09 September, 2016
Almost 40 million people in southern Africa are expected to face food "insecurity" in early 2017.
That number comes from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Chimimba David Phiri serves as FAO Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa. He said "The high levels of unemployment, and sluggish economies, means that the main way people are able to access food is through what they themselves produce."
"Assisting them to do this will provide lifesaving support in a region where at least 70 percent of people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods," he said.
Millions of people across southern Africa are dealing with food shortages because of dry weather conditions. Scientists have linked the drought to the weather event known as El Nino.
FAO officials say southern Africa is experiencing its most severe drought in 35 years, while prices for maize and other crops have risen.
Officials said 23 million people "urgently need support to produce enough food to feed themselves," so they are not dependent on humanitarian assistance until the middle of 2018. Farmers must be able to plant by October.
"Failure to do so will result in another reduced harvest in March 2017, severely affecting food and nutrition security and livelihoods in the region," FAO officials warned.
In Zimbabwe, the U.N. agency is helping farmers hurt by the dry weather. Last month, FAO started giving biofortified maize and bean seeds to farmers. Those seeds are designed to produce crops high in valuable nutrients.
Agricultural experts say a good harvest is necessary next March to help families escape the country's food crisis.
"We have had two bad (growing) seasons, and a lot of farmers do not have adequate seeds," said FAO's David Phiri. "We need to support the farmers to have the seed that they need for them to grow this season, and also to avoid a problem of having continued humanitarian support."
In Zimbabwe, many children are not getting enough to eat. In March, the U.N. Children's Fund said the country is facing its worst child malnutrition rates in 15 years. Rural areas have been hit hard.
Now, farmers are getting the seeds designed to produce crops with more nutrients.
Mirriam Chagweja is a farmer from Silobela, about 300 kilometers southwest of Harare, Zimbabwe's capital. She planted some of the fortified maize and beans in her field in February. She received her seeds as part of a program supported by the British government. Britain is also providing financial support for the FAO program.
"I would encourage others to go on board and join," Chagweja said. She said she got more beans from these seeds compared to the other kinds of beans.
The seed program is targeting about 127,000 small farm households in eight areas. Then it will move out to other parts of the country, FAO officials said.
I'm Anne Ball.
Sebastian Mhofu reported this story for VOANews. Anne Ball adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
sluggish – adj. slow
livelihood – n. way to make a living
drought – n. a severe lack of rain and water
biofortified – adj. crop that has been created to have higher levels of nutrients
adequate – adj. enough
malnutrition – n. not getting enough nutrition to be healthy
fortified – adj. strengthened