* Zambia, Angola cut GDP forecast because of drought
* Despite resource wealth, agriculture remain big employer
* Normal rains expected for 2013/14 season - famine network
By Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Shrikesh Laxmidas
JOHANNESBURG/LUANDA Oct 24 Spells of drought in
southern African this year have hit agricultural output and hurt
economic growth in countries such as Zambia and Angola,
underscoring the lingering importance of farming to the
resource-rich region's prosperity.
Cutting their 2013 economic growth estimates, both oil
producing Angola and copper producer Zambia have cited drought
as a reason for lowering the forecasts.
Zambia, Africa's largest copper producer, sees its economic
growth for 2013 lower than the earlier forecast of above 7
percent after expanding 7.2 percent in 2012. The International
Monetary Fund said in September Zambia's economic growth was
projected at 6 percent in 2013.
Copper production has traditionally been the backbone of
Zambia's economy but decades of state mismanagement of mines led
to a fall in output. Lusaka privatised its copper and cobalt
mines more than a decade ago to attract foreign investments.
Despite efforts to revamp the mining sector, agriculture
remains crucial to the economy, making up 18.7 percent of the
GDP compared with 11.1 percent for mining.
Erratic rain is now hurting production of crops such as
maize, which sustains millions of poor Zambians and is an export
commodity for the country.
"The southern part of the country had prolonged periods of
no rain. In other areas rain was erratic and this had a negative
impact on our maize production," Agriculture Minister Robert
Reduced harvests can also stoke inflation, especially for
foodstuffs, which hits poor households the hardest.
"WORST DROUGHT IN DECADES"
Angola and Namibia are having "one of the worst droughts in
30 years", according to UNICEF, the U.N. children's agency.
"Livestock and crops have perished and many households are
selling assets and skipping meals," UNICEF said.
Angola, Africa's second-biggest oil producer, cut its GDP
growth forecast for this year to 5.1 percent from a previous
estimate 7.1 percent. Just like Zambia, Angola's President Jose
Eduardo dos Santos said last week "a long drought" was partly to
blame for the weaker growth forecast.
Cunene, the southern province of Angola, is the hardest hit.
Its governor said in May it had not had rain for two years. The
semi-arid province, which shares a border with Namibia, depends
largely on subsistence farming and cattle-raising.
Before independence from Portugal in 1975, Angola was
largely self-sufficient in food and was the world's fourth
largest coffee exporter.
A 27-year civil war that ended in 2002 left the sector in
tatters and agriculture and fishing now makes up around 10
percent of Angola's GDP, compared to 45 percent for oil.
However, it still employs two out of three Angolans, according
to the World Bank.
Industry associations have said Angola was allocating
insufficient funds to boosting farming after only 1 percent of
this year's total public spending was earmarked for agriculture.
Rainfall patterns in southern Africa are becoming erratic as
climate change takes its toll, threatening production of staple
and cash crops in the region.
Farmers, who for centuries have known when to expect rains,
are now finding planning difficult as the region experiences a
mixture of early, late and above normal rains.
Climate experts have said as weather patterns change, the
outlook for rain-fed agriculture was particularly bleak in
southern Africa's Limpopo river basin, which covers parts of
Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
South Africa last month declared a drought in its North West
Province, an important maize growing region in Africa's biggest
producer of the crop.
But the short-term outlook is hopeful.
According to FEWS NET, a USAID-funded famine network,
southern Africa is expected to get normal to above normal rain
from October to March next year, which should bring relief to
some if not most of the drought-striken areas.
Zimbabwe, which faces its worst food shortages in four years
after a drought, was gearing up for the new growing season but
lack of farm inputs may hamper production.
"We are going to struggle in terms of crop production and
the economy will continue to be in dire straits," Zimbabwe's
Commercial Farmers Union president Charles Tuffs told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Chris Mfula in Lusaka and MacDonald
Dzirutwe in Harare; Writing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; Editing
by Ed Stoddard and Alison Williams)