FAO GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE

SPECIAL ALERT

NO. 307

(Circulated only for countries where foodcrops or supply situation conditions give rise to concern)

Country: Zimbabwe

Date: 28 April 2000

CONCERNS OVER FOOD SECURITY MOUNT AS ECONOMIC PROBLEMS DEEPEN AND DISTURBANCES AFFECT FOOD PRODUCTION

The outlook for food security in Zimbabwe is unfavourable due to the combined effect of adverse weather, serious economic problems and the current unrest related to the issue of land reforms which has adversely affected agricultural activities on large-scale commercial farms. Floods in late February caused extensive crop damage in the eastern and southern provinces. Over the past few weeks, groups of independence war veterans and others have attacked owners of these farms and their employees, inflicting serious injuries to many and even killing some, and burning crops in fields and stores. This has created a climate of fear amongst the farmers, many of whom have abandoned their farms and left their livestock unattended and fled to the relative safety of urban areas. These events are taking place at a time when the farmers should be harvesting, processing and marketing their crops, particularly maize, the country's staple food, and tobacco, the top foreign exchange earner. It is also the time to start preparing for planting the wheat crop in June/July, a crop that is almost entirely produced by large-scale commercial farmers under irrigation. There is, therefore, growing concern that if the violence continues, there will be a serious drop in food production and supply, jeopardizing national food security. While the impact of the disturbances on the food supply situation may be significant this year, it may be felt more severely next year.

Since independence in 1980, Zimbabwe has made impressive progress in the agriculture sector, being a net exporter of maize mainly to neighbouring countries, except during the drought years of 1984, 1992 and 1993, when large quantities of maize were imported. The maize exports peaked at 731 000 tonnes in 1990 and averaged around 250 000 tonnes per year from 1993 to 1998. However, in 1999, due to excessive rains and input shortages, the country gathered a below-average cereal harvest of about 2 million tonnes, which was well below the utilization requirements. The cereal import requirement for the marketing year 1999/2000 (April/March) was estimated at 545 000 tonnes, of which about one-half was covered by commercial imports, resulting in reduced utilization. The period since 1980 also saw an increasing proportion of maize production coming from the communal farm sector from around 31 percent in 1983 to a peak of 66 percent in 1997, albeit with fluctuations in some years. These gains are likely to be compromised by the disturbances and the deepening economic problems.

Agricultural production in Zimbabwe is undertaken by two categories of farmers: large scale commercial farmers located mainly in the north and east and small scale communal farmers in the south and west. Large-scale commercial farmers, currently numbering around 4 000, contribute some 30-40 percent of maize production, surpassing communal farmers' output in drought years, such as in 1992 when they accounted for 68 percent of total production. Yields on commercial farms are on average four times higher than on communal farms, in part due to inherent differences in land quality, but mainly because of facilities for supplementary irrigation, greater use of improved technology and management practices, as well as better access to working capital (Chart 1). Furthermore, Zimbabwe has been over 60 percent self-sufficient in wheat (100 percent in 1990/91), a crop produced entirely on commercial farms (Chart 2). These farms are also the dominant contributors to tobacco and horticultural (cut flowers) production for export, as well as livestock production for meat, milk, and other dairy products. A disruption of agricultural activities at this time, therefore, could have serious repercussions for Zimbabwe's food security and the economy as a whole.

Currently, Zimbabwe is faced with a severe economic crisis. The country has been reeling under a severe fuel shortage for some time now, due to an acute shortage of foreign exchange caused mainly by large external debt repayments, the suspension of international loan disbursements for failing to adhere to agreed conditions, the involvement of the country in the DR Congo war, and falling export earnings. The shortage of foreign exchange is also seriously disrupting industrial production due to erratic power supply and inadequate supply of raw materials, due to blocking of credit lines to the country's firms. Thus, should there be a large drop in food production necessitating substantial amounts of imports, Zimbabwe's currently low import capacity would seriously constrain its ability to cover the shortfall commercially.

While it is difficult to gauge the full implications of the current volatile situation, a continuation of the current economic difficulties and violence could reduce production and export availabilities, deter investment in the agriculture sector, lower revenues from the tourist industry and fuel inflation (59 percent in 1999) and unemployment which is already very high. This will aggravate problems of access to food for the poorer segments of the population. The situation needs to be closely monitored over the months ahead.

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG) for further information if required.

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