FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission to Zimbabwe

Originally published


Mission Highlights

This year, the combined impacts of adverse weather and severe economic constraints in Zimbabwe have induced hardship and food insecurity among both rural and urban populations, especially in areas where the current season's production losses are greatest.

National cereal production in 2007 is estimated to be 44 percent down on last year's government estimate, resulting in a significant national food gap. Those who lost their crops due to extended dry periods and below-normal rainfall in different parts of the country will be particularly affected.

The Mission estimates a harvest of 799 000 tonnes of maize and 126 000 tonnes of small grains for the main cropping season of 2006/07. Maize output is estimated to be 46 percent lower than last year and 13 percent lower than the year before. Primary factors responsible for these declines, in addition to adverse weather, were shortages of key inputs, deteriorating infrastructure, especially for irrigation, and most importantly, financially unprofitable prices for most of the government controlled crops.

A structural decline in national agricultural production over the last 6-7 years is also due to the inability by newly settled farmers to utilize all the prime land allocated to them. The settlement farmers were able to cultivate only about 30 to 55 percent of their total arable land owing to shortages of tractor/draught power, fuel, and fertilizers, under-investment in infrastructure/ improvements, lack of incentive because of price controls, and absenteeism on the part of settler beneficiaries. Following the land reform programme, based on CSO data, the large-scale commercial sector now produces less than one-tenth of the maize that it produced in the 1990s. Large-scale commercial maize production now accounts for less than 5 percent of the country's total maize production.

Based on the Mission's estimates, domestic availability of cereals for consumption in 2007/08 is about 1.287 million tonnes, and the total utilization of cereals 2.339 million tonnes including 1.928 million tonnes for direct human consumption using the GOZ/CSO projected population of 11.83 million. The resulting cereal import requirement is estimated at 1.052 million tonnes, of which maize deficit accounts for 813 000 tonnes.

Hyperinflation has surpassed 3 700 percent mark and has drastically reduced the purchasing power of households, greatly limiting access to available supplies for low- and middle-income and vulnerable people. In parallel, the ever-plummeting exchange rate of the local currency in parallel markets has caused shortages of foreign currency and reduced the country's ability to import fuel, electricity and other capital goods.

Given the acute shortage of foreign exchange, the dwindling export base, and current very high prices for maize in the region, the Mission estimates that total commercial cereal imports will amount to 700 000 tonnes, leaving an uncovered deficit of 352 000 tonnes of maize. Commercial imports include 400 000 tonnes maize which have already been contracted from Malawi, 217 000 tonnes of wheat, 22 000 tonnes of rice, and an additional 61 000 tonnes of maize is expected to be imported by individuals and petty traders through informal channels and in-kind remittances from South Africa, and possibly also from Mozambique and Zambia.

As was done in an earlier crisis year, the Mission recommends that the food imports by private-sector be allowed, with a clear policy statement on government import plans to allow the residual imports by others to help offset food shortages in the country.

The Mission also recommends that farmer-to-farmer grain sales be allowed in order to reduce transport costs and save on scarce fuel. In addition, an increase from 3 to 5 month consumption requirement for a family should be permitted through GMB distribution points to ensure that proceeds from the sales of large animals are not lost to inflation.

The Mission estimates that 4.1 million people, both urban and rural, will require food assistance amounting to 352 000 tonnes of cereals in 2007/08. The Mission recommends this amount as an emergency food aid for population severely affected by the current crisis in the priority geographic areas. The mission also recommends an additional 90 000 tonnes of non-cereal food aid to meet minimum daily calorie requirement of 2 100 Kcal for the most vulnerable people. For people not included in relief assistance, it is assumed that the GMB supplies will function "normally" and households will use their own resources to access food at designated prices.

The Mission also recommends government and international community assistance to supply good quality seed and fertilizer, and dipping chemicals for the control of tick-borne livestock diseases. Appropriate varieties of maize and small-grain seed also need to be sourced urgently for delivery in September 2007.

To deal with the structural food deficit and chronic shortage, it is recommended that the international community and the Government enter into a policy dialogue to mobilize the economic and other assistance needed to promote sustainable food production and overall food security by way of development assistance for investment in farm mechanization and farm-level infrastructure (for example, improved tractor availability and rehabilitation of irrigation facilities) to enhance productivity and allow fuller capacity utilization by the newly settled farmers. In line with the economic liberalization policy goal announced by the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe in April 2007, the Mission also supports reforms of the grain marketing system, in order to protect farmers with minimum prices and to allow private sector participation.


Zimbabwe experienced severe dry spells and generally unfavourable rainfall during the 2006/07 cropping season, compounding devastating effects of the unprecedented decade-long economic decline. Half-way through the season the Government had declared 2007 as a drought year. Against this backdrop an FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission was invited by the Government to visit the country from 25 April to 18 May 2007 to estimate the 2007 production of the main cereals and pulse crops, assess the food security situation in the country and determine the food import requirement, including food assistance needs, for the current marketing year 2007/08 (April/March).

In Harare, the Mission held meetings with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MoA), UNDP Resident Coordinator, FAO sub-Regional Representative and other FAO officials, WFP Representative and Country Director and other WFP officials, World Bank, FEWSNet, Zimbabwe Meteorological Department, Central Statistics Office, Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union (ZCFU), Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU), Selected Millers, fertilizer and agricultural input supply companies, and some of the international and national NGOs.

During field visits the Mission was accompanied by observers from SADC and FEWSNet. It was assisted and guided by senior specialists from the Department of Agricultural Research and Extension (AREX) and other staff of MoA, the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), Department of Meteorology and Ministry of Planning and Social Welfare along with four FAO staff members from the country and two staff members from WFP country office. The Mission, divided into four groups, travelled for about 10 days to all eight provinces covering 32 out of the country's 58 rural districts. The districts to be visited were carefully selected using a range of criteria including agro-ecological, marketing and vulnerability considerations. In each province and district, the teams met with administrative authorities (the Governor of the Province, and the AREX officials). After these meetings, the sub-teams travelled to 3 to 6 selected wards covering poor, average and good production potential and livelihood means. Brief observations on urban and peri-urban plots of crops were made in Harare and Bulawayo. Careful attention was paid to selected farms in all six sectors of farming covering the communal, resettled, and commercial farming areas as much as possible. The Mission also visited markets and interviewed some petty traders. The Mission also relied heavily on the remote sensing analysis and data on rainfall, vegetation indices and various interim assessment reports.

The Mission had access to the AREX's own pre-harvest crop assessment carried out in mid-March. This information was the used as the basis for verification. Livestock conditions were observed and investigated en route and in the districts visited. Field assessments were made regarding household food security, vulnerability, coping mechanisms and social welfare programmes. The crop production and vulnerability situation obtaining this year was compared with previous years to get a relative historical perspective. Data and information received from secondary sources were reviewed against data, information and insights obtained during field visits in arriving at the estimates made by the Mission.

The Mission used national, provincial and district production data and combined this with information obtained from household and focus-group discussions. Potential income from cash crop and livestock production/sales was used to draw conclusions about status of food security and the corresponding impacts of the production failure.

The 2006/07 agricultural season was characterized by a late start of effective planting rains, frequent dry spells and generally below-normal soil moisture conditions gradually getting worse from the north of the country to the south. Farmers often had to replant on many occasions as previous plantings were largely destroyed due to lack of moisture. In many areas in the southern half of the country there was a total crop failure. Rains in northern provinces were favourable. Mashonalland Central and Mashonaland West, the two northern provinces, received normal to above-normal rainfall which was nevertheless below last year's good rainfall. Rather heavy rainfall received in most parts of the country in late March-early April was helpful in saving some late-planted crops from failure, and in improving grazing conditions and water availability for livestock.

The area planted to various grains, including maize, in 2006/07 main season was down by about 6 percent but aggregate cereal yield was down by almost 40 percent resulting in total cereal production drop from last year's Government estimate by about 44 percent. Overall, the area planted in the communal areas to maize, the predominant crop in this sector, declined by over 8 percent. There was some increase in the area planted to crops in the large-scale and small-scale commercial sectors in 2006/07 as seed availability was relatively better for this category of farmers. However, the long-term decline in the large-scale commercial sector has been dramatic, mainly due to land reform activities. It is also striking to note that land utilization (i.e. cultivated land as a percent of total arable land) of the resettlement farms (old and new) is only about 30 to 55 percent. There are severe input, infrastructure and economic constraints that prevent new farmers from realizing the full potential of the basic land resource.

The Mission estimates the 2007 main cropping season harvest at 799 000 tonnes of maize and 126 000 tonnes of small grains. Maize output this year is estimated to be 46 percent lower than last year and 13 percent lower than the year before. Winter wheat is now being planted and is forecast to be slightly down to 128 000 tonnes compared to last year's 144 000 tonnes. However, the mission learned that the winter wheat planting was behind schedule and if the Government's plans to provide key inputs such as electricity and fuel for irrigation do not materialize the wheat harvest later this year could be severely compromised. Thus total cereal production (i.e., maize, small grains, wheat and a small quantity of rice) of 1.06 million tonnes is about 60 percent of last year's production. The reasons for the decline include reduction in both yield and area planted due to poor rainfall performance, lack of availability of key inputs such as fertilizer, fuel, tractor or oxen power for tillage, and most importantly, financially unprofitable prices for most of the controlled farm products including most cereals.

Based on the estimated main season cereal output, projected wheat production and an opening stock of 182 000 tonnes of all cereals, the total cereal import requirement in 2007/08 (April/March) is estimated at 1.052 million tonnes, of which maize constitutes 813 000 tonnes.

In view of low export earnings from tobacco (mainly due to lower production) and cotton, and considering the competing claims on the extremely limited foreign exchange by the critically needed imports of fuel and electricity as well as the servicing of the external debt, the Government's ability to import maize in 2007/08 is apparently very limited, and the sources of foreign exchange are severely stressed. It is understood that the Government has made a contractual agreement with Malawi to acquire 400 000 tonnes of maize. Given the priority accorded to food imports it is assumed that the Government will make every effort to import total requirements of wheat and rice. An additional 61 000 tonnes of maize imports are assumed, mostly as a residual item, by informal cross-border trade and some through remittances in kind. Thus the total commercial imports are assumed at 700 000 tonnes of cereals (comprising 639 000 tonnes of formal GoZ imports and residual 61 000 tonnes of informal cross-border imports) leaving an uncovered gap of 352 000 tonnes. The Mission recommends this amount as an emergency cereal aid, which reconciles with the estimated cereal assistance requirements of the vulnerable households. An additional 90 000 tonnes of non-cereal emergency food aid is recommended to reach the recommended 2 100 kcal per person per day. The calculated relief needs are based on vulnerability criteria, on the assumption that markets will function "normally" and households will use other resources to meet their own food needs. Consistent with food security and vulnerability analysis, relief beneficiaries will vary by season, starting at 2.1 million in July and reaching up to 4.1 million people at the height of the hunger season in January-March 2008.