Zimbabwe's Food Crises

Photo Source: Bloomberg

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe UpFront

Zimbabwe, once known as the breadbasket of the African subcontinent, is facing the worst food shortage in recent memory.  It has resulted in a lot of fear and loss of hope among people. Nearly half of Zimbabwe’s population, some eight million people, face this food insecurity, with majority of population concentrated in the rural areas.

According to a report in November 2019, by Hilal Elver, the U.N’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Zimbabwe counts amongst the four highest food insecure states, alongside conflict-ravaged countries. In her preliminary findings, she said that the international community should scale up humanitarian aid to eliminate hunger and malnutrition in the country.

Zimbabwe has been ranked 9th by American charity organisation Concern Worldwide among the ‘world’s top ten hungriest countries’ in 2018. The reasons are often attributed to climate change. In the 2018-2019 season, parts of southern Africa, including Zimbabwe, received their lowest rainfall since 1981, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Many smallholder farmers have not had a good harvest for two or more years. Meanwhile, the continued advance of Army Worm, a highly destructive moth larva, threatens those who have managed to grow maize, and other staples.

The country has less than 5 percent access to irrigation facilities. Due to climate change, the ground water levels have also diminished, and temperature has also increased. There has been lack of reliable rainfall in the past five seasons. Food insecurity in urban areas has also been a cause of concern, as a heavy tax system, pervasive corruption, livestock losses, power cuts, recent droughts, high levels of unemployment, conditionalities set by U.S. and E.U., and low wages have affected the households. Businesses are also struggling and thus reducing their workforce.

Add to that, the country is also facing an economic recession with shortages of basics such as fuel and medicines. There were inflationary pressures seen in 2008, when the country stopped pegging its currency at par with the United States dollar. Zimbabwe adopted the use of U.S. dollar after hyperinflation drastically reduced the value of the local currency. However, ‘dollarising’ hit a major bump in 2015, when the dollar started vanishing from the formal banking system. In a bid to end the US dollar shortage, Zimbabwe’s central bank introduced bond notes – a form of surrogate currency that was backed by a $200 million bond facility from the Export-Import Bank. But, black market speculation quickly diminished the bond note’s value, triggering a shortage, which central bank tried to offset by creating electronic notes. It prompted the bank to merge bond notes –both physical and electronic- into Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) dollar, known as Zimdollar. Despite that, the effort has failed after Zimdollar quickly fell prey to black market speculation that sent its value plummeting.

Zimbabwe’s food security poses a serious threat to national security, as it can cause civil unrest and general insecurity in the country. Many people can only afford one meal a day. In Harare, people spend long hours queuing for food, as well in front of banks to get cash, and in shops to obtain cooking gas or water. While the food is readily available in supermarkets, inflation of upto four hundred ninety percent has made the people ‘food insecure’. There are scores of people who have migrated from poor rural areas to cities, in search of job opportunities, to improve their access to sufficient and adequate food and other public services. However, they had ended up living in informal settlements that are multiplying in the streets of Harare. With the result, spreadable diseases due to unsafe water and open sewage are increasing.

According to a report in Al Jazeera: "the most vulnerable segments of society, including the elderly, children and women, are forced to rely upon coping mechanisms such as, school dropout, early marriage, and sex trade to obtain food, behavioural patterns that often are accompanied by domestic violence."

Most of the schools in Harare are no longer able to continue their school feeding programmes. At the most, some schools are able to offer one meal a week per classroom. The report, compiled by Unicef and the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, shows high levels of privation in rural areas, where 76.3% of children live in abject poverty. Statistics observed by the Guardian ascertain that almost half of these children do not have enough of the right food to eat. Child poverty is more prevalent in Mashonaland Central, Manicaland and Matabeleland North.

According to Reuters, Zimbabwe’s agriculture minister, Perrance Shiri, said that the country has less than 100,000 tonnes of grain in its strategic reserves. The grain reserve has a 500,000-tonne capacity, but has seen a major dip after a poor harvest. Zimbabwe consumes 80,000 tonnes of maize every month.
For grain imports, Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa has introduced measures designed to facilitate an increase in grain importation to alleviate the local shortages.

In January 2019, after a decade, Zimbabwe permitted the importation of genetically modified grains for the first time. The Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe acquired 100,000 tonnes of genetically engineered maize from South Africa and Brasil.

In addition, the government has zero-rated VAT and import duty on all basic commodities. It created a green channel to fast-track essential food consignments, through its land-locked border posts.

Even though these interventions have helped, they have been not enough to deal with the widespread food shortages.

The World Food Programme says it needs a further $200m (£152m) to meet hunger needs in the country. Many consultants and research authors have called on the country to adopt policies such as large scale feeding programmes.
While Zimbabwe bought 100,000 tons of corn and received delivery of it from Tanzania in 2019, it hasn’t been in contact with the country ever since, as Tanzania seems to limit exports to build its own reserves.  The World Food Programme has also imported 20,000 tons of corn from South Africa and 50,000 tons from Ukraine and Mexico. The government has not been involved in those shipments.

The irony is that there is also a lot of food wastage in the country. There are piles and piles of vegetable rotting in the food markets, because people do not have enough money to buy. Zimbabwe has also become a matter of concern for under-nutrition levels. The 2018 Barilla report titled Fixing Food, noted that Zimbabwe was one of eleven African countries still lagging behind in “implementing health eating guidelines at national level.”


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