Careless food storage sidelines Swaziland’s hungry

The spoiled food was discovered earlier this month by parliamentarian Eric Matsebula after his constituents in rural Mayiwane, in the Hhohho Region, some 60km north of Mbabane, complained they were going hungry.  The food was found in the governemnt's main storage warehouses at the Matsapha Industrial Estate, about 25km east of the capital. 

According to the Times of Swaziland, Matsebula told Parliament: "I went to the warehouse, and the food is rotting, and even the fertilizer has been spoilt." 

The spoiled food included 15 000kg of the staple maize meal, 25 000kg of beans and 600 cartons of vegetable oil. 

The revelations come several months after it was discovered the cash-strapped administration of King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, sold maize donated by the Japanese government for US$3-million and deposited the money in the Central Bank of Swaziland. The proceeds from the sale were then used by government officials for other expenditures. 

According to a March 2013 briefing by the Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) on Swaziland, "Approximately 116 000 persons are currently estimated to be food insecure, up 31% from the previous year." 

Food-aid dependent 
Swaziland has been dependent on food assistance, to varying degrees, for the past two decades. In 2007, more than half of the country's 1.1-million people required food aid. The reliance on rain-fed agriculture, archaic farming methods, as well as an absence of land reform, the impact of HIV/Aids and rising input and fuel costs, have all contributed to the country's persistent food insecurity. 

The March GIEWS briefing said, "The import requirement for maize in the current 2012/13 marketing year (May/April) is estimated at 75 000 tonnes, moderately higher than the previous year, to compensate for the reduced 2012 domestic output." 

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Swaziland provides food assistance at over 1 500 neighbourhood care points, more than 200 secondary schools and 12 health facilities. In 2012, the WFP supply chain reached 327 000 people. 

Francis Dube, director of World Vision Swaziland's integrated programmes, told IRIN the organisation would commence a food-for-work programme in June of this year, following the receipt of 1 080 tonnes of rice from Taiwan.

The programme would target 3 000 vulnerable households, or about 18 000 people. "Each household will provide a single member, between the ages of 18 to 65, to work in the community-selected projects and earn a family monthly food package for the next six months," said Dube. 

Food aid delivered by these agencies is closely monitored to avoid spoilage. 

"WFP's monitoring systems require that our staff regularly visits food distribution points to ensure food is kept securely and being used for intended purposes. In addition to following internal security procedures, WFP Swaziland requests external inspections from [the] UN Department of Safety and Security," said a WFP statement provided to IRIN. 

World Vision uses a "carefully selected" waterproof and rodent-free commercial warehouse with 24-hour security in the Matsapha and Sidwashini areas of Mbabane, and does not use government warehouses, Dube said. "Warehousing standards include food-receiving procedures; food dispatch; stock control; use and distribution of pallets to avoid food contamination from the floor; control of loading and movement of trucks; morning procedures; and day-end procedures." 

Politics to blame? 
It is not known if the food aid found rotting in Matsapha is an isolated incident or if it is indicative of the situation at other government storage facilities. The incident is being blamed on bad blood between members of parliament (MPs) and Mswati III's cabinet, after a no-confidence vote in October 2012 against Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini, who is both a relative and appointee of the king. The no-confidence vote was later reversed. 

Although the country has institutions resembling those in democracies, Swaziland's parliamentarians do not enact legislation; rather, they approve policies of the king's appointed cabinet. But MPs are still responsible to their constituents – voter registration began a few days ago for this year's scheduled elections, although a poll date has yet to be announced. Political parties remain banned. 

Some observers believe the disruption of food supplies was meant as a lesson for the MPs. 

Aaron Simelane, a Swaziland-based political commentator, told IRIN, "MPs are considered community development agents by the people who vote… Swazis want their MPs to bring roads, jobs and aid to their communities, but MPs have no power to do any of these things. [The] cabinet has this power. 

"The people do not know this, and when things aren't done they blame MPs, who promise to deliver this and that to get elected. By withholding food aid, [the] cabinet is teaching MPs a lesson about power." 

Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku, whose office is responsible for the government's food aid distribution, told MPs that he had been in hospital for the past two months and was not "privy to what has been going on down there" in Matsapha, the Times of Swaziland reported. – IRIN

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Irin News
Irin News works from Kampala, Uganda. MA Public Adm, Freelance reporter for The New Humanitarian (formerly IRIN News), The Guardian, UK and a couple of others. Reach me thru [email protected] Irin News has over 920 followers on Twitter.

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