Most of Swaziland’s 1.1 million people will need foreign food aid to fend off hunger this year.
And, the feudal system in Swaziland where chiefs rule is a major blame for this, according to a report by the IRIN news agency.
IRIN reports that poor rains this year will lead to bad crops. ‘The country will slide back into the need for food assistance for a majority of the population,’ Thembumenzi Dube, an Agriculture Ministry economist, told IRIN.
Rains failed during the October (2011) planting season in the usually productive central middleveld, as well as the generally drought-prone eastern and southern regions. The virtual absence of irrigation systems makes the country all the more dependent on the right amount of rain falling at the right time.
In the 1970s Swaziland was a net exporter of food, but since the early 1990s the country has been dependent on donor assistance to greater or lesser degrees. In 2010 about one in 10 Swazis depended on food aid.
‘The last three to four years had already shown signs of steadily increasing staple food crop production but this season will be bad compared to last year. Of course in some cases farmers can still grow other food crops such as sweet potatoes and sugar beans but the risk remains high with limited rainfall,’ Dube told IRIN.
About two thirds or more of the population rely on subsistence farming, although agriculture accounts for only 7.9 percent of gross domestic product.
‘The problem is that 70 percent of the population live as peasant farmers on communal Swazi Nation Land [SNL] which is operated under a system of chiefs. They practice the farming methods of their ancestors. No irrigation and little by way of fertilizer. They just drop in seeds and hope for rain. The failure to modernize will have its effects felt again this year,’ Charles Ndwandwe, a manager at a food distribution centre in the central Manzini region, told IRIN.
About 10 percent of the country is arable, and less than 1 percent of this land is used for export crops like pineapples and sugar cane.
The remaining arable land lies on SNL, where small-scale farmers depend on rain-fed agriculture. People live on the land without secure tenure or title deeds, and chiefs can evict people at will.
Without title deeds, SNL farmers cannot use their land as collateral to secure loans for irrigation equipment or other land improvements. Land reform proposals call for Swazis to be ‘owners [of land] rather than squatters’ with the aim of driving forward agricultural modernization.
However, land reform faces stiff political opposition: King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, imposes his authority through the chiefs’ system, and providing secure land tenure would undermine his rule, according to analysts.
To read the full report from IRIN, click here.