allAfrica/The Herald

Southern African Development Community (Sadc) member states have been challenged to urgently implement measures to mitigate the effects of El-Nino to reduce food shortages and malnutrition.

This came out at a multi-sectoral stakeholder consultative meeting held in South Africa last week to develop a regional preparedness and response strategy to address the impact of El-Nino on agriculture, food and nutrition security in the region.

The meeting was attended by 165 delegates from the agriculture, environment, food and nutrition, disaster management, climate change, water, health, planning and finance sectors from 15 Sadc member states.

The participants acknowledged that climatic extremes would continue to recur and hence there was a need for the region to develop and implement both short, medium and long-term measures in a co-ordinated manner.

Speaking after the meeting convened by Sadc, in partnership with FAO and the World Food Programme, FAO Sub-regional Co-ordinator for southern Africa, Mr David Phiri, said the region faced a predicament, which called for swift and co-ordinated action.

“Crop and livestock production are already projected to decline sharply, triggering shortages, price hikes and threatening people’s livelihoods.

“This could mean a reversal in recent gains made in reducing malnutrition and also leave an increased number of people vulnerable to food insecurity, particularly women, children and HIV-affected people.

“In a region where 70 percent of the population depends on agriculture, the consequences are dire. Such a sharp decline in production is likely to result in increased malnutrition and hunger,” he said.

Mr Phiri said the current drought comes against a backdrop of declining economies and the fall of most currencies in the region against the United States dollar, making this situation severe.

The crisis comes hot on the heels of a poor 2014-2015 season, where crops were severely affected by drought and crop yields declined in almost all countries in the region.

Mr Phiri said FAO was responding to the needs of communities.

“The focus of the agency’s immediate interventions includes supporting farmers by providing drought-tolerant crops, seeds and livestock feed and carrying out vaccinations.

“FAO is also supporting longer-term resilience-building approaches among vulnerable groups, including the rehabilitation of irrigation systems, improving farmers’ access to rural finance, and promoting wider use of climate-smart agricultural technologies.