Order Code RS21301
Updated December 6, 2002
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
The Food Crisis in Southern Africa:
Background and Issues
Charles E. Hanrahan
Senior Specialist in Agricultural Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Six Southern Africa countries – Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique,
Lesotho, and Swaziland – are facing severe food shortages. An estimated 14.4 million
people in the region (up from an earlier estimated 12.8 million) will need about 1
million metric tons of food aid to meet minimum consumption requirements before the
next harvest in April 2003. Observers list several causes of the current food crisis:
drought, floods, disruptions of commercial farming, depletion of strategic grain reserves,
and poor economic performance. The United States and other donors have responded,
mainly via the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), with commodity donations
and other forms of assistance. U.S. donations account for almost half of the total
international donor response. How donors will meet the remaining food need may be
examined during the 108th Congress. This report will be updated as new information
Dimensions of the Food Crisis
Food Needs. Six countries in Southern Africa (Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia,
Mozambique, Lesotho, and Swaziland) are experiencing severe food shortages that will
affect an estimated 14.4 million people if substantial quantities of food aid are not made
available between now and the next main harvest in April 2003. Two UN food agencies,
the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP),
estimate that a total of nearly 4 million metric tons of food imports (mainly corn) will be
needed during the 12-month marketing year ending in March 2003 to meet the minimum
food consumption requirements of the six countries’ populations.1 Included in that total
Sources of information about the extent and causes of the food crisis in southern Africa are
U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and U.N. World Food Program (WFP), Crop and
Food Supply Assessment Mission (CFSAM) Reports, April-May 2002; and from WFP, Southern
Africa Crisis Response, July 2002. The Southern Africa Development Community’s Food,
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
is an estimated 1.2 million metric tons of humanitarian food aid. Meeting the regional
food deficit will depend on the countries’ ability to finance commercial imports as well
as on the delivery and distribution of emergency food aid by the WFP and other agencies.
Table 1. Southern Africa Population Affected by the Food Crisis
and Their Food Aid Needs as of September 20, 2002
Population in Need
of Food Aid
% of Total
Grain Food Aid
March 2003 (MT)
Source: USAID, Southern Africa–Complex Food Security Situation Report, No.12, FY2002, September
Causes of the Food Crisis. The FAO/WFP assessments attribute the food crisis
not only to weather-related factors but also to policy measures taken by some Southern
Africa country governments. In particular, disruption of commercial corn production in
Zimbabwe, due to the government’s expropriation of commercial farms and to the illegal
occupation of many other commercial farms, and the sell-off of strategic grain reserves
in Malawi contributed substantially to the magnitude of the food deficit. Regional food
stocks were already low, having been drawn down as a result of previous years’
production shortfalls. The potential for large scale humanitarian food crises is greatest
in Zimbabwe where almost half the population is at risk, and in Malawi and Zambia.
Poor and vulnerable populations in Lesotho, Mozambique, and Swaziland are also at risk.
Factors contributing to food shortages vary by country. They include:
Severe drought or prolonged dry spells, especially in Malawi,
Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe;
Heavy rains and floods in Lesotho, and in south and central
Disruption of commercial farming in Zimbabwe;
Depletion of strategic grain reserves in Malawi in 2001 and the absence
of a grain reserve in Zambia;
Agriculture and Natural Resources Development Unit (SADC FANR) released new emergency
assessments in Johannesburg, South Africa on September 16, 2002. USAID publishes periodic
reports on the food situation in southern Africa and the U.S. Government response, the most
recent being Southern Africa - Complex Food Security Crisis Situation Report no. 12 FY2002,
September 20, 2002.
Poor economic performance in Lesotho and Zimbabwe;
Delays in several countries in the region in importing corn from South
Sharp increases in prices of staple food, especially of corn, and
especially in Zimbabwe and Zambia.
HIV/AIDS. The effects of food shortages are compounded by the highest rates of
HIV/AIDS infection in the world, ranging from 13% of the adult population in
Mozambique to over 25% in Swaziland. FAO/WFP (and USAID) report that high
prevalence of HIV/AIDS in much of the region leaves large portions of the population
vulnerable to health problems associated with food shortages, including malnutrition. In
addition, those suffering from both malnutrition and HIV/AIDS are susceptible to
endemic diseases, such as cholera and malaria.
Controversy over Genetically Modified (GM) Corn. Complicating the
emergency relief effort has been the reluctance or refusal of Zimbabwe, Zambia, and
Mozambique to accept U.S. corn shipments that contain genetically modified (GM) corn.
The United States, the European Union, and the World Health Organization all have
assured Southern Africa countries about the safety of consuming the GM corn in question.
Most of the concern, however, appears to be environmental and economic, i.e., that GM
corn might be planted and cross-pollinate indigenous varieties and/or ultimately be fed
to livestock thus potentially impeding grain or meat exports to the European Union which
strictly regulates products containing GM components. Grinding the corn into meal
would obviate environmental aspects of the issue because the grain could not be planted
but adds to the costs of providing the food aid. Nevertheless, Zimbabwe and
Mozambique (and Malawi) have reportedly decided to mill GM corn before it is
distributed. Zambia continues to reject GM corn shipments on health grounds.
Political Interference with the Relief Effort. In Zimbabwe, the ruling political
party has been reported to be denying food aid to opponents of the government of
President Robert Mugabe. USAID and the WFP are monitoring food aid distribution and
are giving assurances that there will be no political interference with the distribution of
relief food supplies. Concerns persist that President Mugabe’s party may use food aid to
influence the outcome of local elections in late September.
The WFP Appeal. The WFP launched an appeal on July 1, 2002 for the region,
calling on donors to supply 993,050 metric tons of grain valued at $508.3 million before
the April 2003 harvest. The amount of the appeal is based on assumptions that
commercial imports of about 2.6 million metric tons will cover the bulk of food import
requirements and that governments and indigenous non-governmental organizations in
the six countries would provide a little over 400,000 metric tons of food aid.
Non-Food Aid Needs. While the greatest need is for food aid, the FAO/WFP
assessments also indicate that there is a need for emergency provision of agricultural
inputs throughout the region. Locally adapted seed corn especially is needed to help farm
families restart agricultural production in the next planting season, which begins October
The U.S. Response
The U.S. government has responded to the food crisis in Southern Africa with about
$277 million in emergency humanitarian assistance as of November 15, 2002. Most of
this assistance has been in the form of donated food provided via two U.S. programs–P.L.
480 Title II, administered by USAID, and Section 416(b), administered by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture. As of November 15, 2002, USAID reported total U.S. food
aid contributions of 499,193 metric tons valued at $266.8 million. Title II accounts for
472,693 metric tons ($253.5 million) of the total and Section 416(b) for 26,500 metric
tons ($13.3 million). The Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) has made nonfood humanitarian assistance in the amount of $10.1 million available. Of the food aid
provided, $137 million has so far been channeled through the WFP. World Vision
International, a U.S. private voluntary organization, has been the conduit for $9.3 million
of U.S. assistance.
Table 2. U.S. Assistance to the Southern Africa Food Crisis
Program and Agency
P.L. 480 Title II/USAID (including
Emerson Trust Assistance)
Source: U.S. Agency for International Development, Southern Africa - Complex
Food Security Crisis, Situation Report no. 4 FY2003, November 15, 2002.
P.L. 480 and Section 416(b) Issues. FY2002 P.L. 480 allocations have already
been made. Additional P.L. 480 food aid for southern Africa will have to be allocated
from the FY2003 appropriations for P.L. 480 Title II. Additional food aid for use in Title
II could be made available from the Emerson Trust (discussed below). The availability
of Section 416(b) commodities depends on the availability of stocks owned by USDA’s
Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). CCC-owned stocks of corn, the most needed
commodity in the region, are limited–just 6 million bushels or approximately 152,000
metric tons. Complicating the use of CCC stocks for Southern Africa relief, however, is
the Administration’s decision not to use surplus commodities in food aid programs and
to phase out Section 416(b) food aid in FY2003. The reduction in section 416(b) could
be compensated for partly if Congress approves increases in FY2003 Title II funding as
proposed in both House and Senate agricultural appropriations bills for FY2003 (H.R.
5263 and S. 2801). However, USAID estimates that the proposed increased appropriation
for P.L. 480 Title II would buy about the same volume of commodities as in FY2002, i.e.,
about 2.2 million metric tons.
Private voluntary organizations (PVOs) and cooperatives point out that using P.L.
480 Title II regular appropriations to finance additional donations for Southern Africa
relief could result in reduced food aid for use in worldwide development projects. Some
of these organizations have suggested that emergency supplemental appropriations should
be made available to fund additional food aid for Southern Africa. Proponents of this
course of action point to emergency appropriations used recently to fund food aid for
Kosovar refugees in the Balkans and to meet food needs in Afghanistan.
Using the Emerson Trust and Related Issues. On June 10, 2002, at the
World Food Summit in Rome, the Secretary of Agriculture announced the release of
275,000 metric tons of wheat from the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust.2 An additional
release of 300,000 tons of wheat from the trust for southern Africa was announced on
August 28, 2002. The wheat will be exchanged for an equal value of corn, beans, and
vegetable oil for use in the U.S. response to the Southern Africa food crisis. (The Emerson
Trust is a grain reserve which can hold up to 4 million metric tons of grain–wheat, corn,
sorghum, and rice–that can be tapped to respond to urgent humanitarian need or when
domestic supplies are in such short supply that they cannot be made available to P.L. 480
through regular programming. After the June 10 and August 28 announcements, the trust
holds approximately 2.0 million metric tons of wheat.)
Using the Emerson Trust raises the issues of reimbursement of the CCC for the grain
released and replenishment of the Trust. According to current law, when the Trust is
used to meet emergency food needs, the CCC must be reimbursed from P.L. 480
appropriations, but not necessarily in the fiscal year when the Trust is used. Some argue
that using P.L. 480 funds for reimbursement reduces funds available for non-emergency,
i.e., developmental uses, of food aid and that other means should be devised to reimburse
the CCC. Also, current law does not require that the Trust be replenished after it is used,
but instead provides that the Trust can be replenished by designating commodities owned
by the CCC as belonging to the Trust or by purchase commodities if authorized by an
appropriations act. Designating CCC surpluses to the Trust might be viewed as
inconsistent with current Administration policy not to use surpluses for food aid. Use of
regular appropriations might require that spending on other programs be reduced. Other
spending options that Congress might consider include increasing regular food aid
appropriations or providing supplemental appropriations, including emergency
supplemental appropriations, for food aid.
Other Donor Responses
Other donors, both bilateral and multilateral, have provided assistance via WFP to
Southern African countries. The data in the table below show that the WFP has received
total confirmed donor contributions to its regional appeal of 637,376 metric tons of
commodities valued at $287.5 million. The WFP also reports contributions of $65.2
million to individual country emergency operations which preceded the July 2002
regional appeal. As of November 25, 2002, donors have provided 56.51% of a total WFP
request of $508.3 million to meet emergency food needs. (Additional U.S.-reported
commodity donations of around 173,000 metric tons, when confirmed by WFP, would
bring the coverage of the appeal to around 80%.) Of the total confirmed pledges to the
regional appeal, the United States has provided $137 million or 49% of the total. The
For detail on the trust, see The Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust: Background and Current
Issues, CRS Report RS21234.
European Union (i.e., member country contributions) has provided $116.7 million or 40%
of the response to the appeal. As for contributions to the individual country appeals prior
to July 1, the United States contributed $36.9 million or 57%, while the EU (the European
Commission and individual member countries) contributed $19.9 million or 31%.
Table 3. Confirmed Contributions to Southern Africa Region
through the World Food Program as of November 25, 2002
prior to July 18
Contributions to Southern Africa
% of Appeal
* Does not include 172,640 metric tons announced by the United States but not yet confirmed by WFP.
Congress may examine during the 108th Congress how to meet additional food needs
in the six Southern Africa countries. Funding issues may include the role of regular
annual appropriations vs. emergency supplemental appropriations to meet additional food
aid requirements. In the course of considering the U.S. response to the Southern Africa
crisis, such issues as the relative amounts of food aid devoted to emergencies vs.
development, food aid policy with respect to using surpluses, and the use of the Emerson
Trust also may be examined. In addition, the role and contribution of other donors to the
Southern Africa relief effort may be an issue for Congress.