Tichaona Zindoga Political Editor
It is about five months since Botswana President Ian Khama took over the chairmanship of the regional body, Sadc. He took over from President Mugabe last year in August.
Many people would be forgiven for thinking that the position has since been retired, especially after the visible tenure of President Mugabe who set the seminal discussion on regional industrialisation and value addition.
He also actively participated in regional questions such as the Lesotho and Madagascar political hotbeds.
As President Mugabe handed over the reins to Khama, the latter appeared to take the cue from the veteran statesman and themed the 35th Sadc Summit in Gaborone, “Accelerating Industrialisation of SADC Economies through Transformation of Natural Endowment and Improved Human Capital.”
There are interesting observations to be made, though.
The first and overarching thing is that since taking over in August, President Khama has been remarkably quiet: so quiet, as pointed above, you would think Sadc was in hibernation.
President Khama, one may note by way of explanation, is not a man of occasions and meetings.
He is a kind of political agoraphobe, especially when you consider that he chooses not to attend most state meetings at regional and international levels — even at the United Nations.
As a person he has been quite a puzzle even at home, in Botswana.
Hence, five months down the line, nobody can be sure of what is going on in his mind as the face of the region.
Perhaps we are running ahead of ourselves.
But it needs to be pointed out, and here is to help him, that President Khama should come out of the closet and lead the region in discussing what are arguably the most pressing issues of this day in Sadc.
And sorry, it is not about industrialisation and transformation of natural endowment and improved human capital, etc etc.
It is about the drought and food security in the region.
Sadc is facing very grim prospects regarding hunger because of the El Nino-inspired dry conditions.
Only a couple of countries, as we will illustrate, will be spared. It is a clear, present and continuing danger.
It will be recalled that the region, according to the communiqué of the last summit, “noted the regional food security situation which indicated a decline in overall cereal production and availability, largely due to unfavourable weather condition which was characterised by prolonged dry spells, floods and cyclones.”
The region was said to require food and other humanitarian assistance during 2015/2016 marketing year and member states were urged to continue implementing the regional agriculture policy and relevant protocols in order to improve agricultural production and food security.
A related phenomenon is that of climate change and the regional leaders are alive to its ravages, including drought.
The issue is not merely academic.
The Director for Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources (FANR) at the SADC Secretariat Margaret Nyirenda told the media at a briefing at the summit that President Khama’s Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, southern Angola and Zimbabwe experienced prolonged dry spells while Madagascar, Malawi and Mozambique experienced both floods and prolonged dry spells.
The regional food security for 2015/16 is dire with an overall cereal (maize, wheat, rice, millet and sorghum) deficit of 7.90 million tonnes compared to a surplus of 1.21 million tonnes in 2014/15 marketing year.
She said: “This year the regional cereal availability is estimated at 40.4 million tonnes, representing a drop of 11.4 percent from 45.62 million tonnes last year.
It is important to note that this year availability of maize which usually makes up more than 75 percent of total cereal production is forecast at 27.40 million tonnes compared to 36.79 million tonnes last year.”
It is said the total requirement for the region this year is estimated at 34.50 million tonnes against 31.73 million tonnes that is available, thereby reflecting an overall maize deficit of 2.64 million tonnes.
This is all scary and hunger has begun to be felt in the region.
In the coming few months the situation will further deteriorate.
President Khama should be alive to this not least because his own country has been stricken by drought, this year and the past.
Even when he accepted the Sadc regional chairmanship the issue of food security was item number 13 in his acceptance speech.
He said: “As regards food security, there is no doubt that our ability to provide adequate food for the region is a matter of pride and dignity. We need to maintain self-sufficiency, bearing in mind that one component of our industrialisation programme must be agro-processing, which requires a consistent supply of agricultural products.”
Now, it will be very useful for President Khama to do something about this key regional issue and possibly convene an extraordinary meeting to deal with the same.
It would be such a pity to allow the situation to stand unattended and therefore prone to deterioration.
Regional leaders must meet as a matter of urgency to discuss the issue which, as we know, is critical to regional stability and wellness.
In fact the Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security (2004) crafted in Tanzania states that: “Agriculture and food security contribute to a region’s quality of life, making them top priorities for SADC.”
This challenged states’ commitment to enhancing agriculture as a means of improving access to food for people in the region.
Member states agreed to implement short-, medium-, and long-term objectives to advance the state of agriculture and food security in Southern Africa.
It suggested short-term plans focus on raising the level of agriculture and food security through such means as ensuring small farmers access agricultural inputs, improving fertiliser usage in the region, and increasing production of drought-resistant crops and short-cycle livestock.
Medium- to long-term, it proposed approaches to concentrate on maintaining sustainable agriculture and food security measures through environmental conservation, disaster preparation, and research into modern agricultural technologies.
President Khama would do well to convene leaders so that they discuss the important matter.
There are also niggling issues such as the power situation in the region.
As it stands it would appear President Khama is impervious to these issues.
He is well advised to do something.
And do something, or appear to do something now for which he will be remembered.