The Kingdom of Swaziland is a landlocked and mountainous country, located between the republics of South Africa and Mozambique. It has a population of about one million people located on approximately 17,400 square kilometres of land. Although Swaziland is classified as a lower middle-income country, it currently faces challenges similar to low-income economies. Swaziland ranks 141 out of 186 countries in the 2012 UNDP Human Development Index and 63 percent of Swazis live below the national poverty line.
Swaziland is vulnerable to natural disasters, particularly drought in the eastern regions, and occasionally severe flooding in the north. Although 70 percent of Swazis rely on subsistence farming for their livelihoods, consecutive years of drought have undermined crop production, particularly maize. Results of the annual assessment by the Swaziland Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Swazi VAC) indicate that 116,000 people (10 percent of the population) faced a food deficit during the 2012/2013 lean season. This is a 30 percent increase on the 2011/12 figure of 89,000. This has serious implications for food access, as food prices are likely to remain high. Maize production in Swaziland has been declining steadily for the past decade. Up until 2000, Swaziland was routinely harvesting more than 100,000 tons of maize per year. Since then, the average harvest has dropped to some 70,000 tons. While the forecasts for 2013/2014 predict slightly higher than average rainfall and may indicate improved production, many underlying factors contribute to the trend of low production: erratic weather, high fuel and input costs, the devastating impact of HIV and AIDS, and low implementation of improved agricultural practices. Government investment in social protection programmes in Swaziland, about 2.2 percent of total GDP in 2010/11, provides some relief to food insecurity. Swaziland’s expenditure on safety nets is slightly higher than the average of 1 percent to 2 percent spent by most developing countries.
Swaziland faces a dual epidemic of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB), recording the world's highest prevalence rates for both diseases. Currently, 42 percent of pregnant women attending antenatal care centres are HIV-positive, while 26.5 percent of the population aged between 15 and 49 years are HIV-positive (UNAIDS 2013). In addition, an estimated 80 percent of TB patients are also co-infected with HIV. Swaziland has made significant strides towards achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care for women and children. HIV testing among pregnant women increased from 39 percent in 2005 to 83 percent in 2010. Moreover, in 2011, more than 95 percent of pregnant women living with HIV received antiretroviral therapy for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Yet abject poverty combined with the high HIV and TB prevalence rates continue to contribute to Swaziland's weak economic performance and also impede food security. The impact of HIV/AIDS and TB has been particularly hard on Swazi children. There are more than 200,000 orphans and vulnerable children in Swaziland, and the number of orphans and vulnerable children is expected to rise to 250,000 by 2015. Children head 15 percent of Swazi households. The mortality rate for children under five years of age is 80 deaths per 1,000 live births.
The major nutrition issue in Swaziland is stunting, or shortness for age: 31 percent of Swazi children below the age of five are stunted (Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2010). Results of the 2013 Cost of Hunger in Africa study indicate that Swaziland’s economy loses up to 3.1 percent of its GDP annually associated to chronic undernutrition – through higher costs in healthcare, lower educational achievement and lost productivity in manual and non-manual workforces. Continued commitment to addressing child nutrition can prevent these losses in the future.