The United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (WFP) is increasingly concerned about food security in southern Africa where an estimated 14 million people are facing hunger following prolonged dry spells.
These dry conditions, caused by the El Niño weather event, led to a poor harvest. El Niño, which is leading to an even worse drought across the region, is affecting this year’s crop.
With little or no rain falling in many areas, the window for the planting of cereals is closing fast or already closed in some countries.
“South Africa, the major breadbasket of the region, has indicated that this El Niño-induced drought is the worst the country has suffered in more than half a century,” said the WFP.
The WFP said the number of people without enough food could rise significantly over coming months as the region moves deeper into the so-called lean season, the period before the April harvest when food and cash stocks become increasingly depleted.
“Driving through southern Zambia, I saw fields of crops severely stressed from lack of water and I met farmers who are struggling to cope with a second season of erratic rains,” said WFP executive director Ertharin Cousin.
According to the WFP, the worst affected in the region by last year’s poor rains was Malawi with 2.8 million people facing hunger, followed by Madagascar with 1.9 million people and Zimbabwe with 1.5 million people where the 2015 harvest was reduced by half compared to the previous year.
The WFP said the Lesotho government declared a drought emergency last month and that one third of the population do not have enough food.
Due to reduced production, food prices across southern Africa have also been on the rise. The price of maize is 73% higher in Malawi than the three-year average for this time of year, the WFP said.
“I’m particularly concerned smallholders won’t be able to harvest enough crops to feed their own families through the year, let alone to sell what little they can to cover school fees and other household needs,” said Cousin.