Transforming agriculture to boost food security

The current drought is already having severe negative effects on regional food security. South Africa, the region’s largest maize producer, is facing a 5 million tonne deficit that will need to be met through imports.

The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) organised a food security conference from 7 to 10 of March in Oslo. The conference was attended by global leaders to engage in a dialogue on food security and what the role of agriculture is in contributing to national development efforts as well as local and global stability.

SACAU CEO Ishmael Sunga was invited to speak on ‘Transforming Agriculture for a Food Secure Future’ and ‘Rural development – A Farmer Driven Development Agenda?’.

Mr Sunga’s presentation focused on key issues faced by farmers in the southern Africa  and also touched on methods that can be used to improve food security by developing the agricultural sector.

“There needs to be a more transformative agenda in agricultural development which is centred on enterprise development, and focused on growth and prosperity,” said Sunga.

Due to the drought, regional food supplies are limited and staple food prices are higher than average. Nearly 29 million people are currently food insecure in the southern Africa region.

Mr Sunga points out there is still more to be done to improve the food insecure region.

“African leaders need to harness the power of digital technology to support sustainable food systems. They need to think strategically and come up with new methods that are innovative to drive development in the agricultural sector,” said Sunga.

“There is limited access to factors of production such as land, finance, technology or machinery,” said he adds.

Study reveals widespread drought impact in southern Africa

The ongoing drought has had a widespread negative impact on the region, according to a recent assessment conducted by SACAU in partnership with Agri SA.

The results were shared at a joint media conference hosted by SACAU and Agri SA on Tuesday, 1st March 2016, in Centurion, South Africa. The keynote speakers were SACAU CEO Ishmael Sunga and Agri SA Executive Director Omri van Zyl.

The study relied on the expert opinion of farmer leaders in each country to estimate the severity of the drought and its impacts. It revealed that almost all countries in southern Africa are experiencing “severe to extremely severe” drought conditions.

“Organised agriculture has made a conscious decision to begin to drive the discussions and the solutions around the current drought,” said SACAU’s Ishmael Sunga.

The most reported issues relate to crop failure due to poor rains as well as livestock deaths due to poor grazing or lack of water.

The assessment outlines the impact of drought on livestock which has severely affected SADC countries such as South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe (declared a national disaster), parts of Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia.

It has been revealed that cattle deaths have increased tremendously, with losses of 35 000 animals reported in the southern districts of Zimbabwe alone.

The major maize producers in the region i.e. South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe are expecting only half of their typical harvest. According to the SACAU report, more than 14 million people across the region will face the twin challenge of food shortages and high food prices.

The issue of decreasing water quality, dropping groundwater levels, as well as increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires were also reported among the drought impacts.

SACAU CEO Ishmael Sunga emphasised the massive impact this has had on agriculture: “Farmers in southern Africa are at the frontline of this catastrophe, and are arguably the worst affected. However, it is now time that farmers exert themselves more in crafting solutions,” he said.

The organisations recommended the use of existing and new irrigation assets (dams, boreholes, rivers) and water harvesting as well as the enhancement of resilience building programmes and actions geared towards increasing preparedness and early response.

“There needs to be resource mobilisation focused more towards consumer relief efforts. We need to think strategically. There is also a need to make long term plans and put in place 30-50 year frameworks,” said Sunga.

The current drought is expected to delay 2016 harvests, extending the lean season. The start of the green harvest, which provides alternative sources of food to poorest households is expected to start in mid-March 2016 compared to the usual February 2016.

SACAU pushes for rights of women in agriculture

Farming in sub-Saharan Africa is a family affair. Yet, women continue to face serious challenges and constraints which inhibit them from effectively unleashing their full potential.

March 8 is International Women’s Day and a chance to look at the impact women have on agriculture as well as the constraints they face in the sector.

These constraints include access to resources such as land, finances, markets, appropriate technology and information; limited technical and managerial capabilities; social, cultural and political prejudices; and marginalisation in decision making processes and Farmers’ Organisations (FOs) leadership structures.

SACAU’s Capacity Development Advisor Benito Eliasi, noted that these three issues of access, ownership of production assets and representation in leadership structures of FO’s remain at the forefront. “You will find that there are a number of economic, social and cultural factors that make access and ownership more difficult for women than their male counterparts,” he said.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations notes that women play a critical role in agriculture despite many restraints. About 53.5% of people self-employed in farming are women. While women farmers work the land, women in developing countries hold only 14% of the management positions in agricultural organisations and only 30% of the delegates at the UN climate change meetings between 2000 and 2010 were women.

Eliasi has been a part of a number of SACAU initiatives to address these issues. “SACAU have noted how at a local level you will find many women in leadership positions but as you go up into national and regional structures, you will find very few,” said Eliasi. Access to knowledge and assets is limited for women and, for women trying to build their businesses, this can be an almost insurmountable roadblock.

Part of the reason that SACAU hosts the annual Regional Women Farmers’ Forum is to address these challenges. Occurring near the end of the year, the forum is a chance for women to come together and share experiences. This year’s theme will be ‘Entrepreneurship Development’. The focus will be on building entrepreneurial skills for women farmers. Eliasi is also excited that the forum will be bringing young women and older women together to learn and share their experiences.

Regarding the issue of land rights, SACAU will facilitate members of the forum to participate in the Kilimanjaro initiative that will bring together women in Africa to discuss land issues and women’s rights. The Kilimanjaro meeting is organised by the International Land Coalition (ILC) in collaboration with ActionAid, Tanzania Gender Networking Program and others.

As Eliasi points out, there is still more to be done. “With the Women’s forum we hope to amass knowledge and expertise with the aim to provide solutions. The Kilimanjaro Initiative, although not organised by SACAU, will provide a similar experience for our members.”

SACAU to release drought survey for regional action



SACAU members from 12 SADC countries have responded to an urgent call for information on the impact of the drought in the region to help the confederation plan a way forward.

Coordinated by Dr Manyewu Mutamba, the survey evaluates the impact of drought in each country and also identifies the major challenges faced by farmers.

“The survey covered all SACAU members in 12 countries as well as commodity platform members,” says Dr Manyewu Mutamba.

“The response was good, almost all SACAU members responded. Overall about 50% of those invited to the give feedback responded despite the short time window.”

The results are critical to ensure a co-ordinated regional response.

“It has become clear that farmers across Southern Africa are in the clutches of an unrelenting drought,” says Dr Mutamba, adding that all SACAU members are affected.

“It’s already clear that transport and infrastructural bottlenecks will be a constraint to an effective drought response.   A regional approach to tackling these challenges is better placed to galvanize long term solutions, investments and strategies for disaster preparedness in the future,”  says  Dr Mutamba.

The second step will be a high level report based on the survey which will highlight the extent of the drought and the major impacts as well as some of the possible actions to help farmers manage the impacts of the drought.

“We are finalizing a report that will summarize the responses and capture the key outcomes of the survey,” says Dr Mutamba  “This report will be the basis of an information session and media briefing with various stakeholders, partners and media,” he adds.

SACAU will release full results at a press conference on Tuesday, 01 March, 2016.