|Anticipating and responding to drought emergencies in Southern Africa: Lessons from the 2002-2003 experience
|Michigan State University (MSU)
Acknowledgements: Michigan State University
Prepared for the NEPAD Regional Conference on Successes in African Agriculture, 22-25
November 2004, in Nairobi, Kenya. We thank our research collaborators in Mozambique
and Zambia. This paper is published by the Department of Agricultural Economics,
Michigan State University (MSU). Support for this research has been provided by The
Rockefeller Foundation through an agreement with MSU and FANRPAN (Toward Improved
Maize Marketing and Trade Policies to Promote Household Food Security in Southern
Africa) and by the Food Security II Cooperative Agreement (PCE-A-00-97-00044-00)
between AID/Global Bureau, Office of Agriculture and Food Security, and the Department of
Agricultural Economics at Michigan State University. The Agriculture, Natural Resources
and Rural Enterprise Division, Office of Sustainable Development, Bureau for Africa,
USAID (AFR/SD/ANRE), and USAID Missions in Mozambique and Zambia have also
supported this work.
This paper examines the efficiency and effectiveness of emergency response in Southern
Africa through the lens of the 2002/03 food crisis in the region. The authors outline
improvements in information and operational procedures needed to enhance the response to
future events. They also discuss national and regional trade regime changes that would
reduce the need for emergency response, and consider what lessons the 2002/03 crisis may
have for the role of Strategic Grain Reserves (SGRs).
Market reform in the region has lead to more diversified production patterns (cassava
production especially has grown), more decentralized food distribution systems, and more
varied food consumption patterns at least in urban areas. Each of these changes should reduce
the region’s dependence on external food aid during droughts. Yet some researchers and
policy makers have become concerned that many households in the region are becoming
more vulnerable to shocks, not less. This apparent increase in vulnerability has become a
standard part of the understanding of the 2002/03 food crisis.
A review of the chronology of early warning and response suggests that early warning clearly
worked during the 2002/03 crisis. It alerted local governments and the international
community to looming food shortages as the harvest was just beginning, provided
quantitative estimates of the number of affected households and the need for food aid and
commercial imports, regularly updated these numbers through effective communications, and
mobilized public opinion and resources to meet enough of those estimated needs to largely
avert a humanitarian crisis. The early warning and response process also reflected an
exceptional degree of collaboration among governments in the region, the emergency
response community, and donor agencies. The way in which the work of national VACs was
coordinated by the SADC Regional VAC and fed into donor and relief agency response is
Whether the early warning information was “right” is a different and more complex question.
One way to approach the issue is to ask whether, if estimated food aid and commercial import
requirements had been met, the crisis would have been stemmed without negatively affecting
markets. Stemming required meeting the current food needs of those with neither the income
nor the assets to do so themselves while allowing households to avoid coping mechanisms
that increase their vulnerability to future crises. Nutritional monitoring during the crisis was
spotty but suggested that wasting was well below levels that would cause alarm. Because
wasting is a lagging indicator, it should ideally be complemented by information on the
sustainability of household coping behavior. Unfortunately, very little such information has
become publically available, even though “a substantial volume of data was collected
through the VAC surveys which might have shed more light on food security and
vulnerability”. This is clearly an area that requires improvement.
Price behavior suggests great variation in market impacts across the region. Malawi created
a major problem of oversupply late in the 2002/03 season and into the next, because it
imported large amounts of grain commercially and as food aid, all through government
channels, while completely ignoring informal trade. Because the 150,000-250,000 metric
tons of informal imports arrived more quickly, government was left with a comparable
amount of grain that it could sell only at a loss. As a result, maize prices throughout 2003/04 were exceptionally low. In Zambia, the experience in 2002/03 showed that the private sector
could import substantial quantities of grain when needed, but better operational mechanisms
need to be designed between public and private sectors if the government is to be assured in
future crises that private sector will be able to import the quantities needed to keep prices
stable. Mozambique provides evidence that this can happen on a regular basis when
government simply stays out of the import business. Prices in Mozambique remained
relatively stable during this crisis, and well below those in Zambia and Malawi.
White maize production and exports in the United States have trended upwards over the past
decade. The U.S. market offers several potential benefits to the Southern African region.
First, production potential is huge, and can scale-up or down rapidly in response to market
opportunities. Second, grain from the U.S. can often compete with that from South Africa in
coastal areas like Mozambique. Finally, U.S. white maize is 99% guaranteed GMO-free.
An efficient and effective response to future food crises in Southern Africa requires that food
aid agencies and practitioners realize that food aid is all too often the first choice in response
rather than the last, that its targeting is often poor (though it has improved over the past
decade), that even food insecure households will often prefer cash resources instead of food,
and that innovative approaches to promoting market response could reduce the need for food
aid while not compromising the humanitarian response. A balanced approach also requires
that market proponents and food aid skeptics realize that not providing food aid and other
transfers to vulnerable households during crises can push them into poverty and undercut
their ability to use markets to ensure their food security in future crises. In other words, food
aid and other transfers provided in a timely manner to the right people can widen the future
scope for market response, not narrow it.
Information needs include improved food balance sheets, household budget shares and crossprice
elasticities of demand among staples, improved market price information, data on the
incidence of different household coping mechanisms, and household income shares and an
assessment of the likely impact of the crisis on the level of income from each source.
Operationally, governments need much more actively to facilitate market response during
crises, turning to food aid only if markets and market-facilitating measures are expected to be
insufficient to meet immediate food needs and protect vulnerable households from excessive
indebtedness or asset depletion.
Trade regulations in the region need to be simplified and harmonized. The paper provides a
list of key areas for reform, but stresses that, at the same time, governments and donors in the
region need to invest seriously in the professionalization of their customs services. What is
needed is a customs service which facilitates legal trade, rather than the all-too-frequent
pattern of using trade legalities to hinder open commercial trade and promote its
informalization. Similar professionalization needs to take place among the market
information services in the region.
Strategic Grain Reserves played no role in what has to be considered a successful response to
the 2002/03 crisis. Yet SGRs are back on the policy agenda, despite the discouraging
management record of such facilities in Africa. We suggest that government and donor time
and money are likely to be better spent on continuing improvements to market information
and early warning systems, on improved infrastructure for domestic food marketing, on more transparent policy towards external trade, and on market facilitating mechanisms that can be deployed when needed during crises.