Soaring food prices to catapult 259,000 Emaswati into a food crisis

By Phephile Motau

The rising food commodity prices are expected to leave more people in a food crisis between now and March 2023. This is according to the Eswatini IPC Acute Food Insecurity Analysis. The report states that in the projection period (October 2022 – March 2023), an estimated 259 000 people (22 per cent of the population) will be in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) or worse. The analysis is prepared by the Eswatini Government with the World Food Programme (WFP) and other stakeholders.

In the past projection period (July to September 2022), over 183, 000 people (16 per cent of the population) were estimated to be in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) or worse with 169 000 people in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis), and 14 000 in IPC Phase 4 (Emergency). 

The IPC classifies areas into 11 and these are dry middle veld, Hhohho Urban, highveld cattle and maize, Lowveld cattle and maize and Lubombo Plateau. Others are Manzini urban, Lubombo urban, Moist middle veld, peri-urban, Shiselweni urban and timber highlands.

During the projected period (October 2022 – March 2023), the number of people in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) or worse is expected to increase by an estimated six per cent. This includes more than doubling the populations in IPC Phase 4 (Emergency) and an increase in the areas classified in IPC Phase (Crisis) to seven in the projection period. The Lubombo Plateau has the highest percentage of the population above IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) in both the previous and projection periods with 30 per cent and 35per cent respectively. Lowveld cattle and maize have the highest population above in IPC Phase 3 or above in both the previous and projection period with 56 000 and 68 000 respectively.

The areas classified in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) or worse are projected to increase from three to seven in the projection period. All other rural livelihood zones, except for Timber highlands, will be in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) and the only urban area that will be in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) is Lubombo urban.

All areas are expected to have a minimum increase of five per cent in the populations in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) or worse except Timber highlands, which remains the same. The largest increases in populations in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) or worse are in Lowveld Cattle and Maize (15 per cent) and Moist Middleveld (10 per cent). Two areas, Dry Middleveld and The Highveld cattle and maize will move to IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) in the projection period. 

Populations in IPC Phase 4 (Emergency) are found in Lowveld Cattle and maize (10 per cent), Hhohho Urban (five per cent), Lubombo Plateau (five per cent), peri-Urban (five per cent), and Dry Middleveld (three per cent). 

Areas in IPC Phase 2 (Stressed) that have populations in IPC Phase 4 (Emergency) are Hhohho Urban, while all the rest of the IPC Phase 4 populations are found in areas classified in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis). 

The report states that food availability is expected to deteriorate as many households are expected to have depleted their food stocks, and with the impact of the continual fuel and food price shocks, households are expected to experience increased food availability and access challenges resulting in large food gaps and depletion of livelihood assets. This means most households having depleted their food stock in less than six months will depend on markets and financial capacity to access food. 

In the LCM, most households will have lower food stocks and 40 per cent will have no food stocks remaining. It is also projected that over 44 per cent of the household in the Lubombo Plateau will have depleted their food stocks at the beginning of the projection period.

The levels of unemployment, engagement in casual labour and the levels of poor assets will expose many of the households in Peri urbanPeri-urban areas to vulnerability to shocks in the projected period. In the zone, there will be less food available compared to last year with about 22 per cent of the households having food stocks that will last for less than two months. 

The report states that the fuel prices and general increase in the prices of basic food commodities will render access to food a challenge as a majority of the households will access their food from the market – hence a stable income, which is currently a challenge, will be necessary. 

In the projected period, it is expected that the percentage of households implementing livelihood strategies will increase as more household households try to mitigate food consumption gaps. 

“Households are expected to experience increased food gaps, which will lead to increased use of both food and livelihood-based strategies. As more households will experience reductions in purchasing power, they will begin to deplete more of their assets to cope with a worsening food insecurity and nutrition situation, which renders the situation worse in the projection period.,” the report states.

This projected situation is based on assumptions: including that the prices of domestic food commodities are expected to increase as a result of the continuing war in Ukraine which has affected the supply chain of fuel in global markets; the prices are expected to increase even further above the current levels and also above the five-year average. 

Urgent action required to protect livelihoods

The IPC states that urgent action is required to protect livelihoods and reduce food consumption gaps for populations in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) or worse.

It further recommended that orphaned and vulnerable children, child-headed households, the elderly, and people living with HIV and disabilities should be prioritised where appropriate.

It further states that another appropriate action that needs to be taken is promoting and strengthening livelihood programs, prioritizing child-headed households, women, elderly, disabled, and chronically ill persons where appropriate.

“Strengthen innovative and cost-effective ways to improve food diversification and reduce food consumption gaps. Scale up child integrated community-based growth monitoring interventions,” the report recommends.

It further suggests that there should be an increase nutrition awareness among households’ members and increased awareness on access and use of improved sanitation facilities, incorporating gender and inclusion principles.

It was also suggested that given the envisaged developments in the increase of commodity prices, economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and civil action, it would be necessary to carry out an update of the current analysis. 

This will be planned in early November 2022 to give a situation update up to the end of March 2023. This will be an opportunity to review the impact of COVID-19 on food security at the household level, market functionality, transport and trade across districts/regions, the impact on household food requirements, price of staples, and availability of labour opportunities, among other key issues.

Among risk factors to monitor are the price changes for key commodities as a result of a steep increase in fuel prices, employment losses due to the constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which induced losses in casual labour and 

poor performance of small businesses.

Other risk factors are inflation and the impact on the economy and the climatic forecast of the next rain season from SARCOF.

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