Evaluation of the ECHO Operations in Zimbabwe (2002 - 2003)


Executive Summary
A. The Evaluation

Evaluated Action: ECHO funded Operations in Zimbabwe in the Period 2002 and 2003 under the subsequent decisions: ECHO/TPS/210/2002/16000 & ECHO/ZWE/210/2003/01000 (value of food security component: €12,732,08911)

Focus of Report: Food Security operations under the a.m. decisions (self-standing report, but to be seen as essential part of the overall evaluation of the a.m. decisions - Summary Evaluation Report Zimbabwe 2002 - 2003, which includes the sectors Health and Nutrition, Water and Sanitation)

Dates of Evaluation: 1st - 24th February 2004 (Field Mission Period)

Name of Evaluator: Mr John Wilding

B. Purpose and Methodology

The magnitude of overall ECHO commitment to Zimbabwe, which has increased from € 0.5 million in 2001, through € 15 million in 2002 to € 25 million in 2003, warrants evaluation in order to undertake a lesson learning process for the purpose of ensuring the optimal appropriateness of future ECHO intervention.

The methodology implied briefings at the Brussels and Harare levels with ECHO, other Commission services, ECHO partners and other concerned national international institutions. At the field level, semi-structured interviews were held with beneficiary and special interest (e.g. women) groups; key informants; individual beneficiaries/beneficiary families. Ongoing triangulation of findings was carried out with project staff and government extension workers, and this process was finalised in debriefing sessions with the initially briefed institutions.

A key step of the methodology was the elaboration of an ex-post Logical Framework whose programme structure (left-hand column) is presented in Section 4. (Planned results) for the 2002/3/4 ECHO operation in Zimbabwe, as the main point of reference for the evaluation.

C. Main Conclusions


ECHO has employed Budget line B7-210 (under Council Regulation [EC] No.1257/96) in Zimbabwe in response to a very real shortage of food in the country and a perceived shortage of seed. The causes and complexities of this food insecurity situation, which is almost unique in history, will be discussed in detail in Section 3. (Background) of this report.

A proportion of ECHO funded seeds have not produced harvest due to the failure of precipitation to meet their moisture needs thus bringing into question the choice of the risk-prone crop types and varieties distributed. This is a complex issue which will be discussed in detail in Section 3.2 (Agricultural background) of the main report. It is noted here, however, that ECHO is distributing maize seed in agro-ecological Regions IV and V (in which most of the intervention areas are located) to which maize production is not most suited.


While the agro-economic situation in Zimbabwe is currently not as bad as in many other parts of Africa, its exponential decline completely justifies ECHO's timely intervention in conjunction with the preamble to the Regulation: preventing any worsening in the impact of the crisis and starting to help those affected regain a minimum level of self-sufficiency. The consultant considers that ECHO has indeed made a significant contribution to slowing down the decline but not a reversal of it.


As a result of the inappropriateness of some of the crop types/varieties distributed, some of ECHO's investment has been lost and the cost (to ECHO or other donors) of sustaining some beneficiaries (seed plus food aid) has been more than doubled.

Despite the availability of a very experienced East Africa agriculturalist in the ECHO Regional Support Office, Nairobi, the latter's input was not requested until preparation of the third decision. The consultant considers that ECHO should not rely on the NGOs (met in Zimbabwe) as the experts - they are not necessarily so - nor do they necessarily have good institutional memories. If they had been experts, they would not have rushed into the inclusion of hybrid maize seed in the second decision which is considered to have been a mistake.

Timing is paramount in crop production and the ideal of planting on arrival of first rains (from the end of October) has not been met due to:

  • late arrival of seeds2;

  • post dry-season weakness of draught animals (which require more than one month's rain induced grazing before cultivation can start);

  • queuing of farmers (according to wealth) for ploughing services due to widespread drought/disease/chaos -induced livestock losses.

There is a pressing need for better information gathering in order to improve better ECHO decision-making. The NGOs, while representing useful providers of information, are not the best placed to coordinate the task nationally.


There has been an inability to maximise the production potential of ECHO seeds due to beneficiaries' limited access to the technical advice necessary to support their employment as well as (in some cases) adequate supplies of other inputs, notably appropriate fertiliser, demanded by them.

ECHO has funded the supply of NPK & S3 fertiliser for establishment of its seeds as well as ammonium nitrate for later top-dressing but some partners have cut out the latter in order to reduce budgets. Priorities have been wrong here:

  • the most important fertiliser is nitrogen top-dressing which substitutes for nitrogen leached from the soil by the rains. Basic dressing can be achieved through the application of kraal manure and/or composted organic matter;

  • if precipitation does not occur, farmers will not apply top-dressings but retain this ECHO investment until the following year.


It is noted that, while many of the intervention locations (and particularly Matabeleland) are pastoral areas in which crop production is secondary to livestock herding, no support to the latter was included in the ECHO programmes. The ECHO interventions cannot, therefore, claim to have made any moves towards re-establishing the status quo ante which (while not ideal) had some element of sustainability.

There are many other food production interventions which could significantly have improved household/community food security without the need for an expanded ECHO budget. These include: encouragement of conservation farming techniques and immediate post-harvest manual4 cultivation; soil acidity reduction through lime application; stronger agricultural extension support; repair of existing community irrigation schemes; more efficient use of available water through plastic piping and drip irrigation techniques; crop diversification; animal health programmes and increasing livestock planes of nutrition.

D. Recommendations

Due the imminent ECHO Decision process and the advanced plans of its partners), a continuation of similar seed distributions is recommended for 2004 but with a significant reduction of the maize5 component.

Moves should be made towards changing beneficiary tastes towards a zero maize component in any possible 2005 distribution. At the same time, ECHO should look at the possibility of local seed multiplication to perhaps include landrace varieties (without destroying local systems) and local purchase to reduce costs.

It is now time to consider how ECHO may now effect a reversal of the declining food security situation in Zimbabwe.

Monitoring of the seed beneficiaries needs to be so thorough that, in the event of crop failure, their survival can be assured and so that observation of their coping mechanisms can provide an insight into how future assistance may be better chosen.

Increased monitoring implies a heavier workload on the already heavily committed ECHO staff and requires their supplementation by at least one other member. The inclusion of an agriculturalist would be useful in the Harare team.

Correct timing of planting and fertiliser application (to maximise its effectiveness and to avoid crop damage) has to be assured by earlier delivery of inputs.

The information gathering system proposed by FAO (based on similar information gathering in Zambia) is recommended for ECHO support in 2004/5 but under strict contractual conditions and with clear indicators of success.

The current cooperation with AREX extension workers should continue and be expanded both in terms of access to beneficiaries (which implies supporting their mobility/transport) and quality of advice (which involves training). The distribution of fertiliser should continue in the correct corresponding quantities and with an emphasis on nitrogen top-dressing.

The consultant will argue that a farmer can always access some seed somehow but that interventions should be prioritised as follows:

i. technical extension support;
ii. nitrogen top-dressing fertiliser;
iii. provision of appropriate crop types/varieties.

Adopting the guiding principle that livestock intervention should always be underwritten by veterinary and fodder support, recommendations will be made in the main report towards correcting the anomaly that no support has, so far, been given to livestock production.

The consultant considers that ECHO intervention will be justified in the coming year6 as the economic situation continues to deteriorate and that it would now be appropriate to diversify the food production coverage of intervention without necessarily an increase in the ECHO budget.

E. Lessons learned

A guiding principle of humanitarian aid intervention, albeit unwritten, is that specified needs should be met, insofar as is possible, with certainty. Food Aid meets this criterion but the provision of seed can never do so due to the hazards of weather, disease and pests etc. This is not to state that ECHO's seed provision has not been a justified intervention since it is cheaper than Food Aid, less destructive to markets and human morale, it can lead to local purchase of seed with its associated introduction of funds at the 'grass-roots' level; it meets the objective of helping those affected to regain a minimum level of self-sufficiency, can lead to the normalization of victims' lives and represents a link between Relief, Rehabilitation and Development (LRRD).

With regard to addressing national food security, this is considered to be beyond the capacity of ECHO and, other than through the provision of food aid, beyond the capacity of any donor until such time as the long process of land redistribution stabilises.

In the meantime, it is the consultant's opinion that agricultural reliance on the existing Communal lands7 at current population densities is not sustainable and never was. Cooperation with the 'fast-track' resettlement programme is clearly not an option for the Commission at this stage. Intervention in the Communal lands can, thus, only be seen as a 'holding operation' until more acceptable solutions prevail.


1 Not including school/supplementary/therapeutic feeding.

2 While timely delivery of inputs has not been ideal, substantial efforts by ECHO and its partners have achieved almost acceptable delivery deadlines. Some delay is due to the fact that even ECHO planning is, to some extent, dependent on and following the UN process of i) FAO/WFP crop assessment; followed by ii) Emergency Operation (EMOP) and Consolidated Appeal (CAP) - this was particularly the case in 2002, when the huge dimension of the food crisis (and the nature of its agricultural implications) could be properly understood.

3 Chemical composite of the fertilizer.

4 Where necessary.

5 The inclusion of maize is contrary to the purist views of the consultant agriculturalist but time is needed to change the views, not only of the farmers themselves, but also of most ECHO partners who would not support an approach which did not include maize seed.

6 And beyond.

7 The beneficiary location of ECHO support.

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