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Economic and agricultural decline yields food shortages in Zimbabwe



The deteriorating economic situation coupled with a decline in cereal production is jeopardizing food security in Zimbabwe. Hardest hit will be the urban poor and households in the southern and eastern parts of the country, where a January dry spell was followed by incessant rains in February and March, which resulted in localized flooding.

A Special Report issued jointly by FAO and WFP, following a crop and food supply assessment mission to the country, forecasts a drop in cereal production for the current marketing year (April 2001-March 2002) to about 1.82 million tonnes -- down 24 percent from last year. This decline reflects reduced plantings and lower yields.

Maize exports and imports, 1991-2000, forecast for 2001

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The large-scale commercial sector saw a decline of about 30 percent in area planted under all crops. This decrease was primarily due to problems stemming from the country's land-acquisition activities. Maize was particularly affected, with a decline of 54 percent in area planted. Another reason for the drop in maize production was the fact that many farmers switched from the less-lucrative maize to cash crops, such as soybeans, sunflower, groundnut and paprika this year -- a response to payment delays for the previous year's maize crop by the state-owned Grain Marketing Board, annual inflation of over 50 percent and the rising cost of inputs.

Based on the forecast decline in production, the report estimates that 579 000 tonnes of cereal will need to be imported. But the report notes that the Government's ability to import maize is extremely limited, "given the substantial decline in gold production and the tobacco harvest, and much of the expected foreign currency earnings being pre-committed for fuel, other energy imports and the international debt servicing."

Even if the wheat and rice deficit of 132 000 tonnes is met by commercial imports, a maize deficit of about 447 000 remains, which will need to be covered by a draw-down on stocks or, preferably, through commercial imports. But, according to the report, "Given the current economic conditions and food insecurity in several parts of the country, a major draw-down of stocks may not be advisable. The country needs to hold adequate cereal stocks to maintain a stable and adequate supply necessary to prevent any price escalations and to keep prices at affordable levels for both rural and urban population."

The emerging food insecurity in the country is largely due to diminishing purchasing power. High unemployment and the high cost of living have exacerbated poverty. The gross national product is expected to decline by 5 percent in 2001, amounting to a decline in per capita income for the third year in a row. Particularly vulnerable are the urban poor and many households in the food-deficit southern and eastern areas of the country. These people will need assistance in the coming year to meet their food needs. "Bilateral programme food aid to meet part of the import requirement may be considered as an option," the report states.

"It is estimated that traditional social solidarity networks in most areas can still support the currently food-insecure households through hired labour, gifts and, to a lesser extent, saving schemes and plots cultivated by the community for the benefit of those who cannot engage in farming," says the report. "However, the viability of the social coping capacity might be severely affected by general economic decline."

5 June 2001

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