Eswatini is a lower-middle-income country with a population of 1.1 million. Ranking 138th of 189 countries in the 2019 Human Development Index, the country has the 10th highest income inequality in the world, at 49 percent. The proportion of people living in poverty remains very high: 58.9 percent of the rural population lives below the national poverty line (living on less than US$1.9 a day) with 20 percent considered extremely poor.
With 26 percent of the adult population infected, Eswatini has the highest rate of HIV prevalence in the world. Women are disproportionately affected, with 35 percent living with HIV compared to 19 percent of men. More than 50 percent of children under 17 are orphaned, with about 59 percent having lost parents to HIV- and AIDS-related deaths.
Eswatini is highly dependent on imports to feed its people, as national production is constrained by frequent droughts, erratic rainfall, prolonged dry spells, inadequate farming technologies, low investment in seeds, fertilizers and equipment, and structural barriers preventing access to formal markets. Food insecurity affected 14 percent of the population in 2018, due to high poverty levels, low farming productivity and high prices.
Smallholder agriculture remains the backbone of rural livelihoods, with over 70 percent of the country’s people relying on subsistence farming. Post-harvest losses are estimated at 30 percent of all food produced, and inefficient supply chains contribute to high costs that discourage smallholder production. As a result, while farming is an important source of food for poor rural families, production is not enough to meet households food needs.
The country is vulnerable to recurrent climate-related and external shocks. The 2015-16 El Niño- induced drought, the worst in 50 years, caused a 40 percent drop in production of the staple maize. Recurrent droughts and poor performing agricultural seasons, poor economic growth and reduced income opportunities have eroded further households’ ability to cope with shock, leaving them more vulnerable to food insecurity.
Women are underrepresented in leadership and decision-making positions in the public and private sectors. Gender-based violence, sexual abuse and gender discrimination affect one in three women and girls, with almost half of women and girls reporting having been abused by the age of 18, and almost half of women experiencing some form of sexual violence in their lifetimes.
The World Food Programme (WFP) provides technical assistance, services and coordination support for national food and nutrition security policies and programmes through approaches that enable progress on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, and HIV-sensitive actions.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Eswatini
WFP provides a shock-responsive safety net to address the immediate needs of people during crisis and early recovery. WFP protects shock-affected families, including those with vulnerable members, young children and/or those affected by HIV. WFP provides food and/or cash-based transfers to meet basic food and nutrition needs, and supports early recovery through national social protection frameworks.
Resilience and smallholder farmers
WFP contributes to the improvement of smallholder productivity and incomes, through support for government capacity strengthening for the implementation of gender and nutrition-sensitive, shock-responsive social safety nets. The link between the national school feeding programme and local markets supports smallholder farmers, particularly women. WFP supports the Ministry of Education and Training in developing technical expertise for increased local purchasing of food from smallholder farmers.
WFP develops an effective and efficient integrated social-protection system that is shock-responsive and nutrition, HIV, and gender-sensitive. In this context, WFP builds a social-intervention system that responds to gender and age vulnerabilities across the life cycle, and provides institutionalized and accessible social assistance through legislative, accountability, transparency and collaborative mechanisms.