In 2001–3 in many countries in Southern Africa national grain stocks had been run down and grain imports were slow to arrive, so that localised harvest shortfalls quickly resulted in three- and four-fold increases in food prices which, for the large number of vulnerable people in the region, spelled crisis. In the end, the donor and government response but equally importantly the response of the commercial sector and people’s own ‘coping’
strategies meant that large-scale famine-related deaths were avoided in 2002 and 2003 but unacceptable levels of chronic food insecurity remain.
Thus many of the countries of Southern Africa remain ‘on the edge of the table’ and it is clear there cannot be a return to ‘business as usual’ based on the economic development
models that governments and donors have been using in the region over the last two decades. Recent research by IFPRI (Hazell and Johnson, 2002) amongst others shows that if the countries of Southern Africa continue with the agricultural and food policies they have pursued up to now and continue to invest only at current levels, poverty, food insecurity and child malnutrition will worsen significantly, resources will become more
degraded, land productivity will further decline in many areas and the region will become increasingly vulnerable to famine.