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Cablegate: Usun Rome Trip Report Southern Africa October

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A
13-20, 2005

1. (SBU/NOFORN) Summary. Between October 13 and 20 Michael
Cleverley, DCM for USUN Rome and Richard Newberg, USAID
Humanitarian Affairs Attach traveled to southern Zambia and
central and southern Malawi on a fact-finding mission. The
purpose of the trip was to witness the operations of WFP and FAO
first-hand, and to gain an improved understanding of the food
insecurity situation in those countries to better position
USUN Rome to ensure an appropriate and adequate emergency and
relief response. As with any short Mission, the findings of
the team reflect observations of a limited number of sites.
However, we believe that from conversations with governments,
donors and relief partners that the observations contained
herein are largely accurate and can be used as a guide to
emergency and recovery programming in the region. The trip
served to highlight sharp differences between the two
countries (Zambia and Malawi) in their approaches to the
evolving food insecurity crisis: approaches that we fear are
based more on the political objectives of the governments
than on realities on the ground. In both countries political
crises are distracting attention away from the real problems
of their citizens. In both countries poor agricultural
policies and worse implementation are more responsible for
the crisis than poor rainfall. Until these root causes are
corrected the crisis will be repeated next year and probably
the next, affecting the most vulnerable populations, women
and children, the most. USUN Rome greatly appreciates
Embassy Lusaka,s and Lilongwe,s, and particularly their
USAID missions,, excellent support in facilitating and
accompanying the visits to Zambia and Malawi. The results of
the field trips were directly applicable to current
discussions in both FAO and WFP. End Summary.

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The Zambia

2. (SBU/NOFORN) The team visited Southern Province and spoke
with three communities within a 50 km. radius of Livingstone,
located at varying distances from major roads. The primary
concern of the communities was in obtaining seed for the coming
agricultural season and the lack of draught animals for land
preparation. In recent years the communities have lost a
good percentage of their livestock to diseases, primarily
East Coast Fever, which entered the area in the past three
years. Some communities reportedly lost up to 80% of their
herds. The loss of livestock has made the people in this
area especially vulnerable to the drought this past year,
which followed closely on the heels of the drought of 2002/3.
The maize crop in the communities we visited failed

3. (SBU/NOFORN) In Zambia, the government has so far refused
to declare a disaster, and there is reported infighting within
government on this issue. Apparently, the Minister of
Agriculture stated when he accepted the post that there would
be no &disaster8 on his watch. Subsequent to the visit, we
understand the government held a briefing and appealed for
donor assistance but avoided the &D8 word. In that meeting
they revised upwards the estimates of need in Zambia.
Ironically, the crisis is very much the result of
longstanding government policies that promote hybrid maize
production where poor rainfall and soils make it inadvisable.
The loss of cash income from a poor maize harvest, coupled
with the loss of livestock in recent years to disease, hit
villagers particularly hard in parts of the Southern

4. (SBU/NOFORN) There was little evidence that the government
and population have taken steps to diversify their agricultural
production, although some cotton was planted last season.
The solution is not putting hybrid maize seed and fertilizer
into the hands of farmers in this area, which has been
government policy for many years. When asked what they
wanted to plant, the men invariably wanted hybrid maize seed
and fertilizer. In one community, only one person said that
he had cassava in his garden. The women were much more
concerned with other staples such as sorghum and pulses that
make more sense from a household food security perspective.
The region is not well suited to maize; in a good year
rainfall is only 700mm/yr. Last year rainfall was about
500mm and poorly distributed. Also, there was little
evidence that farmers were practicing &conservation8
agriculture, such as &potholing8 to conserve soil moisture.
The communities made a point of telling us that they are not
lazy and would welcome work, even though there was little
evidence of field preparations for the coming agricultural

5. (SBU/NOFORN) Not surprisingly, poverty was more apparent
the further we went from the major road. All communities
reported that their cereal stores had been depleted, and that
they were subsisting largely on wild fruits and other wild foods.
For the moment these wild foods are fairly abundant, however at
the rate they were being harvested the communities feared
that the food would not last until the next harvest. One
community reported conflicts in harvesting the wild foods
with neighboring communities, and said they were forced to
search farther and farther away. Children were often
enlisted in this effort.

6. (SBU/NOFORN) The team visited two of the three communities
to ascertain the impact of WFP school feeding programs. The
two had started what are called &community schools8, where the
community is responsible for building the school, and finding
and paying the teachers. In return for their participation,
the communities received a food ration for building the
school, and the children received a take-home ration for
enrolling and attending. The communities were appreciative
of the feeding program, and noted that school enrollment was
up 25-30 percent. However, they complained that they had no
way to pay the teacher, not even in-kind.

7. (SBU/NOFORN) The community schools are &recognized8 by the
Ministry of Education, but reportedly receive no direct support,
and are outside of the reach of a primary education sector
improvement program of the donors and government. The
situation of these communities certainly raises questions of
the quality of education the children are receiving and of
the sustainability of the program. On the other hand, the
food ration that families of children in school receive
probably represents a large portion of the cereals available
to these communities at this time.

8. (SBU/NOFORN) The team also spoke with FAO specialists who
are advising the government on the control and eradication of
several livestock diseases. They have established a
surveillance system and procedures for the identification,
confirmation and control of animal diseases, including the
culling of animals. It appeared to us that the measures were
too little, too late. Farmers invited to the scene of the
presentation complained that officials were not capable of
identifying the diseases, and were understandably upset when
their herds needed to be culled. The FAO technicians
acknowledged that a public sensitization program was needed.
The program had convinced a local abattoir to re-open to
accept animals by guaranteeing a number of animals each week.
While acknowledging the need to market animals, the scheme
requires complete transparency to gain the trust of local

9. (SBU/NOFORN) The team visited the main Nutrition
Rehabilitation Center at Livingstone,s Batoka Hospital that
takes referrals from health clinics throughout the province.
The center reported receiving on average 5 children per week for
malnutrition related illnesses, until recently. Diagnoses are
complicated by malaria, HIV-AIDS, edema from protein deficiency,
and dehydration from diarrhea. The number of cases has increased
to ten per week in the past two weeks, an indication that
malnutrition related illnesses are on the rise in young

10. (SBU/NOFORN) The absolute numbers are not yet great, but
the actual incidence is undoubtedly much higher than the number
reaching the center. There is little incentive for people
to go to the center because it is ill equipped to treat those
that pay the high price to get there. There are no specialized
foods to rehabilitate malnourished children, and caregivers must
bring all food to the hospital with them. Cases are
complicated with high rates of malaria, HIV-AIDS and diarrhea
from poor sanitation. As a result the mortality rate of
children at the clinic is an exorbitant 48%. Clearly parents
are taking their children there as a last resort and out of
desperation. Monitoring of the actual situation in district
clinics is urgently needed, and consideration should be given
to putting in place a program to treat increased cases of
childhood malnutrition throughout the hungry season.

11. (SBU/NOFORN) The team also visited a group of volunteers
offering home-based care for HIV-AIDS sufferers in Livingstone.
Often, those providing care were victims of the disease
themselves. They spoke of the stigma and discrimination of
having the disease, but also displayed hope that education
and the support of the group helped them face their ordeal.
Several of the volunteers are living proof that a combination
of anti-viral drugs and good nutrition can prolong productive
lives. In fact, it was recommended by health professional
that patients not even begin viral therapy until their
nutritional status is good enough for them to tolerate the
medication, a primary objective of WFP in the program.


12. (SBU/NOFORN) The Team visited several communities in
central and southern Malawi to view FAO and WFP activities
related to the relief and recovery operation. Passing through
the countryside it was apparent that farmers were preparing for
the next agricultural season. There was extensive plowing of
fields. What we found on the trip, however, was very
disturbing. Communities reported that they were waiting for
the government and donors to provide the hybrid maize seed
and fertilizer that they needed. Unfortunately, most
Malawians will have to make do or wait a long time. There
are no services in place and the government failed to make a
large fertilizer purchase in time for this agricultural
season. It is now extremely likely that Malawians will be in
the same food insecure situation for the next year and
possibly beyond, for lack of seed and fertilizer.

13. (SBU/NOFORN) The problems, we learned, are structural and
largely the result of government subsidy policies for both
agricultural inputs and produce, late state procurements, and
the intervention of the parastatal ADMARC in agricultural
markets. While there was a period of drought last year, it
affected farmers most who planted late due to the late
arrival of seed and fertilizer. This year, the fertilizer
will not come in time again as a government procurement
failed because the chosen provider turned out to be a firm on
a list of companies related in some way to Al-Qaeda, and
Citibank refused to make the bank transfer to conclude the

14. (SBU/NOFORN) The underlying problem seems to be a deep
mistrust the government has of the private sector. The private
sector in turn is not in a position to supply agricultural
input and output markets because of the uncertainty of
government action through ADMARC. ADMARC sells what maize it
receives at 17 Kw/kg, while the market price of maize sourced
informally from Mozambique is twice that, 34 Kw/kg. We were
told that in real terms the price of maize has actually
declined over the years, even at the 34 Kw/kg price, because
of inflation. The formal private sector has reported that it
could bring in maize from South Africa for about 32-4Kw/kg,
but will not do so as long as government and donor intentions
are unclear. The effort to reform ADMARC is a longstanding
one on Malawi, and one has to wonder how it has managed to
exist for as long as it has. Well-intentioned programs such
as the Malawi President,s Feed the Nation Fund should not be
done in a way that is a disincentive to private trade.

15. (SBU) The outlook for real reform in agriculture that
would improve the livelihood of the majority of Malawians who
are resource poor is bleak. The structure of land ownership is
highly skewed, with many people subsisting on small plots of
land. In any given year most Malawians are net consumers,
not producers. As such, they are affected more by high food
prices than they benefit from high producer prices.
Agricultural policies and services that allow farmers to
diversify their production into high value crops and
encourage the production and marketing of cheaper cereals and
tubers are sorely needed. Food security crops, such as
cassava, are already on the rise in Malawi, and make more
sense for some families that can,t bear the risk of
investing in high input costs for hybrid maize. For them,
open pollinated maize also makes more sense.

16. (SBU/NOFORN) The Team visited a small-scale demonstration
irrigation project near Blantyre that was promoted by the FAO.
Malawi has ample water resources that have yet to be developed
for irrigation. The project used appropriate technology and
appeared to be replicable. The communities that benefited
will not have the same food insecurity problems this hungry
season that many will face. Unfortunately, the community and
project staff could not respond to questions of its financial
cost and profitability, nor to the availability of finance to
replicate or expand and scale up the activity. The
government purchased enough treadle pumps for each member of
Parliament to receive 400, whether they came from rural or
urban districts, and without giving thought to replacement
spare parts and servicing. We suspect most of the pumps
remain crated. The government gave 400 to FAO to distribute
and set up with needy communities.

17. (SBU) As we traveled to the Shire Valley in southernmost
Malawi, the stark contrast of the extensive green sugarcane
fields and the parched earth of neighboring communities was
striking. Without the sugar estates the communities would be
even poorer, but there are extensive lands that could be
further developed for irrigation. Drought in the valley is
common, and population densities less than that in the
highlands. Here the Team visited a nutrition rehabilitation
center and witnessed the weighing of young children and the
identification of cases of disease and malnutrition. The
program appeared to be effective in identifying and treating
cases of disease and malnutrition early, although there was a
shortage of staff trained in preparing and administering
specialized foods for treatment of severe cases of

18. (SBU) The center, with the help of a WFP/FAO partner,
had established a demonstration garden and small poultry
operation to instruct women in gardening and proper
nutrition. The project is laudable. As we visited a mother
of a child who had benefited from training in a nearby
community, we found that she had been able to grow and
consume healthy vegetables. The project would benefit from
closer supervision, however. The woman had been unable to
find seed to replant some of her vegetables, and all of the
chickens that she bought with what little money she had died
from Newcastle disease. There were no other gardens readily
observed in the community.

19. (SBU) The Team then visited a primary school that
participated in a WFP school feeding program and a
complementary FAO school gardens project. As we interviewed
the headmaster it became painfully obvious that the project
looked better on paper than in reality. Goats had consumed all
of the seedlings in the garden, except for the onions, and tree
seedlings in the tree nursery almost all died from lack of
water or from termites. We had an interesting exchange with
the Headmaster. He indicated that he increasingly had to
turn away kids from a hot-lunch program because they were not
enrolled in the school. Enrollment was last January and he
already had 130 kids/classroom in nine grades, some under
makeshift shelters with no walls. The Headmaster,s position
was understandable, but the WFP person scolded him for not
feeding all the kids.

20. (SBU/NOFORN) In Malawi, the government is desperate to
have the donors bail them out of a food insecurity crisis that
is as much the result of poor policies in the agricultural
sector, and worse implementation of those policies, as it is
on poor rainfall. A significant number of the rural and urban
population, especially women and children, is bearing the
brunt of ineffective government intervention in agricultural
input and output markets. Government inaction and the failure
of a major fertilizer procurement may guarantee that next year
will find many Malawians in much the same situation as they
are in now, regardless of rainfall.

21. (SBU/NOFORN) These observations were shared with the EU,
who did not disagree with our findings, including an opinion
that the needs assessment tool used in Malawi is a good tool
for benchmarking food insecurity, but if interpreted wrongly it
inherently over-estimates the number of persons requiring
food assistance. The Team believes this to be the case in
Malawi. While the Team has no doubt that there are many
hungry people in Malawi, we have serious doubts about the
need to feed nearly one-half of the population, the latest
figure reported by the Malawian government. We note that
USAID and the international community are monitoring the
situation closely, and recommend that experts be consulted on
interpreting and using the MVAC assessment tool to target
food assistance to save lives and livelihoods. From our
observations, the Team believes there needs to be a robust
effort to target women and children with nutrition
supplementation to prevent a chronic malnutrition problem
from becoming more serious. In a meeting with all UN
Agencies, the Team expressed our concern about overly
sensationalizing the crisis, as we believe was done in Niger.

General Observations and Recommendations

22. (SBU/NOFORN) The Team noted very different approaches
to assessing emergency needs in Zambia and Malawi, and very
different attitudes of the governments is calling attention
to their food security problems. The crisis in southern Africa
is not the sole result of drought in the region, and the way
forward is not as simple as waiting for the rain, or even the
government or donors providing agricultural inputs on time.
In both Zambia and Malawi food insecurity is endemic and
requires a combination of good agricultural and health
policies that promote private trade, and complementary
activities in the field. Humanitarian assistance in both
Zambia and Malawi needs to be carefully assessed and
monitored so that we do not continue to create dependency and
displace the role of markets and the private sector. As in
Ethiopia, it may be useful to identify the poorest segment of
the population that is in chronic need of food through a
productive safety net program. The management and operation
of the Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR) in the country is worth
reviewing, particularly with regards to government policy and
transparency so that it enhances private sector market

23. (SBU/NOFORN) Furthermore, the needs assessments in both
countries do not appear to be guiding emergency operations.
In Zambia, childhood nutrition surveillance and monitoring is
sorely lacking in Southern Province, even in the face of
growing cases of child malnutrition. In Malawi, as in Zambia,
food supplements or training for health caregivers for the
rehabilitation of malnourished children were lacking in the
rehabilitation centers. Mothers and young children are the
most vulnerable group, and yet the most underserved. We are
concerned about the recent up-turn in cases of childhood
malnutrition in both Malawi and Zambia. In Zambia, it is
recommended that the government, donors and aid agencies
re-start the MCH Nutrition monitoring network and position
food for therapeutic feeding centers. Malawi seems to have a
network in place and needs to step up the surveillance, train
caregivers, and position therapeutic foods.

24. (SBU/NOFORN) In the case of the Southern Province of Zambia
the take-home rations of the school feeding program may be the
most important, and in some cases the only, source of cereals
the populations have. However, we would raise questions
about the sustainability of the community schools in Zambia
and the effectiveness of the program in both countries when
faced with real problems in education reform and the lack of
government resources for it. In Zambia the best means of
targeting and distributing food to food insecure households
in the short term may be through the schools, but some needy
households may be missed. Consideration should be given to
carefully targeted general distribution between December and
the next harvest in April.

25. (SBU/NOFORN) Food for work (assets) in both countries
that focuses on productive capacities could be used much more
effectively. In Zambia we observed several water catchments
that have silted up and needed to be dug deeper in order to
store more water for a longer period. In Malawi we observed
small irrigation systems that could be replicated.

26. (SBU/NOFORN) The Team also noted differences of opinion
between WFP, donors, and NGO partners in assessing needs and
responding to the crisis in both countries. In Zambia, NGOs
tended to feel that WFP is under-estimating food assistance
needs in the Southern Province. The donors with whom the Team
met have a healthy skepticism about food assistance in general,
and want it to be used judicially. In Malawi, NGOs and DFID of
the UK have had difficulty in achieving consensus on strategy
and targeting food assistance. An attempt by DFID to assume the
role of distributing food led them to return to using WFP,s
infrastructure and logistics. Furthermore, the DFID voucher
scheme became meaningless as it succumbed to the fact that
the only food available for purchase with vouchers was from
ADMARK stores at subsidized prices. Nonetheless, these
attempts at providing alternatives to the traditional general
distribution scheme should be continued until eventually a
true voucher scheme that encourages private trade is in

27. (U) The team is extremely grateful for the support of FAO,
WFP and USAID Missions in conducting this mission.


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