TUESDAY 29 OCTOBER 2002
Tony Baldry, in the Chair
Memorandum submitted by the Department for International Development
Examination of Witnesses
MR JOHN WINTER, Head of Central and Southern Africa Department, DFID London, MR ROB HOLDEN, Crisis Management Group, Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs Department (CHAD), DFID Johannesburg, and MR JOHN HANSELL, OBE, Food Security Adviser, DFID Zimbabwe, examined.
(Mr Winter) Chairman, firstly, I ought to say I cover Central and Southern Africa operationally and not our relations with WFP more generally. I can only give a very general answer. I think that your description of the way in which we have had to find resources for Southern Africa matches the reality very well. WFP does have access to a certain amount of revolving funds within the UN system, in order to kick-start its operations. It may well be that if we get to the point where WFP are feeling they are going to be faced, year after year, with very large emergencies that we do need to move to some kind of more predictable funding basis. In terms of the management of this operation, I think we would all have found it easier if WFP had had access to those resources, yes.
(Mr Winter) Let me try and answer that in relation to Malawi. You are right that depletion of assets at the households level, as we said in our memoranda, is a matter of intense concern. The absolute shortages of food in Southern Africa have not been enormous this year, and yet they have put many more people into a vulnerable situation because of the cumulative effects of years' of neglect of the agricultural sector, the effects of HIV/AIDS on families, and then, of course, climatic problems as well. In Malawi we have been trying to address this to some extent through the Safety Nets Programme, which you will have had an opportunity to discuss with some of our staff in Malawi, and that is an attempt to ensure that people do not fall below a certain level of food insecurity, either by providing targeted agricultural inputs, public works programmes, or feeding programmes for particular target groups. We are, of course, increasingly working through the country's own poverty reduction strategies. One of the striking things that comes out when you start looking at the causes of households' food insecurity is that it is not always to do with agricultural inputs, although that is obviously very important. In Malawi one of the things that really impacts on the ability of households to produce food is security in rural areas, because households are not able to keep livestock, which is one of the things we are trying to address through our access to justice project. We are trying to approach it from a number of angles. Within poverty reduction strategies, however, if you ask me whether food security has an adequate profile I would have to say, "No". That is one of the areas where, certainly in Malawi and Zambia, we want to work with the government on improving that. Work is already underway in Malawi with a number of donors and with UN agencies and government working together on food security strategies. On the UN, I would share your views certainly in our region that FAO has not been there leading the thinking. In fact, of the UN family, I would guess that the World Bank and the IMF, if you include them, probably have much more impact on food security than the specialised agencies. We are very conscious of the need, particularly in light of the experience of the last year, to work in a much more coherent way with the World Bank and the IMF. We are concerned, as you know, that there has been a rather ad hoc approach both to dealing with the short-term needs and how that translates into the longer term development.
(Mr Winter) Firstly, I would say I was based in Harare until August, so up until very recently there was not a London corner to this, except insofar as we had CHAD back-up - and I will come back to that in a moment. We have taken a view, since the middle of 2001 when it became clear there would be problems, that since the problems were so deeply rooted in governance and economic and agricultural policy within the countries, since they were so closely related to the dialogue that we had and continue to have with the government of these countries, and that the relationships we needed in order to make progress on these issues were the ones that were held within the county offices, that our response would be led by the country offices. I think we have tried to work it so that, where a response is clearly appropriate at country level, the country office has worked it up with whatever partner, and has the delegated authority to approve it. Because there is clearly a regional angle, we have sought to back-up our country offices by having Mr Hansell as our full-time Food Security Adviser in Harare. We have had throughout this crisis, at least since the beginning of 2002, professional back-up from our Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs Department (CHAD). We decided in early September - because, as we expected, needs were increasing, the possibility of it going badly wrong had increased, and because there was a call from the media and from bodies such as your Committee quite properly for considerably greater amounts of information - that we ought to up the CHAD support to our country offices. That was the origin of the setting up of the Unit in Johannesburg. We still run the relief operation very much from the region, from the country offices as a focal point, but with increased back-up from the Unit. They have recently done a further round of country assessments which we are sharing openly with all our NGO partners, which are pinpointing things which the country office ought to be doing in order to both put in a more effective bilateral response and to get the international system working better.
(Mr Winter) The CHAD Unit is in Johannesburg full square, which is the nerve centre of the UN operation. The World Food Programme Director there has a mandate from Mr Morris as the UN's Special Envoy for Crisis to cover the whole emergency for the UN system. What it does in country I think is to give a better picture of needs, to be able to share with other people who do not have this resource in the region. I believe it is only we and the Americans who have this specialised unit within the regions of response.
(Mr Winter) I decided, as the Regional Manager, that we needed CHAD's support, yes.
(Mr Winter) The impact we can have in Zimbabwe is obviously limited. There is no transparent flow of information about needs. There is no regular dialogue with governments, such as there is in Malawi. We have very poor information about what government is bringing in itself. We have very poor information about what it is doing with the food it brings in. We have very poor information about the rural works programmes, with which we know Zimbabwe did very well in the past, the food for work programmes. What we are able to do is work within the space that the UN negotiates for international agencies. Within that I think I can say we are being quite effective. We have a bilateral programme with a number of NGO partners, which is providing both supplementary and general feeding. We are quite confident that that is getting to the people who are targeted and it is well targeted. We are contributing to the WFP programme, which we believe is making an impact on food shortages. However, as you know, there are considerable political problems in meeting the needs of some vulnerable groups, particularly farm workers. We are having to work around a number of obstacles put in the way of the international relief effort.
(Mr Winter) We certainly see the same reports as you do and it is clear that food aid is being used as a political weapon. It is obvious that when there is a by-election, for example, the difficulties of the grain marketing board go up in the relevant constituency. We have also heard that it is very difficult to be able to buy food or to be able to get on to the list of recipients for food for work projects if you are known to be a member of, or a supporter of, the opposition.
(Mr Hansell) I should make it clear that most of our bilateral support is being supplementary feeding mainly for large numbers of children. We have, as John indicated, been doing general feeding in particular areas, such as Binga and Nyaminyami. Binga, as you have probably heard, has recently been a problem where Save the Children have been prevented from delivering food; and that is a general ration to all people in that area, into that district; it is not selection; it is not targeting; it is food for everybody. That area did actually vote for the opposition in the last general election; and, therefore, one of the reasons the government has prevented Save the Children from getting there is that they are seen to be feeding opposition members.
(Mr Winter) Do you have any particular projects in mind?
(Mr Winter) It certainly creates a great deal of uncertainty for the humanitarian relief effort as a whole, because Zimbabwe is such a large part of the problem - half the people who need support are Zimbabweans. Because we cannot see our way clear through to next March, there are still big holes in the food requirements. Because Zimbabwe is a very important transit corridor for commodities going through to Malawi and Zambia, you have to raise questions about how safe it is to put food through Zimbabwe. In the sense that in most years since independence you would have expected that Zimbabwe would be part of the solution and not part of the problem, it does make planning much more difficult. Supply routes are that much greater into Malawi and Zambia.
(Mr Winter) One of the reasons for having Mr Holden and his team in Johannesburg is that they do make contact with passing teams, and their position in Johannesburg means that they normally know when these people are coming through. They obviously do not meet each and every team. On the EU I would say that they are suffering a problem of human resources in the region, which has certainly affected their ability to analyse and respond. That partly explains why it is not always obvious that they have consulted everybody before they do what they do.
(Mr Winter) We can follow that up and find out why and try and make contact.
(Mr Holden) I think the person you are talking about flew in and flew out. It is a question of a lot of assessment missions, or a lot of missions coming through Johannesburg, and it is very difficult to know when they are arriving, when they are leaving and whether your diaries can match. There is an important issue you do raise in relation to the coordination. It is something, we agree, does need to be strengthened. It is something we are trying to do, and is part of the role of my team in Johannesburg, to try and help that happen with the UN.
(Mr Winter) The way you put the problem, I assume you are referring to Malawi specifically?
Tony Worthington: Yes.
(Mr Winter) I think it was clear in July and August last year that there was going to be a problem up until March 2002, and then with the failure of the current harvest that rolled on into 2002-03 marketing year. One of the very useful papers put before your Committee by a group of academics led by Professor Kydd talks about information on crops, information from rural areas and information on prices; and we did indeed have all of those in August and September of last year. Of course, as you know, at the time they did conflict. There was a certain amount of evidence from crop assessments that the situation was better than it turned out to be. Where we had information from rural areas we had specific proposals put to us by NGOs who were working in those areas, and we did try to respond. If you are asking whether this fed through into a coherent response by government and the international community - clearly it did not. As we have said in our memorandum, a lot of the discussion with government in the last quarter of last year was clouded by the problem of what had happened to the national food reserve. We did not get a very clear steer from government. Not having a clear steer from government is not an excuse for inaction. As I say, we were responding to localised emergencies through NGO partners.
(Mr Winter) Indeed, we are; and one of the working groups being convened by government to consider food security more generally is on early warning systems. I think the experts would agree that early warning systems are not a matter of rocket science.
(Mr Winter) That is going back a year.
(Mr Winter) We were trying to move from a universal Starter Packs programme to something that would be more consistent with the national safety nets programme, of which this was going to form a part. With hindsight, no doubt we would not have reduced the programme as fast last year. Nevertheless, it still made a substantial contribution to the harvest this year.
(Mr Winter) We did not have the information at the time.
(Mr Winter) We are trying to persuade government to put much more effort into -----
(Mr Winter) We are trying to take the lessons from last year and to persuade the government of Malawi to put much more effort into collating and translating into policy the information that is received on food security. The phasing down or scaling down of the Starter Packs programme was done with the agreement of the government in Malawi. This year we have responded by putting it back up again. This is obviously not a very satisfactory way of doing it. It is a stop/go series of inputs. We would like to move much more rapidly than has been possible with the government of Malawi towards the consistent safety net strategy.
(Mr Winter) I think you are right. One of the criticisms that we have of the poverty reduction strategy in Malawi is that the sections that deal with agricultural policy are very technical. They involve the improvement of extension service, the introduction of new technologies, all of which may be necessary but certainly not sufficient for turning round agricultural production.
(Mr Winter) I do not know.
(Mr Winter) I think we have not, between us, got a consistent agricultural situation for Malawi, no, that is true. One of the effects of the current crisis has been to push government further into thinking about the food security, with the result that it has launched the work I have described earlier with donors. We are very conscious that we need to get the Bretton Woods Institutions much more firmly on its agenda for Malawi. Insofar as we continue with budget support for Malawi, it has to be conditional on the government of Malawi's policy meeting much more the needs of the rural poor.
(Mr Winter) We have certainly been concentrating much more on cross-cutting issues such as public service reform and public financial management reform than we did previously. I think that the Malawi team would say that one of the most effective ways of meeting the needs of the rural poor in Malawi is to get the fundamentals of the economy right, and to stimulate what is at the moment a very partial and small private sector. Meeting the needs of the rural poor does not necessarily mean concentrating on agricultural strategy. I accept where you have a poverty reduction strategy for countries like Malawi or Zambia it does need to cover agricultural strategy. One of the things we have been doing in Malawi is to try and plug one of the gaps which you mention, which is not having a land policy. We have put quite a lot of money and effort into that particular aspect.
(Mr Winter) I think they agreed reluctantly. It is an issue which has come back again in discussion with them.
(Mr Hansell) Yes, of course, any estimate can always be exaggerated, but we were getting it on what we considered good authority. We knew there had been an increase in the areas of sweet potato and cassava that had been planted over the last few years. What we did not expect was that the figures we were given were going to be as exaggerated as they turned out to be. In all these countries there is almost a fixation on maize. We accept that maize is the main staple but any other food is often dismissed; any other food is often seen as a snack, as something which is not really important, and that people have to eat maize all the time. We thought there might have been an element of this coming in; that unless people were getting at least one meal of maize a day no other food counted.
(Mr Winter) For the record, what I was doing when I mentioned new technologies was quoting the Malawi poverty reduction strategy.
(Mr Hansell) First of all, we have to remember that treadle pumps can only be used where the water table is relatively close to the surface, and it is these dam areas you see as you fly over Malawi. Not all the population is going to have access to that type of land. Those people who do have access to that land are already, as you probably saw, using it for winter cropping anyway. Sure, we could enhance their productivity by putting in treadle pumps. Although treadle pumps may appear to be fairly cheap as far as we are concerned, they are extremely expensive for the average Malawian. Even if they were produced locally they would probably be out of the reach of most smallholder Malawians who, as we know, have less than half a hectare to subsist on. We have to look very carefully at how we introduce these pumps, and to whom we introduce the pumps. Some of you may have gone down to Dedza and seen what was happening down there. There was an attempt there by DFID to introduce treadle pumps but it is not an easy thing. To start with, you cannot hand them out, and if you do who do you hand them to? There tends to be elite capture by senior people in the village. Secondly, running treadle pumps on a community basis, which is a way of doing it, there are also questions there of who owns it and whose land is it operating. There are many of these sociological problems which we do need to resolve. Having said all of that, I still believe there is a future because one of the things you notice as you go across Malawi is so little surface water; so little water is stored or utilised in that country compared, with example, to Zimbabwe to the south where there are dams and other forms of small-scale irrigation everywhere.
(Mr Hansell) It is in the rift valley, so there is an awful lot of pumping to get it out.
(Mr Winter) I would not want the Committee to go away with the impression that we rely solely on crop forecasts. As I think I said earlier, it was clear from the other forms of information that there was a developing problem. There was then a protracted period of dialogue with the government of Malawi as to what they intended to do about it; and a certain reluctance on the part of donors to be putting large amounts of food into the country at a time when it was not clear what had happened to the grain reserve - whether it had been exported or whether it was still being hoarded within the country. An early warning system is only as good as the use that is made of it, not only as good as the information that goes into it. In terms of the lessons we have drawn, clearly there does need to be improved information. As I have said, it does not take a great deal of resource or ingenuity to work out that problems are developing. What we are concentrating on is trying to get the government of Malawi to have a more consistent approach to the use of information than they have - balancing information from one source against another. Clearly, if the government of Malawi had taken all the information available to it in the last quarter of last year they might have put their hands up earlier and said, "We have a problem".
(Mr Hansell) Can I just step back and say, I admit last year there was a glitch in Malawi with the early warning systems; but it has been remarkably reliable in the past. This year again it warned us in good time that there was going to be a serious shortfall in cereal production. You have to look at how it operates. It is looking at rainfall. It is getting reports in about what the crops are doing and crop condition. As Mr Winter mentioned, there is also an indication of market prices and what market prices are doing. It does not actually do crop assessments until quite late in the season. February, I think, is the pre-harvest crop system when it is assessed, and it does another one afterwards. It is based on a limited amount of information. This is really about cereal production per se. What we are investigating at the moment and preparing is to go further than this into what we call "vulnerability assessments", which is using the methodology designed by the Save the Children Fund of household vulnerability assessments, which takes a look at the livelihoods at the household level and at village level to try to assess what is the real picture. Rather than looking at the national food production and saying, "Nationally, we're fine" when at the same time there can be pockets of hunger taking place - we are trying to get better assessment through a series of base lines of the food situation at provincial, district and even village level. We hope that that will come on-stream within the next few months. We are continuing to discuss how we fund that. That will be region-wide. That will be working with all of the SADC countries, not just the six affected countries at the moment, which will set up these vulnerability committees that will try and work things out. If they have a baseline, from then onwards it should be quite easy to assess what changes are taking place against those baselines.
(Mr Winter) The answer to that obviously varies from country to country. In Zimbabwe the governance situation is very stark. The Secretary of State took the view very early on in this developing crisis that we were going to do all that we could to make sure that people did not starve (in her words) because of the actions of the government of Zimbabwe. Our response to the crisis in Zimbabwe in financial terms has been the largest part of our response to the Southern African crisis as a whole. What we can do in Zimbabwe is limited by the fact that we do not have a constructive relationship with the government; but within those limits we are doing all that we can to make sure that food does get through to people who need it. Where we have an ongoing dialogue with government, such as that in Malawi, about governance the situation does perhaps get cloudier. There were genuine concerns in the last quarter of last year as to the governance position on the Grain Reserve, why it had gone, who had ordered it to go and who benefited, but the operational point was where was the maize and was taking action to bring in large amounts of food necessary when it was quite possible that food was already in the country. There was a lack of information. I do not think we were ever saying at any point because the government of Malawi has allowed the Grain Reserve to go therefore we are not going to put any more food in. It certainly was one of the elements that led to the Secretary of State's decision not to provide any further budget support this year, but that was a rather different thing.
(Mr Winter) As you probably heard in Malawi, there has been quite an extensive report into this by the Anti-corruption Commission and a report has gone to the Director of Public Prosecutions. We are paying for an independent audit. Rather than attempt to deal with that question in any detail perhaps we could undertake to let you have the results of the audit.
John Barrett: Thank you.
(Mr Hansell) You are talking about Malawi there.
(Mr Hansell) Yes, I would agree with you that we all see this as a complex emergency with HIV/AIDS playing a dramatic part in it. In terms of the two million packs going out, those two million packs will be planted by people. I think the evidence is most of them will go into the ground. They were out in good time this year as opposed to last year. We do expect to see that probably that Starter Pack will bring in another 400,000 tonnes of maize this year given favourable weather. Although some people will not have prepared their land, that will go out to people that have got land and it will be planted. The overall impact of HIV/AIDS in the whole of Southern Africa is dramatic and it is impacting in particular upon subsistence farmers in the area. One of the problems we have to grasp is how do we help them where you are depending upon agriculture for your family labour, where you may have sold your assets which include draught oxen and you are down to family members hoeing the land, and the family members consist of a grandmother and a grandfather and ten orphan children. We have not yet managed to solve how we get technologies to those people. Even if you give them fertiliser and seed are they able to prepare the land to put it in. We need to be spending much more time finding out how we can find appropriate technologies for those people, people who have shortages of labour first and foremost, who are unable to grow cash crops. If you are going to grow a crop at all you go into a subsistence food crop as being a survival mechanism. We have not cracked that one yet but we are working on it and we are talking to many of these CG centres about looking at new technologies that will address people with large numbers of HIV/AIDS affected people in the family.
(Mr Holden) I think some of that comes down to the fact that for such a long period this crisis was primarily seen as a food crisis and people were heavily focused on just the food sector, the provision of food. We have only just seen in the last couple of months that people are now pushing it much wider than that to take a multisectoral approach, to look at the impact of things like HIV/AIDS, to look at health, look at nutrition, look at water and sanitation, those other factors that contribute to people's well-being. That may be some of the cause, that it has taken some time to push it much wider than a food crisis.
(Mr Holden) I think there are efforts under way to narrow that gap. I think we will see when the consolidated appeals are reissued in the New Year that those needs will probably rise and rise dramatically.
(Mr Winter) Can I just come in on that. As you say, some of these underlying problems are longer term ones and are being dealt with through longer term programmes. We have tried very hard to mainstream HIV/AIDS in all our programmes in Southern Africa so that no national policy that we support fails to take account of the impact of HIV. We do know that we are in there for the long haul and some of the response needs to be through increased UN emergency activity, some of it needs to be in the way that we manage our long-term development programmes.
(Mr Hansell) A very interesting question, do we know. There is a lot of informal movement of maize across those borders. They are open borders, as you have seen. We are pretty sure that something in the region of 100,000 tonnes or more of maize has come across from Northern Mozambique into both Malawi and into Zambia. There have been reports that there is lots of maize in Northern Zambia while the donors continue to import it from outside. That maize is almost certainly coming in from Tanzania and it is moving across to Northern Mozambique, which is quite normal at this time of the year when there is a shortage in some countries as it comes in. That, if you like, is the informal trade that is taking place by small scale traders. There is, of course, a distortion in prices throughout the region. All the countries now are putting some degree of subsidy on maize in the countries and none more so than in Zimbabwe where the subsidy is huge. Therefore, it would not be inconceivable that people with access to maize in Zimbabwe would be selling it across the border to Zambia where you would get, in effect, the export price for your maize. I also believe that there is a certain amount of illegal, you might say, cross-border selling and purchasing taking place within the region.
(Mr Winter) We would, of course, like to see an open market in maize within the region.
(Mr Winter) No. You had a discussion, I believe, with our office in Malawi about this. What we would like to see are subsidies, where they are necessary, to be as cost-effective as possible and that will normally mean targeted subsidies where methodologies for targeting are available. What we do think is a bad idea is to have general subsidies which are often brought about for political reasons which are very expensive and have the risk of elite capture.
(Mr Winter) You are absolutely right. Trying to run development programmes in the shadow of HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa is a very sobering challenge. We do have programmes of support to combat HIV/AIDS in support of national committees where they exist. Only a certain amount can be done with technical inputs from outside and until this gets to the top of the political agenda in these countries things will not change. We have some idea of things that work at the margins but the thing that really works is political direction from the top.
(Mr Winter) That they are perfectly valid as part of the long-term agricultural policy.
(Mr Hansell) Yes, we believe it can. We think it is time to move away from holding extremely large and expensive Strategic Grain Reserves. There is a need and there is an interest, particularly in Malawi, for looking at the options market in South Africa to see whether or not there are alternative ways of holding this within the continent rather than at the moment the Strategic Grain Reserve is actually being held in the USA.
(Mr Winter) Certainly agricultural liberalisation has had a role in food insecurity. When you look at organisations like ADMARC in Malawi, they provided a cradle to grave service for farmers at enormous expense and there was considerable justification for asking governments to look at the effect on their budgets of continuing that kind of comprehensive input. The losses incurred by ADMARC are still a massive drain on the Malawi budget. I do not think that going back to the days of universal provision is a starter. Nevertheless, the private sector has clearly not come in to meet the need in the way that the people who designed these programmes, and governments themselves when they signed up to these programmes, envisaged. One of the points made by Professor Kydd in his paper is that although you cannot go back to the old days you do need more imaginative solutions in terms of incentives for the private sector to move in and, indeed, infrastructure to enable them to move in. One of the base requirements of Malawi is for a decent road system and it is one of the things that the EU is now finally concentrating on. Things that were started for very good reasons have not had the effects that we expected. In Malawi we have attempted to make up for the lack of this universal provision through a safety nets programme and we will continue working with the government on that, and on its food security strategy which we firmly expect will involve a higher role from the private sector.
(Mr Winter) As you will have discussed with the team, we were disappointed that the Bank had chosen to go ahead with this without widespread consultation and without taking cognisance of the work that had been done, and this point has been made very firmly to the Bank. As we understand it the World Bank took the view that in the circumstances and the need, as they saw it, to get affordable food out into the market that they had to accept a second best solution which was a general subsidy and using, as they saw it, the only organisation which was capable of it. As you know, we have reservations about both those judgments, reservations which we are taking up with the Bank now. That was one of the things I had in mind when I said earlier that we needed a much closer understanding with the World Bank and the IMF about their roles in promoting long-term food security rather than the kind of ad hoc decisions which people had felt rushed into because it is an emergency.
(Mr Winter) As you know, we have serious concerns about governance in Malawi.
(Mr Winter) I believe that is the situation, yes.
(Mr Winter) I do not have the figures.
(Mr Winter) I can assure you that we are taking it up at a senior level in the World Bank and that we have asked for a board discussion on this particular credit.
(Mr Winter) It is not a situation of which I have the details but we can certainly follow it up.
(Mr Winter) Thank you.
(Mr Winter) It is a problem that is particularly stark in Malawi and you may well have had Malawians saying to you, as they do to us, that this is something we need to consider. We phased out all this 20 years ago and here we are back in the position of having to think about white faces in ministries. It is something we are looking at. Clearly continuing to provide technical advice to an overstretched institution is not going to produce results in the long run. The solutions that are being thought about in Malawi revolve around firstly trying to entice educated Malawians back into the country, because that is an enormous untapped resource, but also, if necessary, some flexible technical assistance funding to enable them to hire in expertise at whatever seems to them to be good value for money, whether or not it is people coming from Britain or other parts of Africa or other parts of the developing world.
Chairman: Thank you very much. Thank you for your evidence. I think there are some substantial issues here that we will be grappling with for some time to come. Thank you.