Interview with Steve Lombard
Early Warning Food Security Plan 16 April 1982
STeve Lombard established and directed the Early Warning Food Security
System in Tanzania, which in the end, functioned all too well and cost
him his job. The purpose of the system is quite simple: to identify
areas where shortfalls and surpluses of cereal foodstuffs are emerging
and to notify the government of these trends. Once the trends are
identified in different regions, a government can make early preparations
for transporting foodstuffs from those areas experiencing a surplus to
those areas experiencing a deficit. If an overall deficit is projected,
then a government can solicit food aid before major food shortages
The system itself is quite simple. The key variable that is monitored
is rainfall. Information concerning soil types and cereal varieties
is obtained though the Ministry of Africulture and the extension service.
Factors such as the amount of fertilizer, sunshine, the availability
of proper implements, and the like are not included, first because
fluctuations in these factors have a smaller impact on ultimate crop
health than does jacoufation in fainfall and second because reliable
data regarding these other variables is not readily available.
8 The system is limited to cereal production because cereals form the
mainstay of the diet in many African countries-- especially in the SADOO
states-- and because cereal productions heavily dependent upon adequate
The process of rainfall data collection relies upon a network of
individuals throughout the country who monitor and plot daily rainfall
on prepaid postcards whihh are then mailed to the FAO office in Salisbury.
Rainfall is measured on a daily basis andwhen sent to Salisbury on
weekly intervals. Thus, information regarding weekly amounts as well as
daily distribution of rainfall is available. The individuals are not
paid, so identifying people who are conscientious and reliable is crucial.
The postal cards and the monitoring equipment is provided to the partici-
pant individuals free of charge,
The essential factor in gathering reliable date is speed. If the
warning system is to provide information about the current agricultural
trends in the country, then the rainfall data must be promptly returned
to the Salisbury office. This promptness depends nok only on prompt
individual reporting, but also on a functioning postal service.
The proposal for a regional Early Warning System was put forward
by Zimbabwe since one of that country's responsibilitiesfor Food Security
in SADOC. The early Warning System is but one of a whole series of
projects on Food Seciruty which the Zimbabwe Ministry of Agriculture is
undertaking to fulfill its SADOO responsibility as the coordinating country
for Food Security. Others include planning a food reserve and food aid
project, which is being set up by the EEC, and a food marketing project
under the direction of the Canadians.
The plan is that eventually, all nine members of SADOO will have some
Lombard p. 2
The plan is that eventually, all nin members of SADOO will have some
form of early warning system so that the goal of regional food security can
in part be achieved. The system being set up in Zimbabwe also functioned
in TanzanJiand has similarities to that which is used in the Sahel Region.
However, there is no maxiakxxza intention to force a single system
throughout SADOO. Rather, according to Lombard, the conditions existing
in each member state will be examined by-it as well as the lessons
learned in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and elsewhere, and each of the SADOC
member states will develop a system suitable for itself. As with all
SADOO projects, Zimbabwe's role will be one of coordinating and assisting
other states in setting up their own systems and in interrelating the infor-
mation, rather than setting up a regional system administered from
The ultimate success of the early wIRNING SYSTEM WILL REST(UPON THE
ABILITY OF THE SYSTEM DIRECTORS TO GET RELIABLE INFORMATION ABOUT PROJECTED
food surplusses and deficits to key decision makers in government, and second
upon the willingness of these decision makers to use he information.
It is on thaxpzmxaxzkh this last point which the stem in Tanzania
foundered. The system accurately identified a pending major shorfall
in maize production early enough to have allowed the government to take
precautionary measures However, this information was .,jcked from
the President and nothing was done. When Lombard bcace e public with
his finding4,he was sacked. In the end, the key to early warning will
be the ability to generate reliable crop production forecasts and the
political commitment to utilize the data that is generated.