SWAZILAND: Scramble to Meet Shortfall in Food Aid

  • by Mantoe Phakathi (manzini, swaziland)
  • Inter Press Service

It has now been almost a year since 74-year-old Reuben Mamba has received food rations at Macetjeni, a few kilometres outside the commercial hub of Manzini.

Mamba lives with his wife, Agnes (68), their daughter and six orphaned grandchildren. The household has struggled to make ends meet on nothing more than the couple's quarterly Old Age Grants of $90 each; only support from relatives has kept them from starvation.

'We used to receive food aid from World Vision but nobody from the organisation has come back to tell us why they are not giving us food anymore,' said Agnes.

Fikru Gebeyehu, food aid resource manager for relief and development NGO World Vision in Swaziland, told IPS that the organisation has not been distributing food rations for the past few months. World Vision had been distributing aid on behalf of the U.N.'s emergency food relief agency, the World Food Programme (WFP), which Gebeyehu said had suspended its programme of food aid.

'WFP cited resource constraints and now we’re waiting for [the Swazi] government to give us food parcels which we will only distribute to vulnerable groups such as the chronically ill,' said Gebeyehu.

From November, WFP will begin supporting 19,000 people under the Food by Prescription Programme which will cover people receiving treatment for TB or antiretroviral therapy. Food aid will also be supplied to 12,000 orphans and vulnerable children at soup kitchens each day, and 16,000 youth and students under a food-for-training programme.

Global resource constraints

According to WFP Swaziland representative and country director Karla Hershey, the organisation has been experiencing serious resource constraints over the past three years. She attributes this to the global economic crisis.

'This hit especially hard on WFP because we rely entirely on donor funding for our operations,' said Hershey.

WFP global media coordinator Gregory Barrow told journalists that through the first three quarters of 2010, WFP received less than half of the funding it needs for its operations worldwide.

'Swaziland is not the only country where our operations have been reduced,' said Barrow. 'Many developing countries are facing this problem.'

He said the volatility of food prices in the world is further complicating the situation. 'If prices go up we simply can’t buy as much food as we had hoped.'

In the Mamba household, Agnes's daughter Thembani will be the only person to qualify for food aid because she is on antiretroviral therapy.

The number of people covered by WFP's redesigned programmes will be around 47,000; 170,000 people are in need of food aid in the country, according to the 2010 Vulnerability Assessment Committee report.

'The government has overall responsibility for the food security of its citizens in any country,' Hershey said. 'Development partners including U.N. agencies like WFP are requested to contribute towards the national response to food shortages wherever there is a gap in government resources.'

Short and long-term solutions

A drop in revenue from the Southern African Customs Union, from $713 million to just $143 million this year, has thrown the country into financial crisis, with the country approaching the African Development Bank for a loan in September.

The government is under immense budgetary pressure as it seeks to ensure food assistance for those at risk.

'We’ve already purchased maize from South Africa to be distributed soon, but I’m not sure if it will be enough for everybody and whether it will last until next March when the government year ends,' said Ben Sibandze, the chairperson for the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA).

Neighbouring South Africa's massive grain surplus is one potential source of cheap maize, but there are some obstacles.

He said the Swaziland Environment Authority had begin enforcing regulations governing imports of genetically-modified organisms, delaying the procurement process.

'The new regulations on [genetically-modified] maize are going to make it even more difficult to provide food for the poor,' said Sibandze.

'We had to get a GMO-free Certificate before importing the maize into the country and that took us some time,' said Sibandze. 'Previously, we used to import maize, even GMO, without any problem.'

Short and long-term solutions

Sibandze said the government will prioritise child-headed households, the elderly and the chronically-ill.

'Others will fall under the food-for-work programme, where they will help develop community infrastructure in exchange of food aid,' he said.

The national food-for-work policy was developed by the NDMA with help from WFP, said Hershey: 'In June this year, we presented NDMA with food-for-work tools to help kick start its implementation in the country.'

Sibandze said the food-for-work programme will help reduce permanent dependence on food aid.

'Since 1992, we’ve been giving out food aid,' said Sibandze. 'It’s time people tried to get themselves out of the situation.'

But with prolonged drought reducing harvests or even leading farmers to give up agriculture, and very few alternative jobs available, Sibandze's call for people to help themselves seems futile.

The president of the International Fund for Agriculture Development president, Kanayo Nwanze, has called on developing countries to invest in agriculture to meet their food security demands.

'Agriculture should be treated as a business, no matter the scale,' said Nwanze.

He said countries should develop agricultural infrastructure, markets and technology to raise rural incomes - and make the sector more attractive to youth. Such investment would help make Swazi farmers more resilient - reducing dependence on rainfall with irrigation for example, and in a position to produce maize and vegetables presently imported from South Africa.

But with the immediate financial challenges facing the country, it could be some time before government is able to heed Nwanze's call.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service