Diets downsized by financial crisis

According to a report by the UN Country Team in Swaziland, released in March, a fiscal crisis which...

Swaziland flag. Picture: Supplied

According to a report by the UN Country Team in Swaziland, released in March, a fiscal crisis which started early in 2011 has put an additional strain on poor households and worsened poverty in a country which already had high rates of unemployment and food insecurity and the highest HIV rate in the world.

The report, based on a November 2011 survey of 1,334 households, found that poor households have had to adopt extreme measures to cope with reduced incomes resulting from job losses and wage cuts, as well as higher food and fuel prices and reduced access to social services.

About half of rural households and one third of urban households have cut their number of meals or meal portions and in more than one out of four rural households, meals were skipped for the entire day.

"In rural areas and especially among female-headed households, coping mechanisms are supplemented by other budget management methods, such as gathering of wild food and harvesting immature food," write the authors, who warn that the crisis threatens to halt or reverse progress Swaziland had made in reaching the Millennium Development Goals in health, education and food security.

Swazis usually eat their `wild umbhidvo weeds' with maize meal, the national staple food which is grown in almost every garden and farm.

A year of low rainfall has however reduced the usual yield from maize gardens by half and people cannot afford to buy maize meal.

Cutting back on food and selling household assets were found to be two common coping mechanisms among households which experienced economic "shocks", the most common of which were rising food prices and reduced labour income.

"Starting from an already weak situation, food security seems to have deteriorated as households have been coping with the consequences of the fiscal crisis combined with the rising food price," notes the assessment.

A significant drop in revenue from the Southern African Customs Union in the wake of the global economic slowdown helped precipitate Swaziland's financial meltdown over the past year, but according to Sibusiso Hlatshwayo, an independent financial consultant in Mbabane, the capital, this was not the only factor.