23 May 2007One third of Swaziland’s population requires food assistance after the worst annual maize harvest on record due to an extended dry spell and high temperatures, according to a report issued jointly two United Nations agencies today. Approximately 400,000 people will need 40,000 tons of food aid between now and next April’s harvest, according to the study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the first in a series of assessments of Southern African nations. This year’s maize crop is nearly 60 per cent below last year’s level, both reducing the availability of food as well as resulting in price surges that will curtail many families’ access to food in the country where nearly seven out of ten people live on less than $1 per day. Prolonged dry weather and the resultant water shortages threatened livestock, but rains came late, improving pasture and animal conditions. As a result, it is hoped that livestock production will buttress the impacts of the failure of the maize harvest. The agricultural problems are occurring against a poor health backdrop; Swaziland has the highest rates of adult HIV infection in the world, estimated at over 40 per cent. This prevalence of the virus will exacerbate health, income disparity and poverty problems, the report noted. FAO and WFP called for aid to be delivered to households with no access to sufficient food, and also stated that agricultural inputs – including seeds, fertilizers, credit and tractors – are also key to reviving farming capacity in time for the next season, which starts this September. The price of cereals has soared in response to local shortages and major price increases in South Africa, the main exporter to Swaziland. Prices are expected to continue climbing due to a lack of rainfall in Southern Africa.