Zimbabwe’s protracted socio-economic crisis has taken a toll on the country’s agricultural sector, hitting the poorest farmers the hardest.
About 70 percent of the population makes a living from agriculture. However, steep declines in production over the years – brought on by the high cost and shortage of inputs, adverse weather conditions and policy constraints – have seen farmers’ earnings dwindle and food insecurity rise.
Inflation – which reached record highs in 2008 – made it difficult for many to buy even the most basic commodities.
Impact of pricing and land reform policies
Until recently, maize production had been in steady decline. Pricing policies provided little incentive for impoverished farmers to plant, let alone invest in infrastructure.
Commercial farms were producing just one-tenth of what they produced in the 1990s, due in part to land reform policies, while communal farms, which once grew the bulk of the country’s maize, were only producing about one-quarter of the typical output some years ago.
Food deficits despite good harvests
After a record low harvest in 2008, production of maize, the main staple, almost doubled in 2009, thanks in part to good rainfall. However, yields were still insufficient to meet food needs. A prolonged dry spell beginning in late December 2009 has left forecasts for the 2010 crops looking grim. Although rains resumed in late January, they were too late to benefit crops in some areas.
The annual rate of inflation has since dropped to zero following the government’s decision in March 2009 to adopt the South African rand and the US dollar over the local currency.
Grain markets have also been liberalized, helping to make cereals more available on local markets.
Still, many urban and rural households are not able to afford the food they need. Findings from the latest report from the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee show that the number of people requiring food assistance during the January-March 2010 lean season is 2.17 million.
European Union Food Facility
With €15.4 million in funds from the European Union, FAO began implementing an 18-month project in May 2009 to provide agricultural inputs to Zimbabwe’s small-scale farmers in an effort to boost cereal production and livelihood prospects.
Around 176 000 vulnerable rural farmers – about 10-15 percent of the country’s communal farmers –received seeds and fertilizer packs in October and November 2009, in time for the planting season.
Through extension services, farmers are being trained in the timely planting of crops, proper spacing and weeding techniques and application of fertilizers.
By cultivating 0.5 hectares of land, each household is expected to produce between 300-600 kg of cereal grain, which is the equivalent of about five to ten months of food for a family of six.
In December 2009, the European Commission decided to increase the project’s budget by roughly €2.1 million to enhance extension services and technical support to farmers involved in both crop and livestock production.
Key agriculture extension messages on timely planting, weeding and fertilizer application will be promoted to existing beneficiaries plus an additional 49 000 farmers. In livestock production areas, 165 000 farmers will be trained in improved animal management to enhance production of meat, milk and eggs for consumption and sale.
FAO will continue to play a coordinating role among the other stakeholders engaged in agricultural relief projects in Zimbabwe to ensure a harmonized approach and effective use of resources.
FAO is also scaling up monitoring activities to provide crop status and crop estimate information in order to gain a better understanding of the country’s food security situation.
Other FAO activities
FAO and World Food Programme (WFP) carried out two Crop and Food Supply Assessment Missions to Zimbabwe – one in 2008 and one in 2009 –to gauge the severity of the crisis. A European Commission-funded rapid assessment was carried out in September/October of 2008.
FAO has a number of programmes aimed at improving food security of rural farmers, including:
- supply of basic agricultural inputs to vulnerable farming households
- promotion of intensification and improvement of farm management practices, including Conservation Agriculture
- training in processing and marketing of agricultural products for livelihoods support
- monitoring of food supply and price information
- awareness and prevention of animal diseases, including vaccination of livestock