthen and fund the international effort, to build on existing dialogue with Government, and to help NGOs with established relationships on the ground to deliver support to specific vulnerable groups. It has had four main strands:

    —  direct response to UN appeals. 5 million has been provided to the World Food Programme for food purchases and 4.1 million towards increasing the capacity of the Nacala railway into Malawi

    —  grants to NGOs. 28 million has been provided for feeding programmes since September 2001

    —  support to strengthen the international response. 500,000 has been provided towards the costs of the WFP regional coordination unit in Johannesburg and logistics experts in Zimbabwe and Lesotho

    —  financing agricultural recovery. 13 million has been spent on inputs for the 2002 winter crop in Malawi and inputs for the main growing season in Malawi and Zimbabwe

  As at end September DFID has provided 68 million in humanitarian assistance to the region since September 2001. It will also fund about 17 million of the EC response.

  17.  As part of continuous monitoring, the SADC FANR has carried out a second set of vulnerability assessments. The results are summarised at Annex 1[3]. It is estimated that numbers in need will peak at a higher number (14.4 million) than previously estimated (see para 10) and that food aid needs for the period September-March have consequently increased from about 850,000 tonnes to 1 million tonnes.

Key operational issues

  18.  Non-aid imports. Food aid accounts for around a third of food import requirements. It is essential to keep normal markets functioning to ensure that people with money can buy food, and to manage prices so that more people do not fall into the position of being unable to meet their food needs. The WFP has been tracking commercial imports and Government and private sector plans. Imports to date are summarised in the table below.



2001-02 Cereal
Production +
Opening Stocks


Cereal Gap


Food Aid

Cereal Gap/












































  In Malawi the Government is operating a relatively successful import programme. Zimbabwe's monopoly importer, the Grain Marketing Board, has imported 335,000 tonnes of cereals since April and has plans to import a further 650,000 tonnes, although the source of finance for this is not clear. In Zambia an agreement has been negotiated between the Government and the private sector to share the import burden of 300,000 tonnes of maize this year, but firm contracts have only yet been placed for 150,000 tonnes. All imports require a level of subsidy if they are to be affordable. In Zimbabwe the Government has to find US$200 a tonne to bridge the gap between the landed price and the controlled price. Subsidy policy in Zambia and Malawi is still being developed; donors have expressed their concern in Malawi that an IMF credit will be applied for a general subsidy which will be captured by the better off.

  19.  GM grain. This has been a sensitive issue. Around half of the maize available to the WFP for food aid is from the US and contains genetically modified material. Much of the yellow maize available on the world market is mixed with GM material, and likely to be preferred on price grounds for commercial imports. Five of the six countries have agreed that GM maize may be accepted, either unconditionally or subject to special handling and milling which will prevent it being planted. The Government of Zambia has refused to accept it at all on health and trade policy grounds. The International Development Secretary has had discussions with the President of Zambia in this regard. As at the end of September a team of Zambian scientists was touring the US and Europe to gather evidence on the effects of GM maize on agriculture and health, with the possibility that the decision may be reversed. WFP has made clear to Government that it will be very difficult to maintain food distribution if it is not.

  20.  Logistics. The transport network in Southern Africa is relatively sophisticated. SADC and WPF are working to maximise the potential of the system, but some constraints are emerging. The rainy season is expected to start from November and has the potential to disrupt the whole relief effort. Governments and donors are considering contingency measures including prepositioning of food stocks and road repair materials and improving the condition of roads and railways in advance. SADC has moved to improve co-ordination between national transport operators and regulators, including customs authorities. WFP are adapting their logistics implementation plan to take account of the need to mill maize containing GM material before distribution.

  21.  Zimbabwe. The environment in Zimbabwe poses particular problems for the relief effort. Against a background of deep political polarisation and antagonism to the outside world, the Government has not maintained an open dialogue with donors or civil society. The extent and impartiality of Government plans to mitigate the crisis are unclear. There are frequent complaints from the opposition and human rights groups that the Government is using food as a way of rewarding its supporters and punishing its opponents. Donors have agreed that external food aid must be distributed through impartial and independent channels. However, the authorities have failed to facilitate the use of all available distribution channels. The strict control on private sector imports, together with price controls, has frozen the private sector out of the national response. There are frequent threats to the continuation of the parallel market which relief agencies use to get the best value from their foreign exchange for expenditure within Zimbabwe. Donors are collaborating closely with UN agencies to ensure as far as possible that the integrity of the relief effort is maintained and that relief agencies are allowed to operate safely and without interruption.

Policy issues

  22.  The crisis raises a number of important policy issues for national Governments and the international community, some of which need to be tackled as part of the response:

    (i)  The weakness of vulnerability assessments and early warning systems. In Zimbabwe, which has the capacity to use such systems well, it is difficult to know, because of the total lack of systematic dialogue with donors, whether systems have broken down or whether the Government no longer makes use of them. In Malawi and Zambia a more systematic dialogue with donors based on better information about food security at household level might have led to prepositioning of stocks earlier in the year. DFID is drawing up a programme of support to SADC in food security which will among other things improve the ability of SADC member states to acquire and use information on vulnerability. But such tools will not succeed unless food security, and rural livelihoods more generally, are better emphasised within Poverty Reduction Strategies.

    (ii)  The speed of the international response. As noted above, the UN system has responded significantly and appropriately. But early plans to preposition food stocks have not been realised because not all of the money arrived as early as WFP had hoped; the effects of not having such a cushion in the region will only become clearer as the season advances. Significant pledges are needed now for food and non-food assistance to ensure that lives are not lost between now and next March.

    (iii)  The possible negative effects of food aid. DFID believes that this crisis is one where the large scale provision of free food is justified. WFP and bilateral donors are using regional supplies as far as possible to avoid disrupting markets (but one result has been that prices have risen in South Africa as supplies are sent north). Experience suggests that large quantities of food will still be arriving when the harvest comes in, and planning needs to be set in train now to manage the effect on prices.

    (iv)  The role of food reserves. One possible role for left over food aid might be to rebuild national reserves. DFID will discuss with Governments and other donors their plans for food reserves in the context of medium term financial planning. In any case, there is a need for more innovative approaches to food reserves, including the use of options markets.

    (v)  The link to next year. Given the structural nature of the emergency, even with a good harvest next year access to food will remain difficult for many. Household assets will need to be restored. DFID is considering how to use its country programmes to do this by direct action through NGOs and through budget support mechanisms where appropriate. In Malawi a start has been made in developing a food security strategy with the co-operation of donors. In Zambia DFID has recently completed a first assessment of the scope for assistance with rural livelihoods.


  23.  The objective of feeding over 14 million people through the peak season of January-March remains achievable. But more resources are needed now -numbers in need have increased, and there are underlying risks over resources, commercial inputs, logistics and political co-operation, any of which could derail the process. The potential for disaster in Zimbabwe remains deeply worrying. DFID is preparing to commit a further 10 million, and is in close touch with other donors about their plans.

Department for International Development

October 2002—id=1000160&f=al&d=0


1   For the purposes of the international response the UN has grouped Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique as countries where there are significant numbers of people needing humanitarian assistance and where Governments cannot cover the deficit on their own. Angola has hitherto been covered separately by the UN and by DFID and is not dealt with in this paper. Back

2   DFID has contributed for the last two years to two elements of the proposed safety net structure, targeted agricultural inputs and public works programmes. But there have been continuing tensions in the targeted inputs programme between the principle of targeting and the Government's desire to see universal coverage of small scale farmers, a policy which is unlikely to be sustainable and which experience suggests acts against the long term interest of farmers by depressing prices. Back

3   Not printed. Available at: Back

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