Famine is about to hit Zimbabwe as the country faces severe food insecurity and chronic malnutrition both in rural and urban areas.
Zimbabwe was once known to be the breadbasket of Southern Africa exporting agricultural produce to the region and beyond but the country now has a record of food security issues in the rural and urban areas, unlike other countries, where food insecurity is mostly a rural problem.
According to the 2021 Zimbabwe National Vulnerability Assessment Committee report, 60% of Zimbabweans face acute food insecurity — about 5.5 million in rural areas and 2.2 million in urban areas. Basic food prices keep increasing to such an extent that most urban residents cannot afford to buy food.
In Zimbabwe, the farming sector produces 60% of the country’s maize crop, on which the livelihoods of millions of people depend. It accounts for 40% of Zimbabwe’s GDP and for many people who live from hand to mouth it is a safety net providing some income, food security, and employment.
Cause of food insecurity
Over the years government policies have failed to render their support to food production thereby causing food insufficiency in the country.
A number of government policies and interventions have been implemented to address food insecurity. These policies include the National Nutrition Strategy and the National Policy on Drought Management, which are aimed at creating jobs, supporting Agri-business, and expanding agricultural production.
Zimbabwe, which was once a net exporter now imports basic staple foods such as maize. This has made the country susceptible to external factors that affect food importation and increase food prices and caused them to spend most of its income on food. The high food prices caused many people to go for less nutritious food in order to consume less, leading to malnutrition in the country.
The reason government policies do not work is food politics, corruption, poor policy implementation, and a lack of unity in political parties.
Also, successive droughts, climate change, increases in the oil price, and socioeconomic problems contribute to Zimbabwe’s current food crisis. The low rainfall experienced in most districts of Zimbabwe resulted in poor harvests, and the recent Tropical Storm Ana is likely to result in a low harvest in 2022.
In addition, Covid-19 uncertainties and disruptions have led to severe food shortages in urban and rural areas. It is expected to continue through 2022, with growing fears that hunger could kill more people than the virus. Measures such as lockdown and curfews contributed greatly to the prevention of the spread of the virus but the closure of the informal economy led to household income reductions and significant declines in food production.
Zimbabwe’s Food and Nutrition Council is supporting people in rural areas to reduce chronic malnutrition. Not to forget the coordinated efforts of civil society and aid organizations in providing humanitarian relief in the form of food parcels, cash transfers, and food vouchers to the needy.
The government, in collaboration with development partners and aid organizations, must transform agricultural and food systems policies to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger, good health, and environmental sustainability. In the light of the growing vulnerability of maize to weather conditions, a shift from maize monocropping to including grains could boost crop production.
Localizing nutritious fresh produce food markets could integrate local farmers into the economy by allowing them to sell their products in urban markets and supermarkets and so increase their customer base and income.
The government needs to take steps to reduce the country’s dependence on imported food, particularly maize, and to support alternative wheat products such as millet and sorghum, which are more nutritious, tolerant of different weather conditions and require less fertilizer than maize. This will fight malnutrition in the country.
There is also a need to invest in infrastructure that will enhance agricultural output.
Furthermore, food systems can be strengthened by building resilient trade negotiations to cut the high costs associated with exporting food and prevent future food shortages.
The African Continental Free Trade Agreement is making progress on that aspect, by implementing free trade in Africa.