The United Nations food relief agency Friday announced it is scaling up its efforts to assist more than 3.5 million people in drought-hit areas of southern Africa, particularly in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Lesotho, who are now facing the start of the hunger season.
"Large numbers of smallholder farmers and their families are in the grip of what is set to be one of the harshest hunger seasons of recent years," said the World Food Programme's (WFP) Deputy Regional Director for Southern Africa, Brenda Barton.
"With the help of governments, donors and regional organizations, we're mobilizing resources to help the most vulnerable, not only with food distributions," she added, "but also with innovative solutions like cash transfers via mobile phones so people can buy their own food."
Erratic rainfall during the last planting season meant that harvests in many areas were not sufficient to sustain the nutritional needs of farming communities this year and, even where food is available in local markets, it is often too expensive for the poorest households, according to WFP. To add to this situation, communities already struggling to feed their families are now bracing for the onset of the so-called 'hunger season' which traditionally lasts from December until harvest time in March.