JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Southern Africa faces possible food shortages over the next few months due to a severe drought in the 'maize belt' of South Africa, where a lack of rain had caused crop failure rates of over 50 percent, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Monday.
In South Africa, the WFP said maize production was estimated to have dropped by a third compared with last year, putting it on track for a harvest of 9.665 million tonnes, its worst in eight years.
Besides South Africa, which produces more than 40 percent of regional maize, the drought was also likely to hit harvests in southern Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Malawi and Madagascar, the U.N. agency said in a report.
The problems in landlocked and impoverished Malawi were compounded by heavy rains and flooding in early January which destroyed crops and roads, it added.
Last month's outbreak of anti-foreigner riots in South Africa, in which at least seven were killed and thousands more forced to flee, might also lead to a drop in remittance flows from Africa's most advanced economy, adding to the problems of nearby countries, the WFP said.
"The rains experienced in late March and early April provided some relief to livestock farmers but arrived too late for both staple food and cash crops," the April assessment by the WFP's Food and Nutrition Security Working Group said.
"Of great concern is Zimbabwe, which is facing a looming huge food deficit due to imminent widespread crop failure," it added.
Countries in the region were likely to have to supplement their domestic production with increased imports, pushing up the cost of food, the WFP said.
(Reporting by Ed Cropley; Editing by James Macharia)