Zimbabwe faces acute hunger, starvation
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Marima (PhD) is an independent analyst and researcher.