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Swaziland's worst harvest ever - 400,000 people in need of assistance

A prolonged dry spell and high temperatures ravaged Swaziland’s maize crop in 2007, resulting in the lowest annual harvest on record and leaving more than a third of the population in need of food assistance, according to a report issued today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and WFP.

Around 400,000 vulnerable people will require approximately 40,000 tonnes of food assistance to meet the needs from now until the next harvest in April 2008, according to the report, based on a joint assessment mission to Swaziland by the two UN agencies - the first in a series conducted in southern African countries.

Maize production in 2006/07 is estimated at about 26,000 tonnes, nearly 60 percent below last year’s level.

Water shortages

This will significantly reduce food availability, while the associated increase in maize prices will severely constrain many households’ access to food, especially as 69 percent of Swazis live on less than US$1 per day.

Extended dry conditions and ensuing water shortages caused some stress on livestock, but late rains improved pasture and animal conditions in most parts of the country.

Livestock production is expected to help cushion, to some extent, the impact of crop failure.

Weather impact

The high prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS will exacerbate the already severe impact of adverse weather through ill health, income inequality and poverty, the report added. Swaziland has the highest adult HIV infection rate in the world – estimated at 42.6 percent.

The FAO/WFP assessment recommends a targeted approach for food aid, focusing on direct support to households with no access to sufficient food and agricultural inputs.

Timely provision of agricultural inputs, including seeds, fertilisers, credit facilities and access to tractors, is also recommended to revive production capacity in time for the next cropping season, beginning in September.

Erratic and late rains

The apparent pattern of erratic and late rains over the past few years also requires a speedier uptake of appropriate farming strategies and techniques, such as small-scale irrigation, water harvesting and crop diversification.

Prices of major cereals have increased considerably in response to local shortages and as a result of significant maize price increases in South Africa, the main exporter to Swaziland.

Trends

The upward trend in prices is expected to continue for the rest of this year as supplies from domestic and regional sources are also likely to be limited due to poor rainfall conditions in South Africa and other neighbouring countries.

Swaziland’s cereal import requirement in the 2007/08 marketing year (April/March) is estimated at 173,800 tonnes, of which an estimated 129,000 tonnes are expected to be imported commercially.

With 4,800 tonnes of food aid in stock or in the pipeline, the uncovered deficit for which international assistance is required is estimated at 40,000 tonnes.