Sustaining food and nutrition security in SADC countries amid Covid-19, climate change

As Covid-19 and climate change take their toll on agriculture, it is becoming clear that sustaining food and nutrition security in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region will not be an easy task.

It is indisputable that agriculture is a major economic activity for most SADC member countries.

Members of the Rural Women Assembly pose for a photo outside SAPSN Summit hall at Crossroads Hotel in Lilongwe

The sector provides employment, especially women, trade opportunities, food and income to around 70 percent of the region’s population and the performance of the sector is closely linked to economic development, food and nutrition security and stability.

SADC recognizes that reliable access to adequate food is a fundamental requirement for human well-being and agriculture is key to the realization and enjoyment of the right to food.

It is against this background that SADC Member States have always sought to improve the lives of their people by removing the serious obstacle of inadequate access to food, as a healthy, well-fed population will be better equipped to build for a better future.

Women farmers showcase some of the crops they grow in their localities

However, the farmers – particularly women who form the majority of food producers in the SADC region – continue facing myriad challenges to maximize their production and productivity.

The challenges range from scarcity or unpredictable changes in food availability due to factors such as weather and climate change, labour-intensive or dated agricultural methods and HIV and AIDS, and other health issues affecting agricultural production levels.

The emergence of Covid-19 has just worsened the situation. In an effort to address these challenges, Rural Women Assembly (RWA) in conjunction with the Partnership for Social Accountability (PSA Alliance) and Southern African People’s Solidarity Network (SAPSN) held a regional food dialogue on the sidelines of the SADC Summit in Lilongwe.

Rural women farmers from Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Lesotho, Eswatini, South Africa joined in the dialogue, which took place on 18 August 2021.

NASFAM Head of Policy and Communications Beatrice Makwenda said the aim of the dialogue was to call for smallholder farmer friendly and more specifically rural women friendly food systems.

Makwenda said given the widespread reliance of agriculture, natural resources and ecosystems, smallholder farmers and more especially rural women have been rendered vulnerable to climate change, un-favorable agricultural markets, fragile farming systems and poor seed systems.

“This is despite the fact the rural women and smallholder farmers are historical stewards to seeds, guardians to land, water and continuously feed the growing population. Since they often lack voice in decision-making processes that affect them, it is imperative they are supported and enabled to participate and influence the regional and national decisions on food systems and climate change,” she said.

In their communique after the dialogue, the women farmers call upon SADC Member States to strengthen or establish joint agriculture sector reviews (JASR) and smallholder farmer and CSO-inclusive food and nutrition councils at district and sub-district levels to guide, monitor and oversee food and nutrition strategies, plans, programmes and budgets.

The farmers said these could be key in ensuring widespread adoption of sustainable agricultural practices to assist smallholder farmers to adapt to the effects of climate change and to accelerate agricultural growth as a means of fighting hunger and poverty.

The women farmers further encourage SADC to develop and implement a robust regional agriculture development and advisory extension services strategy that supports rural agriculture production clusters to promote agro ecology, farmer-managed seed systems and gender-responsive public services, and, additionally, to avoid imposition of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

“We urge SADC and member states to increase funding to the agriculture sector and rapidly operationalize and finance the stalled SADC Agriculture Development Fund (ADF). We call on SADC to integrate a food system that promotes food and seed sovereignty and develops marketing systems for local and indigenous foods,” reads the communique.

The women farmers also urge SADC to strengthen land tenure systems that discourage land markets that leave citizens and producers landless or deviate arable land for production in favour of scrupulous investors.

They also call for inclusive decision-making platforms that harness the voice of women producers, widens economic opportunities for women and consolidates their role in agriculture.

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