HARARE — The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says consumption patterns in southern Africa are shifting from cereals only and this requires governments to expand their food baskets.

Most countries in the sub-region, including Zimbabwe, use the cereal balance sheet as a tool for planning and safeguarding national food security but the FAO warns that rapid urbanization and rural transformation have resulted in changes in food consumption patters, requiring governments to diversify food baskets and not rely solely on cereals such as maize.

We believe a focus on food balance sheets will help us move away from maize-centric input support programmes and focus on agricultural diversification which is critical for resilience building, FAO

representative Lewis Hove said at a regional workshop on food balance sheets here this week.

Focusing on cereals only leads to poor diets resulting from consumption of insufficient nutrients. As a result, Hove said, the sub-region faced a triple burden of under-nutrition, over-nutrition and micro-nutrient deficiency among children.

The inclusion of all food commodities would allow for the much needed information on the production and availability of both cereals and non-cereal commodities.

The move to strengthen food security forecasting through food balance sheets comes at a time when several countries in southern Africa have been adversely affected by drought conditions experienced between December 2017 and January 2018.

In several areas of southern Africa, erratic rainfall has disrupted cropping activities and crop condition, indicating reduced prospects for 2018 seasonal production.

Food balance sheets provide essential information on a country’s food consumption as they present a holistic picture of a country’s food supply pattern during a specified reference period, Hove said.

It is hoped adoption of the food balance sheets will help SADC member states monitor the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals on food security as well as assist governments come up with a regional food

balance sheet so that they have knowledge of the available food stocks in the sub-region for purposes of food security planning and sourcing of commodities.