Household food availability was reported to fall in the month of September.
The share of districts reporting improvements in food supplies continued to fall, with only 7% of districts reporting improvements in supplies in September 2004, falling monthly from the 63% reported in April 2004. Reports indicate that the deterioration in food supplies has spread across all provinces, including the main grain producing areas of Mashonaland, Midlands and Manicaland.
Falling household food supplies were reported to be due to harvest stocks from the last season running out , without a corresponding increase in alternative food sources, such as from GMB or relief supplies. This was compounded by reports of rising prices of commercial foods.
The share of households sourcing food from own harvest is still relatively high, with half of the districts reporting this food source in September 2004. This has, however, fallen since August 2004, when 61% of districts reporting this as a food source. Harvest stocks have been the main source of food for rural communities, but now appear to be diminishing. Food stocks at household level are reported to have fallen since August 2004, with 81% of households reported to have stocks of one month or less, compared to 70% in August 2004.
The supply of agricultural inputs has improved compared to last year.
Reported maize seed availability has improved slightly compared to August 2004, with 52% of districts reporting maize seed available compared to 46% in August 2004. This is significantly higher than the 13% maize seed availability reported a year ago, in September 2003. Government set new maize seed prices in early September 2004 and there appears to be some improvement in supplies of maize seed. Of concern however is the reported problem that while maize seed is available in most urban centers in districts, it is still not widely available in rural wards, implying additional transport costs to access seed.
Fertiliser availability is also reported to have improved since September 2003.
Reported prices of maize seed and fertilizer, while significantly higher than last year, have remained relatively constant since July 2004.
Reported GMB deliveries appear to be lower than in 2003, but have increased since last month. GMB deliveries were reported in sites in 23% of the districts in September 2004, an increase on the 11% reporting this in August 2004. Reported deliveries in September 2004 are less than the 30% of districts with sites reporting GMB deliveries in September 2003. Community monitors report the view that GMB should increase delivery coverage and frequency as many rural households now face dwindling grain stocks.
Reported GMB grain prices remained at the same levels as in August 2004, although prices as high as Z$8 400/10kg were reported from Mashonaland East . The prices found in the community monitoring are similar to those found in the FEWSNET, Zimbabwe Monthly Food Security Update , September 2004 which reports that GMB maize is selling at between Z$32 000-Z$40 000/50kg.
Commercial maize meal prices have increased since August 2004, and a third (31%) of sentinel wards report that a half to three quarters of households in their ward have difficulty paying current maize meal prices. Prices of up to Z$30 000/10kg maize meal are reported. Hence while commercial food availability is reported to be higher than it was at the same period last year, price is a barrier to household access in the poorest households.
Relief activities continue to be reported in a quarter of districts, as has been the case since July 2004. This is less than the 45% of districts where these activities were reported in September 2003.
Availability of indicator drugs (antibiotics, analgesics) in local clinics is reported to have increased to 79% of sites reporting the drugs available, from the 63% reported in August. Safe water supplies at clinics continue to be reported as a problem in some areas, however, with only 33% of sites in Mashonaland West and 42% in Midlands reporting that their clinics have a safe water supply at the clinic.
Reports of community meetings with elected representatives have increased slightly compared to the previous month. Meetings covered a range of community issues, including food security, election campaigns, AIDS committees, cash for work and urban council rates.
Survival strategies used by communities in September followed the same pattern used in August 2004, including strategies
- to boost incomes: Work for food; gold panning; petty trading; digging and selling river sand; market gardening; growing crops on small irrigation plots
- to use savings, particularly household asset sales
- to cut spending and consumption, such as by buying goods in smaller quantities and
- to pool or reduce costs, such as by forming groups and buying in bulk
Reported household asset sales have risen in September compared to previous months. Cost pressures at this time of year appear to be growing. Reduced household food supplies, high costs of farming inputs, pressure to buy farming inputs for the planting season and high costs of commercial foods appear to put significant combined pressures on low income urban and rural households at this time of year. In 2003 households were reported to liquidate assets at an increasing level up to about November, when pressures to purchase seed and farm inputs may have started to tail off. It will be important to assess the extent to which this is repeated in 2004. It will also be important to assess how far this is driving increased poverty, falling production capacities and social wellbeing and which households are most affected. The data suggests that seed availability and cost in rural areas and for the lowest income households continues to be an important bottleneck to breaking a poverty cycle.
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