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26 April 2024

“Disaster Response Briefing: Southern Africa Unites to Tackle El Niño Disaster”

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release


Southern Africa, April 23, 2024 – Following the devastating impact of the El Niño phenomenon on Southern Africa’s agriculture and food systems and plunging millions into a dire humanitarian crisis, stakeholders from leading institutions converged to usher a collective voice. In response to this urgent humanitarian crisis, the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), collaborated with CARE Southern Africa, three South African institutions, namely, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), and the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) to convene a crucial one-day event and press briefing session.

With record-breaking dry spells spanning over 30 days, eight countries – Angola, Botswana, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe – face unprecedented challenges to food security and livelihoods. Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, all on the brink of catastrophic food shortages, have declared states of national disaster. The situation has been worsened by the convergence of the El Niño phenomena and the long-standing climate change effects, jointly causing widespread crop failure and increasing livestock deaths due to water scarcity and dwindling vegetation. The movement of desperate people and animals fuels the spread of diseases, posing additional threats to human and animal health.

As the first calling for a regional and coordinated response to the catastrophe, the event was a pivotal platform to mobilize collective action and catalyse meaningful change in response to the El Niño crisis. Commenting on the relevance of the engagement, Mr. Moketsa Ramasodi, the Director General in the of Department of Agriculture Land Reform and Rural Development in South Africa applauded FANRPAN and its partners for taking the lead. “We thank the conveners and honour the opportunity to unite our expertise and efforts to confront the challenges posed by the El Niño phenomenon”, he said.

Dr Dr Litha Magingxa, the President and CEO of the Agricultural Research Council in South Africa and one of the co-conveners, called on all stakeholders to join this initiative and partner to increase awareness and action in the face of the EL Nino phenomenon. “The ARC is highly honoured to be part of this initiative so that we can act collectively, decisively, and with a long-term vision to share the pathway towards a more sustainable food system in the region”.

Dr Theo de Jager, a farmer in his own right and the Chairperson of the FANRPAN Board of Governors, highlighted the need to bring the voices of farmers to the decision-making round table. He explained that emerging policies and strategies would not address their needs and concerns without their representation. To drive the point home about the effects of marginalising farmers, he said, “If we are not sitting around the table with other stakeholders, then we will be on the menu”.

Dr Lewis Hove, the United Nations Food, Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Resilience Team Leader for Southern Africa, highlighted that, El Nino is a natural weather phenomenon, corresponding to a warming of a large part of the tropical Pacific. It occurs every two to seven years and lasts between nine and 12 months. He shared that FAO has launched a plan to reduce the projected impacts of climate phenomenon El Nino on agricultural livelihoods and food security of the most at-risk and vulnerable populations. FAO is working with SADC Secretariat and member states to deliver immediate support to affected countries.

The importance of rigorous research, to ensure evidence based policy responses and advocacy was emphasised. The HSRC presented preliminary findings for Zambia from an on-going multi-country study the institution is conducting. The NRF also underscored the need for research, collaboration and partnerships, and continuous stakeholder engagement to ensure people-centred policy responses.

The event facilitated in-depth discussions on various critical topics, including the impact of adverse weather conditions on food systems, transforming food systems for sustainability, challenges faced by farmers, digital technology in smart farming, regional approaches to food loss and waste, crop insurance, building farmers’ resilience against climate change and other shocks, enhancing access to inputs, including seeds, crop pest and livestock disease management, and challenges encountered in conflict-affected regions. Media practitioners present had an opportunity to ask and interview the different stakeholders present.

The priority calls to action emerging from the event include the following:

Priority 1: Climate Change Impact Mitigation and Adaptation
Take decisive action to understand and address the impacts of climate change on agriculture. Analyse data comprehensively, implement sustainable farming practices, promote agroecology, and secure financial support to help communities adapt to changing climatic conditions.

Priority 2 : Food Security and Farmer Support
Prioritize efforts to ensure food security and support farmers affected by climate change. Develop regional plans, mitigate losses incurred by farmers, emphasize planning for future agricultural seasons, and collaborate at all levels to implement both short-term interventions and long-term solutions.

Priority 3: Community Engagement and Stakeholder Participation
Engage communities and stakeholders actively in addressing climate change and food security challenges. Facilitate continuous dialogue, involve small-scale farmers in decision-making processes, promote sustainable practices, and ensure inclusivity and effectiveness in disaster response efforts, particularly focusing on the needs of women and girls.

The crisis unleashed by the El Niño phenomenon demands immediate and concerted action from all stakeholders to address the immediate humanitarian needs and the recovery and building of resilience afterwards. By leveraging collective expertise, resources, and commitment, Southern Africa can navigate through these turbulent times towards a more resilient and sustainable future for all.

For more information and interviews, please contact:
Ms Kanto Harimihaja Ranaivosoa
Policy Advocacy and Communications Officer