Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe faces acute hunger, starvation

Zimbabwe faces acute hunger, starvation

http://www.thestandard.co.zw/

Thursday, 22 March 2012 18:00

By Tendai Marima

ANOTHER season, another failed harvest and the nation faces a grain deficit, 
hunger and possible starvation. And yet once again, the government, always 
reacting to problems, finds itself unprepared to deal with an impending food 
crisis.

According to the final crop assessment by the government itself, this past 
farming season 1 689 000 hectares of the maize crop were planted but due to 
erratic rainfall patterns, 500 000 hectares are a write off. So this means a 
third of the yield has been written off, leaving a huge deficit.

Zimbabwe, once a bread basket of the region, has struggled to feed itself 
since government’s disorganised land redistribution programme which began in 
2000.

Although the production of maize rebounded from its low of 400 000 tonnes at 
the height of farm seizures a few years ago to 1 350 000 tonnes during the 
2010/2011 season, the country is still struggling to meet its annual grain 
consumption of nearly two million tonnes.

As a result of this season’s poor yields, Zimbabweans are now facing hunger 
and urgent measures are needed to avert starvation. To make matters worse, 
Zimbabwe is likely to have problems in importing grain from the region as 
South Africa, Zambia and Malawi may not be in a position to export.

Of late, uneven cyclonic rains over Southern Africa resulted in a contrast 
between heavy downpours in the eastern region and inadequate falls in the 
drier, western parts so while parts of Mozambique and Madagascar battle 
floods, traditionally semi-arid areas in Namibia and Botswana still need 
more water.

In Zimbabwe, this geographic difference can be seen in how the drier, 
southern provinces have had the lowest rains and correspondingly poor 
harvests and the biggest grain deficit, whereas the wetter northern half of 
the country still expects more heavy rains.

Although continued torrential falls have affected crops in Manicaland and 
Mashonaland provinces, the government’s inadequate and delayed provision of 
farming supplies to subsistence farmers is another major reason Zimbabwe 
faces an acute food shortage. From the start, seed supply for the planting 
season was well below national requirements and very little top dressing 
fertiliser needed most by those in heavy rainfall areas was distributed.

Consequently, the 2011/2012 harvest is lower than the 2007/2008 harvest when 
hyperinflation was at its peak during the economic meltdown and when 
government’s disastrous price control policies were ruining the 
manufacturing sector and the economy at large. Now, in a more economically 
stable period, similar chronic seed and fertiliser shortages have persisted.

It has been more than a decade since the 2000 violent land reform programme 
which was meant to benefit the “landless”, but the country still cannot feed 
itself. Not because of “imperialist sanctions”, but because the government 
just can’t get it right.

If it is true that Agriculture minister Joseph Made and Presidential Affairs 
minister Didymus Mutasa were involved in large-scale looting of inputs at 
the Grain Marketing Board and nothing has been done about it, then it’s 
clear that national food security is of little concern to those in charge.

Unsurprisingly though, fears of maize meal shortages and starving 
populations haven’t stopped cabinet ministers from unfairly hording land, 
seeds or farming implements because loot and grab is how President Robert 
Mugabe’s ministers operate.

From mining, to agriculture, banking and tourism, these elected and 
appointed public officials have constantly had their hands in the till and 
no amount of pictures of emaciated babies crying and dying from malnutrition 
will move their conscience.

Embarrassingly, it’s these very images which make “imperialist” NGOs hand 
out food, while a “pro-poor” government can’t be moved to make adequate 
provision for its own starving people.

The classic slogan, “Zimbabwe will never be a colony again” rings hollow 
when Western NGOs are the ones distributing food aid because the state 
neither has the funds nor capacity to feed its own people.

At last week’s meeting with Bulawayo’s business community, Reserve Bank 
governor Gideon Gono openly encouraged people to occupy the offices of 
ministers and bankers supposedly responsible for stalling the disbursement 
of the Distressed and Marginalised Areas Fund to struggling companies. If 
Gono genuinely wants Matabeleland to mirror Wall Street and other global 
protests against bankers and corrupt governments, let the people go forth 
and occupy ministerial offices, not only against the drip-feed of distress 
funds, but also against inadequate farming provisions which, because of 
patchy rains, affect Matabeleland’s harvest more severely than other 
provinces.

Even though the region’s historic marginalisation has a lot to do with the 
current system and patterns of distribution of resources, food security isn’t 
a regional issue but a national one.

At a time when revenue inflows are below expected projections, an unending 
liquidity crunch affects the banking sector and a dangerously high trade 
deficit, importing 1,5 million tonnes of maize is bound to push up the cost 
of living because of imported inflation dynamics.

More unsettling is how maize shortages will probably be used to coerce an 
impoverished electorate into voting for those who will cynically claim to be 
feeding the people — even though they are the ones responsible for creating 
these food shortages in the first place.

For Zanu PF, it’s standard electoral practice to use food and other state 
humanitarian interventions as a political tool as we have seen in previous 
years of hunger and bloody elections. Testimonies and evidence collected by 
local and international human rights organisations shows how Zanu PF 
cardholders got first preference for subsidised GMB inputs and maize while 
opposition supporters had to buy grain at extortionist prices on the black 
market.

In 2008, another drought and ballot year, reports from Masvingo’s rural 
areas claimed pro-Mugabe youths and war veterans beat up villagers for 
receiving American aid because it was a sign of betrayal.

The rampant politicisation of something as basic and essential as a bag of 
maize meal is a deliberate policy of cruelty and repression which 
disproportionately affects the poorest communities the most. Arguably, rural 
women and child-headed households are Zimbabwe’s most marginalised 
communities demographically, but this is of little concern to the government 
whose primary role aught to be ensuring physical and food security of its 
citizens.

Unless it is to feed the multitudes, there’s no good reason why well-off 
people like ministers should have priority access to 30 000 tonnes of 
fertiliser while rural farmers are denied 25kg. Such is the incoherence of 
an incompetent and heartless leadership that willfully starves its own 
people and uses aid as a political weapon.

If the supposedly less corrupt MDC members of government have any political 
muscle, it’s time to use it to ensure this crisis of food shortages does not 
become a humanitarian disaster as has been the case in past years.

With 12 million people at risk of starvation in the Horn of Africa because 
of poor international response and a further 13 million people without food 
in the Sahel region because of drought and poor harvests, members of 
parliament have a duty to ensure Zimbabweans do not become a starvation 
statistic.

Marima (PhD) is an independent analyst and researcher.

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