by Rachel Mkandawire, Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)
January 19, 2024

Southern Africa is facing a strong El Niño event, which is expected to last at least until April 2024, causing disruptions in weather patterns and a surge in temperatures, as reported by the World Meteorological Organization. The impact will extend into 2024, leading to below-average harvests. Over 20 million people will need food assistance between January and March 2024, and below-average harvests will result in increased needs, peaking in early 2025. Concerns are high for deficit-producing regions like Zimbabwe, southern Malawi, southern and central Mozambique, and southern Madagascar.
These anticipated challenges call for urgent action to transform Southern Africa’s food systems to weather events like this. With its interdisciplinary and systems-based approach, the Food Systems Transformation in Southern Africa for One Health (FoSTA Health) project is strategically positioned to evaluate and respond to the medium and long-term implications of these changes in food systems.

Participants at the FoSTA-Health stakeholder engagement event in Zambia, October 2023

The project combines stakeholder engagement and grounded research in the four focus countries (Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia) with an integrated modelling framework to examine the One Health outcomes associated with these transformations. This involves evaluating the consequences of system change for food and nutrition security, access to water and sanitation, animal and human disease risk, crop pests, food safety, livelihoods, and more. The changes resulting from extreme weather events like the ongoing El Niño are of interest.

In the last quarter of 2023, FANRPAN and its country nodes- CISANET in Malawi, NAMC in South Africa, ESRF in Tanzania and ACF in Zambia-- convened multi-stakeholder policy dialogues to enable collaboration among diverse stakeholders whose varied insights are necessary to identify varied priorities and implement equitable pathways for transformation.

In response to Malawi's escalating dry spells and droughts, the FoSTA Health project is re-examining traditional maize production, and identifying necessary transformative shifts in land and water usage. Aligned with the ongoing efforts of the Titukulane project in the agricultural value chain, FoSTA Health focuses on Chigalu as a case study. Employing a comprehensive research approach, it utilizes mixed research methods, empirical data, representative transformation pathways, modelling of system dynamics, and testbeds, to  identify potential scenarios with respect to water usage and access in the face of challenges like droughts, population increase, and shifting cropping patterns.

Stakeholder consultation lies at the core of Malawi's initiatives. Underscoring the significance of collaboration from grassroots to national levels, involving NGOs and government stakeholders, these engagements shape strategies, policies, and interventions to strengthen food system resilience in the face of climate-related challenges, including those linked to El Niño.

women in agriculture TanzaniaIn Tanzania, FoSTA-Health examines women's crucial role in agriculture, especially amidst climate change impacts like El Niño. The recent stakeholder consultation and policy dialogue (October 11-12, 2023) highlighted the intricate link between women's empowerment, food systems transformation, and their participation in  spice value chains in Tanga region. Although women play a key role in the early stages of agricultural production, their involvement diminishes later, notably in trading, which tends to be male dominated. This gender gap exposes challenges for women in engaging with emerging commodity value chains. It underscores the need for a nuanced understanding considering factors like marital status and household demographics. Increased household income resulting from women's financial independence can enhance livelihoods, food security, and consequently their households’ resilience to shocks. However, it may conflict with established gender norms, potentially leading to unintended consequences like increased gender-based violence or relationship breakdowns within households.

In Zambia, stakeholders at the recent policy dialogue expressed concerns about the connection between altered weather patterns, like El Niño, and disruptions in food production, leading to a shortage of diverse and nutritious food sources. This exacerbates existing agricultural policies favouring a limited range of crops, such as maize and soybean, contributing to reduced dietary diversity and increased non-communicable diseases like obesity. During El Niño events, challenges in agricultural production elevate the reliance on processed foods lacking essential nutrients, further fuelling the prevalence of non-communicable diseases. Understanding El Niño's impacts on Zambia's food systems is crucial for managing the epidemiological transition. Policy formulation must adopt a comprehensive approach to address immediate climate impacts and ensure long-term food system resilience. This involves diversifying agriculture, strengthening food safety regulations, and promoting dietary shifts to nutritious options. Future dialogues should prioritize these strategies to build adaptive, resilient food systems capable of withstanding climate challenges like El Niño.

Stakeholder consultations and policy dialogues stand as critical pillars in addressing the intricate impacts of climate phenomena on food systems, providing essential guidance for southern Africa's pursuit of adaptive and sustainable solutions. The dynamic nature of El Niño underscores the need for proactive and forward-thinking policies. In confronting the challenges posed by El Niño, the role of stakeholder engagement cannot be overstated.  It is a linchpin for collaborative forums that navigate multifaceted climate impacts and guide the region toward adaptive, resilient, and sustainable solutions.



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