Zimbabwe

FEWS Zimbabwe Food Security Update: 21 Feb 2002


Summary

A total of 2.2 million hectares were planted to crops in 2001/02 season, of which 1.3 million hectares (or 56 percent) were planted to maize. The area planted to maize is 3 percent less than the 1990s average, but 3 percent more than during the 2000/01 season. The area planted to maize, cotton, millets, groundnuts, and sunflower in the communal and resettlement sectors has increased by about 5 to 10 percent in the last 3 years.

The mid-season drought, experienced from January through February, has resulted in most of the early planted crop that was at flowering and reproductive stages being permanently wilted in most of Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, Midlands and Masvingo Provinces, and parts of Manicaland (Chipinge District) and Mashonaland West Provinces (Kariba District). The late-planted maize crop is also showing signs of moisture stress and nitrogen deficiency. As a result, the maize harvest prospects in the 2001/02 season are expected to be between 750,000 to 1.3 million MT, or between 44 and 78 percent of the 1990s’ average, respectively.

Zimbabwe needs to start planning the importation of a substantial amount of maize (as much as 500,000 to 1.2 million MT) to meet the potential food deficit in the 2002/03 marketing season. This is in addition to the expected 200,000 MT of maize imports currently planned to meet immediate consumption requirements before the end of the 2001/02 marketing season which ends in March 2002.

Food security at the household level has reached a critical state in Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North, Masvingo, Midlands, Manicaland, and parts of Mashonaland West and Central Provinces. Long queues are common at the retail outlets and the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) depots as consumers in both urban and rural areas scramble for maize grain or maize meal, which have become scarce despite Government’s effort to import maize from South Africa.

The cost of the expenditure basket has substantially risen as a result of the increase in the price of certain basic commodities; for example, the price of cooking oil has increased 355 percent since May 2001 and the price of maize grain has increased by 220 percent (these goods are not readily available). Price increases have continued to erode the purchasing power of the urban poor.

1. Current Food Security Conditions

1.1. Area Planted

As more information has become available, AGRITEX and the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) have revised upward the area planted to crops in 2001/02 by 5 percent from initial estimates. The current estimation of area planted during the 2001/2002 season is 2.2 million hectares. The area planted to crops will be finally determined after the national crop assessment mission, which will take place after the presidential elections (March 9-10, 2002). The total area planted to all crops to date is 5 percent less than both last year and the 1990s average. Of the area planted to crops, 56 percent was planted to maize, 3 percent less than the 1990s average, but 3 percent more than during the 2000/01 season. The communal and resettlement sectors contributed more than 95 percent of the area planted to maize, cotton, millets, groundnuts, and sunflower. The contribution of these crops to national area planted-- has expanded slowly in the communal and resettlement sectors to 85 percent for maize in 1999/00 and 87 percent for sunflower (Table 1). The increase in the area planted to these crops is attributed to the expansion in the resettlement area under the Government’s fast-track resettlement program. Unlike large-scale commercial agriculture that uses irrigation systems, most of the communal and resettlement crops are rainfed. As a result, most of the grain crops are already a complete loss due to the drought experienced in January and February in the southern and central districts of the country.


Table 1
Crop
2001/02
2000/01
1999/2000
1990s'
Average
2001/02 as
% of 2001
2001/02 as %
of 1999/00
2001/02 as %
of 1990s
Average
Maize
1,262,966
1,223,100
1,416,700
1,301,440
103
89
97
Sorghum
71,623
110,300
175,230
145,723
65
41
49
Rapoko
57,899
57,200
38,400
71,861
101
151
81
Mhunga
66,873
98,870
115,100
159,770
68
58
42
Groundnuts
232,195
276,120
268,100
177,775
84
87
131
Cotton
379,958
390,473
396,203
260,393
97
96
146
Sunflower
19,366
44,500
26,500
107,107
44
73
18
Soybean
42,983
77,150
36,490
55,418
56
118
78
Tobacco
75,766
79,507
90,769
84,661
95
83
89
Paprika
20,532
8,235
No data
No data
249
No data
No data
Total
2,248,529
2,365,455
2,563,492
2,364,148
95
88
95
Small Grain
196,394
266,370
328,730
377,354
74
60
52
All Grain
1,459,360
1,489,470
1,745,430
1,678,794
98
84
87

1.2. Crop Conditions

The mid-season drought experienced from January through February has resulted in most of the early planted crop that is at flowering and reproductive stage being permanently wilted in Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, Midlands, and Masvingo Provinces, and parts of Manicaland (Chipinge District) and Mashonaland West Provinces (Kariba District). The late-planted maize crop is showing signs of moisture stress and nitrogen deficiency. Light rainfall showers received during the first dekad of February have not improved the condition of the early planted crop in Mashonaland West, Mashonaland Central, and Manicaland Provinces, which are among the major grain-producing provinces in the country. These dry conditions, in combination with an outbreak of stalk borer in maize, late acquisition of inputs, high input costs, and a shortage of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, will negatively affect harvest prospects.

Harvesting and curing of the early planted tobacco started in February. The false ripening - an earlier-than-normal maturing - of tobacco due to moisture stress is likely in Mutare, Makoni, and Chegutu Districts.

Based on images from the Crop Water Requirements Satisfaction Index (WRSI) for February 2002, most maize in the southern districts of the country has wilted. In the rest of the country, crop conditions are poor, with the only exception being the northeastern districts of the country, which could have an average crop if rains are received before the end of February (Figure 1). The satellite imagery confirms field reports that have been received.




1.3. Seasonal Outlook

From the first week of January to the second dekad of February, light rainfall was received in most parts of the country, with the southern and western districts remaining relatively dry. As of February 20, 2002, most of the country had received 80 percent or less of normal rainfall. Only districts around Masvingo (Masvingo, Chivi, Gutu, Bikita, Mvuma and Buhera Districts) recorded normal rainfall compared with average (Figure 2). However, most of this rainfall was received early in the season, and these areas also suffered the prolonged January-February drought that affected crops. The development of sea surface temperatures into an El Nino episode has prolonged the dry conditions.




1.4. Marketing Conditions

Following the Government price controls on basic commodities in October 2001, most retail outlets in both urban and rural areas have run out of basic commodities such as cooking oil, sugar, maize meal, and fresh milk. Despite the controls, the prices of basic goods have continued to increase. A majority of basic consumer goods had price increases of about 100 percent between September 2001 and January 2002. Some exceptions to the increases are bread (decreased by 4 percent), tea (decreased by 37 percent), and sugar (decreased by 1 percent).

Long queues are common at retail outlets and the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) depots as consumers in both urban and rural areas scramble for maize grain or maize meal, which have become very scarce despite Government efforts to import maize from South Africa. The Government has maintained the price of maize at GMB depots at Z$840 per 50-kg bag, but the maize is not readily available. In the parallel market, the price of maize (when available) has doubled between October 2001 (Z$22/kg) and February 2002 (Z$800/bucket or Z$44.44/kg).

2.0. Food Security Prospects for the 2001/02 Consumption Year

2.1. Current Food Security at the National Level

Zimbabwe is experiencing the worst food security conditions since 1980. During the drought years of 1991/92, 1994/95, and 1997/98, the country had high carryover stocks, the balance of payments was healthy, and foreign currency reserves were available, and the country was able to import maize with two months’ stocks lead time. The current situation is completely different from previous harvest failures because:

  • The Strategic Grain Reserve ran out in mid-February and stocks in the country are very low.

  • The balance of payments and foreign currency reserves are low, putting food, fuel, and energy imports at risk.

  • Poor relationships with the donor community could potentially limit the amount of assistance forthcoming.

  • Maize import plans by the Government were not put in place until stocks had completely run out, despite an early warning of imminent food shortages made in June 2001.

  • There is risk of civil unrest in the election period in the face of high prices and limited emergency food aid distribution.

Zimbabwe needs to import 200,000 MT of maize before the end of the 2001/02 marketing season that ends in March 2002. To date, the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) has imported 10,000 MT from South Africa. However, the pressure on the transport network has resulted in insufficient additional quantities being imported to meet an estimated daily consumption requirement of 5,000 MT. The shortage of maize meal and maize is a serious problem throughout the country, with some consumers queuing for the scarce commodity from retail outlets and the GMB depots as early as four in the morning.

The World Food Program has moved 2,863 MT to warehouses in Bindura, Bulawayo, Hwange, Chiredzi, and Gwanda for the food aid program that is intended to feed about 558,000 people. Under the US$60 million program, WFP would start distributing the relief on February 21 in Hwange District and on February 25 in Gwanda District.

2.2. Food Security Prospects for 2002/03 Season

With the persistent dry spell, experienced in most parts of the country since January to date, crop yields have been substantially reduced and could be to the level of the 1994/95 or1997/98 El Niño years, which are among the worst three harvest periods in the 1990s. The poor harvest prospects in 2002/02 would further worsen the already precarious food security situation in the country. The prevailing drought, coupled with the disturbances in commercial farming sector, the shortage of fertilizers and inputs, could result in the maize harvest being as low as 760,000 MT (with yields similar to 1994/95 season) or as high as 1.327 million MT if rains are received before the end of February 2002. This harvest would be between 44 to 78 percent of the 1990s average.

Given the potential below-average harvest, Zimbabwe is expected to have a maize deficit of between 540,000 and 1.2 million MT during the 2002/03 marketing season (April 2002-March 2003). The eventual size of the maize deficit will depend on the actual harvest outcome, which will be evaluated in March 2002. The country is expected to be under serious threat of food insecurity during the 2002/03 marketing season because:

  • Households that normally rely on drying maize in March for food will not have that available.

  • The Government may not have capacity to move enough grain this coming season as it is already struggling to meet current consumption requirements.

  • The shortage of foreign currency currently being experienced is unlikely to improve.

Household food security is likely to be critical in most districts starting in June (the coldest month of the year). There is concern that growing reports of extreme food insecurity will be received starting in June 2002 unless plans for a substantial emergency food relief effort begin immediately. In urban areas, the transport problems coupled with food shortages have raised concerns that a small incident could lead to food riots similar to those that occurred in October 1998. The farm workers would continue to be a food insecure group as they have lost their wage income and most have been denied access to land to grow their own crops in 2002.

2.3. Food Security Prospects at Subnational Level

2.3.1. Current Food Access in Rural Areas

Food security at the household level has reached critical levels in Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North, Masvingo, Midlands, Manicaland, and parts of Mashonaland West and Central Provinces. Some households travel long distances - usually to urban areas - in search of maize grain or meal. To alleviate the maize shortages, the Government has distributed some maize to the local traditional leaders for further distribution to the rural hungry. However, the quantities that have been distributed are inadequate. Maize prices have reached a peak of Z$800/bucket (Z$44.44/kg).

Some NGOs began food aid programs in selected districts in September 2001. However, this has only benefited about 278,000 people (about 31 percent of the population in the selected districts). The relief is targeted mainly to school children, the children under five years of age and a few households (Figure 3). The wards being targeted are far less populous than the areas identified as food insecure covering the southern, western and northern districts of the country.

The dry spell has worsened the food security situation in the country as normally farmers would be consuming green maize, pumpkins and groundnuts from their fields, but this option is not available this season. Some farmers in the newly resettled areas and communal areas of Midlands, Masvingo, Matabeleland North and South Provinces, and parts of Mashonaland West, Mashonaland Central, and Manicaland Provinces will have to rely on food aid or grain purchased in 2002/03 season as they will not harvest very much. If the dry spell continues, more than 2 million people of the estimated 8 million rural people in the affected districts could potentially require some form of assistance.




2.3.2. Current Food Access for urban areas

The cost of living in Zimbabwe is generally increasing, with the inflation rate for January 2002 quoted at 116.7 percent, up from the December 2001 figure of 112.1 percent. Preliminary analysis carried out jointly by FEWS NET and CCZ in January 2002 in Harare indicates that the cost of the expenditure basket of the poor has increased by 132 percent since May/June 2001. It now costs a poor family Z$8,500 to purchase the basic commodities and services, up from Z$6,300 in September 2001 and Z$4,000 in May/June. The cost of the expenditure basket has substantially risen as a result of the increase in the price of certain basic commodities; for example, the price of cooking oil has increased 355 percent since May 2001 and maize grain has increased by 220 percent (items that are not readily available). Other examples of large price increases include a 400 percent price increase of toothpaste and 208 percent increase in the price of Vaseline since May/June 2001. Price increases continue to erode the purchasing power of the urban poor.

3. Food Security Recommendations to Consider Immediately

FEWS NET make the following recommendations:

  • In addition to the planned 200,000 MT needed to meet the current consumption deficit, there is a need to start planning to import significant quantities of maize to meet the projected deficit for the 2002/03 marketing season.

  • The maize distribution network needs to be improved to ensure availability of maize grain in the remote communal areas and urban markets.

  • The AGRITEX National Early Warning Unit should collaborate with NGOs and the United Nations to organize and conduct a crop assessment mission immediately after the presidential elections in March 2002 to ascertain the 2001/2002 food production prospects, and identify potential food insecure populations.