This policy brief looks at the factors constraining the productivity of smallholder farmers to achieve food security for poor households and communities, as a contribution to poverty eradication in southern Africa. The brief examines the characteristics of the region in terms of poverty, the state of food security in the region, and current factors that limit smallholder farmers’ capacity to produce more food in a sustainable way. It also identifies key policy areas for attention and makes recommendations to address policy gaps.
Millions of people in southern Africa have been affected by chronic food shortages, more recently exacerbated by the global food price crisis. The potential of smallholder agricultural producers to contribute to food security, particularly for the most vulnerable, is a major area of underdevelopment. Challenges that have blocked progress in this sector are weak or inadequate policy frameworks; a deteriorating natural resource base; natural disasters; and climate changes leading to erratic weather patterns. The causes of the chronic food crisis in southern Africa are a combination of factors including ineffective land reform, inefficient agricultural management systems and lack of technological advancement, lack of adequate inputs, and poor infrastructure. Another key factor is the energy crisis that has led to a growing dependence on bio-fuels as an alternative source of renewable energy. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Summit in June 2008 identified bio-fuels and climate change as key contributors to food price hikes whose effects were felt globally, especially by the poor. All these factors have combined to create extremely difficult conditions for the farming sector to deliver food security for the region. The impact is worst on smallholder farmers.