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Country profile - Swaziland


Swaziland, the second smallest country in Africa and, with a population of little over a million, is almost enclosed within South Africa, sharing just the northern half of its eastern border with the southernmost tip of Mozambique. Since gaining independence in 1968, the country's diversified economic development has been one of the most successful in Africa, and in terms of real value GDP per capita, it currently ranks 9th among African countries. Its diversity is also reflected in its landscape, with forested or grassy highveld in the west falling to the low lying sugar and citrus plantations of the east. Agriculturally the country is split between largely rainfed subsistence production by smallholders, and cash cropping on large private estates. Smallholders constitute 70% of the population, and occupy 75% of the crop land but productivity is low, accounting for only 11% of total agricultural outputs. Poor availability of water for irrigation is a major constraint to smallholder production, and in years of low rainfall, harvests plummet, the current food crisis just being the latest instance. But productivity at the household and national level is also being increasingly hit by the high rate of HIV/AIDS infection; it is currently estimated that between 20 and 32 % of the population have the virus.

The majority of Swazi households grow rainfed maize and vegetables on land which is allocated to them by traditional chiefs. Much of this Swazi Nation Land is officially owned by the monarchy or aristocracy, and is made available under terms which limit productivity and discourage commercial farming. The marketing of maize, by far the most popular cereal, has, until recently been under the close control of the National Maize Corporation. Recent moves towards liberalisation have included a flexible price policy, in order to encourage farmers to store their grain for sale during periods of scarcity. The government are hopeful that increased prices will boost production. However, this may be offset by a trend towards increased cash crop production, so maize imports are likely to remain necessary. Despite considerable research and promotion, both by government and external agencies, few farmers cultivate other cereals. Small amounts of wheat are grown in the west of the country, and there is some rice cultivation in the north east and sorghum in the south. The Chinese Agricultural Mission has tried to promote rice cultivation, but currently only minimal amounts of rice are grown. Despite successful trials of wheat as a rotational dry season crop for irrigated land, few farmers have taken it up.

Cotton is the most significant smallholder cash crop. However few families depend solely on what they can grow, most having an absentee wage earner working in one of the large estates or in South Africa. Cattle ownership is also high, with the ratio of cattle to land among the highest in Africa; 80% of the country's cattle are owned by smallholder farmers. Under open-access grazing systems, cattle can graze on common pasture at no cost to the owners, and government dipping and veterinary services are largely provided for free. However, the traditional belief that cattle represent wealth has hindered development in the livestock sector, with farmers unwilling to sell animals for slaughter. It has also led to overgrazing and land degradation, further undermining small farm sustainability.

Developing irrigation systems is seen as vital for increasing smallholder productivity. Recent legislation has encouraged the establishment of water user groups and supported claims for water rights. Smallholders in the Usutu river basin who have been permitted to extract an agreed quantity of water for irrigation, have been enthusiastic about forming associations, obtaining bank credit and installing irrigation equipment. More than thirty such groups have now been established, which are growing sugar and producing yields on a par with the private estates. A major project in the basin is aiming to irrigate 25,000 hectares of land for smallholder farming. The commercialisation of the livestock sector is another priority for both the government and the private sector. Swaziland Meat Industries, which operates the main abattoir and is the only meat exporter, has set up demonstration ranches in order to promote better animal husbandry practices, and to encourage farmers to sell cattle at the optimum age of two or three years. The company is also attempting to boost pork production through a smallholder pig production training scheme.

Sugar is the largest single foreign exchange earner in Swaziland, exported via the rehabilitated port at Maputo to the EU and US, and regionally to Mozambique and South Africa. The irrigated sugar cane plantations at Simunye, Mhulme and Ubombo are major employers, second only to the government. The sector is controlled by the Swaziland Sugar Association, but since 1997 has undergone significant deregulation, with training, scholarships and increased production quotas for smallholder producers. Mills at the three main estates now process sugar from hundreds of smallholders, and in recent years output has increased considerably. In addition to exports, sugar is also sold domestically, particularly to soft drinks, confectionery and jam-making industries. The eastern lowveld is also home to seven major citrus estates, growing oranges, grapefruit, and limes. Those of high enough quality are exported through the Swaziland Citrus Board to the EU, Eastern Europe, and the Middle and Far East. The remainder are sold to canning factories, such as the Swazican factory in the Malkerns valley. Swazican also process a large quantity of pineapples, grown in the 'middleveld' valley, and export the canned fruit and juice to Europe.

Pine and eucalyptus plantations cover 4% of the country and employ 17% of the formal labour force. At 66,000 hectares, the Usutu pine forest is one of the largest manmade forests in the world. The trees thrive in the Swazi climate, reaching maturity in 16 years - compared with 40 years in the northern hemisphere. They are principally grown for wood pulp, which is exported. There are also forest plantations producing timber for the mining and construction industries, for furniture, doors, pallets and coffins. Altogether, Swaziland's forests contribute some 14% of export revenues.

Statistical information
  • Country: Swaziland
  • Capital: Mbabane
  • Area: 17,363 sq km
  • Population: 1,104,343 (July 2001 est.)
  • Ethnic groups: Swazi 84%, Zulu 10%, European 3%
  • Languages: Siswati, English
  • Population growth: 1.83% (2001 est.)
  • GDP: $1.5 billion
  • GDP composition by sector: agriculture 16.8%; industry: 44.3%; services: 38.9% (1997)
  • GNI per capita: $1,390
  • Urbanisation: 26.4%
  • Major industries: mining (coal and asbestos), wood pulp, sugar, soft drink concentrates, fruit canning
  • Land use: arable land 28%; permanent pastures 62%; forests and woodland 7%; permanent crops 0%; other 20% (1993 est.)
  • Natural resources: asbestos, coal, clay, cassiterite, hydropower, forests, small gold and diamond deposits, quarry stone, and talc
  • Agricultural products: sugarcane, cotton, maize, tobacco, rice, citrus, pineapples, sorghum, peanuts; cattle, goats, sheep
  • Export commodities: soft drink concentrates, sugar, wood pulp, cotton yarn, refrigerators, citrus and canned fruit
  • Major Export Partners: South Africa 65%, EU 12%, Mozambique 11%, US 5% (1998)

Date published: November 2002


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