Community assessment of the food situation in Zimbabwe May 2003


This report outlines information drawn from 145 monitoring reports from 60 districts from all provinces of Zimbabwe for May 2003.

Household food stocks have shown marginal improvements but the majority of households still have less than one months supply, with half estimated to have no food in stock. Thirteen districts still reported households consuming unusual foods or 'famine' foods.

Food insecurity in May is attributed to poor harvests, inability to afford food, seizure of maize grain by police at road blocks, political bias and difficulties for particular groups to access food.

Harvesting was reported to be almost complete. While local harvests have boosted food supplies, harvest outputs are plateauing and reported to be poor in half of the districts monitored. The worst harvests were reported from Matabeleland North, Midlands and Manicaland. Many districts report that stocks from harvests will not last beyond July 2003.

There is a need to identify households most affected by poor yields and provide inputs to ensure that they can produce in 2003/4. There was little report of such inputs being organized.

Seed and fertilizer were reported to be unavailable in May for those trying to secure resources for the next planting season. Scarcity is driving cost escalation. Seed and fertilizer prices have risen in May over April by about 50% in formal markets and nearly 100% in parallel markets, with parallel market prices about ten times higher than formal markets.

GMB deliveries were infrequent, with some evidence of a small decrease in volumes of deliveries over April. GMB deliveries were affected by shortfalls in supplies and fuel shortages.

Communities believe that GMB has reduced supplies on the incorrect assumption that harvest yields make up the shortfall.

Food has become a cause of increased population movement, with people moving in over half the districts either to access food, to areas of improved food supplies, to sell harvests, to leave areas where there is political discrimination in food access, to leave unproductive resettlement areas or to seek employment. Instead of food moving effectively between rural and urban areas through state and market mechanisms, households are having to move at their own expense to source food. Given the shortage and costs of transport, stronger measures are needed to ensure optimal market flows of available foods.

Parallel market prices have risen in some areas in May and fallen in others compared to previous months. Increased prices in Manicaland, Midlands and Matebeleland North relate to falling relief and GMB supplies not being matched by harvest surpluses. Falling prices in urban areas relate to a reported increase in the supply of maize on the parallel markets in the cities.

The real cost of maize meal for households is its cost in parallel markets, now between $1000 and $6000 / 10kg. Unrealistic controls on one source of maize meal and unregulated prices in another has set up a worst case scenario for the poor. It provides price incentives for maize to flow from controlled price to unregulated markets, and to flow into parallel markets in the cities where purchasing power is greater. While these market flows are unchecked, individuals bringing family members maize meal in urban areas are having maize confiscated.

Relief food continues to be the major source of rural food, but has been cut back in about a quarter of districts. Communities were not adequately prepared for these relief withdrawals.

No provisions were reported where relief was withdrawn for the necessary steps of identifying those still vulnerable in order to maintain feeding in these groups. In many urban areas there is little or no relief, despite increased need. The urban food crisis has been raised in previous Fosenet reports and is now confirmed through recent UN WFP reports. The scale of the response still does not match the size of the problem.

This round of monitoring highlights the fears and concerns communities have over poorly designed policies. Communities fear that harvests have been over-estimated and relief and GMB supplies reduced without adequate preparation. They are concerned about inadequate access to and the cost of inputs for the coming planting season. They are concerned about sharp withdrawals in relief supplies. These concerns signal that communities are not being adequately consulted, informed or involved in food security strategies.

While harvest yields improving supplies, people felt that now was the time to actively engage communities on strategies for food security, to avoid dependency. People want now to carry out activities like improving irrigation and accessing inputs to avoid future food insecurity. For withdrawing relief agencies and for state agencies there is a challenge to respond to this desire.

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