The food security situation in the SADC region: Policy dimensions and scope for recovery Policy Discussion Paper No. 1, Series 1

Executive Summary 

This paper summarizes the results and findings from on-going studies commissioned by the Food Agriculture Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network on short-term food and farm input supply in five selected countries in the SADC region i.e. Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The initial results from the studies were discussed at a seminar held in Johannesburg, South Africa on 25 - 27 September 2002. 

The objective of the study is to assist the region to gain a comprehensive understanding of the prevailing food insecurity and food security-related policy environment and constraints in the member countries and recommend remedial strategies for action by policy makers. The studies have revealed that, perhaps, with the exception of South Africa and Tanzania, almost all of the countries in the region affected by the 2002 drought induced crop failures; realized too late into the season that they had no comprehensive disaster management plans and food relief strategies in place; no significant stocks in their strategic food reserves, had inadequate foreign exchange reserves for speedy commercial food imports. These countries had insufficient resources to fund rapid production responses such as input supply and supplementary irrigation; and the policy environment was not highly conducive for the marketing and distribution of food resources. 

The continuing famine in 2002/3 has once again reminded SADC countries of the fragile and precarious nature of both the national and regional food security situation, as experienced in the 1991/92 season. The return of good rains and natural harvests, albeit temporarily, often misleads governments into setting aside the implementation of effective and permanent policies and strategies for addressing long-term food security such as sound pricing and marketing policies, export promotion for high value crops, flexible strategic food reserve policies, sustainable input supply systems incorporating private agri-dealers, irrigation and facilitation of cross-border trade. In some cases governments faced with food shortages, instead of opening up their economies for more trade, have implemented policy reversals, which are very detrimental for long-term investment in agriculture. Examples include the reintroduction of price controls, single channel state controlled marketing monopolies and re-imposition of import / export restrictions. 

Short term policy recommendations emerging from the on-going studies include relaxation of price controls, removal of import / export restrictions, introducing longer working hours at border posts, reducing paper work for traders, lowering transport levies, creating a green route and centralized logistics and information system for food movements between countries, targeted free input distribution schemes, facilitation of private sector in food and input distribution and efforts to enhance the skills of traders. 

In the long-term, focus should be on the harmonization of regional trade rules and standards including regional biosafety regulations, creation of national forums to encourage dialogue between government, private sector, farmers and civic society, introduction of permanent agri-dealer structures for input supply, water storage and irrigation management, including contract farming for seed and strategic crops, the development of all embracive (food, inputs, foreign currency) strategic reserves and food security management policy. Other long-term recommendations included training of policy analysts and support for policy networks in the region, as well as the establishment of a permanent regional trade negotiations team.