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looms for quarter of rural Zimbabweans
September 06, 2013
80, a smallholder farmer in Zimbabwe’s Zimuto District, is
one of the 2.2 million people a quarter of the rural population
expected to lack sufficient food between October and the next harvest
in March 2014, according
to the World Food Programme (WFP).
Year after year,
Moyo plants maize, groundnuts and beans, and does “not harvest
much even when the rains are good”.
last season was a total write-off as the rains stopped just before
the maize was to mature,” she told IRIN. She lives in a region
considered “unsuitable for crop production” due to poor
soils and “highly erratic” rainfall.
In a 3 September
statement, WFP Country Director Sory Ouane said, “Many districts,
particularly in the south, harvested very little and people are
already trying to stretch out their dwindling food stocks.”
the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Global Information
and Early Warning System (GIEWS), the aggregate cereal harvest in
2013 was about 27 percent below the average of the previous five
The WFP statement
attributed the current high levels of food insecurity “to
various factors including adverse weather conditions, the unavailability
and high cost of agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizers,
and projected high cereal prices due to the poor maize harvest.”
widespread hunger continues to be an almost annual problem in Zimbabwe
are more complex.
five natural regions, each with varying suitability for growing
crops. The drought-prone provinces of the south and west, such as
Masvingo and the South and North Matabeleland provinces, are ranked
as the most unsuitable areas for crop production.
South and parts of Masvingo provinces experience food deficits on
an almost annual basis and are among the poorest in the country.
But a May report
by the University
of Zimbabwe’s Institute of Environmental Studies - Understanding
Poverty, Promoting Wellbeing and Sustainable Development found that
across the country 95 percent of the rural population was poor and,
of that number, more than two-thirds were “very poor”.
rural impoverishment was not helped by cuts in support to black
farmers starting in the 1990s after the government agreed to rein
in spending and introduced market-oriented reforms in line with
the World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Programmes. According
to the University of Zimbabwe report, poverty was further exacerbated
by drought, food shortages, hyperinflation and the HIV epidemic,
and then by a loss of donor support in the wake of the country’s
2000 fast-track land redistribution programme.
The land reform
programme saw 11 million hectares of white-owned farmland in prime
agricultural regions acquired for redistribution to the landless.
A recent book, Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land, argues this redistribution
improved the lives of thousands of smallholder farmers and their
families, but those working redistributed land still lack title
deeds and face a variety of challenges.
In areas such
as Beitbridge in Matabeleland South, which is prone to dry spells
and drought, conditions remain grim. District Administrator Simon
Muleya told IRIN rain-fed agriculture in the area “just won’t
work.” He said the water table was high, which meant irrigation
could potentially help farmers, but this required investment and
the “money is just not there”.
On a national
level, the amount of irrigated lands has fallen since the fast-track
land reform programme, Conrade Zawe, of the Department of Irrigation,
told The Herald, a state-owned daily. “Around 2000, we had
250,000 hectares of land under irrigation, and hectarage fell down
drastically over the years, but through the rehabilitation processes
that the government has introduced, about 135,000 hectares is [currently]
to fail in areas like Beitbridge partly because of local people’s
attachment to maize, despite its unsuitability to the climate. The
government and donors have tried to change diets in marginal areas
such as Beitbridge, but have not made much headway.
“The Ministry of Agriculture has tried to encourage people
to grow small grains [such as sorghum and millet] because we do
not get enough rain, but there is resistance. People prefer maize
meal over the traditional sorghum and millet and other small grains.”
representative David Mfote told IRIN that people had acquired a
taste for maize introduced to by Europeans in the 16th century which
is fashioned into ‘sadza’, a thick porridge. “They
say it tastes better,” he said.
During the 2010/2011
season, the government and FAO launched a small grains pilot project
in marginal areas, including Matabeleland South, that helped farmers
grow the grains and linked them to the markets, but it was brought
to an end in 2012 because of lack of donor support.
as sorghum were also favourites of quelea birds, which, according
to Mfote, forced farmers to guard their fields the whole day.
A senior agricultural
department official, who declined to be named, told IRIN that, in
the absence of irrigation, the solution in the Beitbridge region
would be livestock farming. “Even if they [the local communities]
change to sorghum or millet, rainfall is so erratic in places like
Beitbridge that even those small grains may not survive the heat,
so they should focus on their cattle and goats which they can sell
to buy food,” he said.
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