FEWS Zimbabwe Food Security Update: 21 Nov 2002


The rainy season began during the last weeks of October, and proceeded relatively well through the first week of November, marking the start of the 2002/03 planting season. Farmers have started planting, but are constrained by limited seed availability.

Maize seed stocks available for the 2002/2003 production season (of 47,814 MT) are enough to cover 'normal' national demands of 40,000 MT, but insufficient in light of the season's unprecedented demand due to last year's drought. This demand is estimated to be well over 50,000 MT.

The wheat harvest is up to 30% lower than expected, down to 155,000 MT from the predicted 212,000 MT. Based on these figures, the country will run out of wheat by the end of February 2003 unless 240,000 MT is imported to fill this gap.

Deliveries of the winter and early summer maize crop boosted GMB maize intake to 46,000 MT up from the Crop Forecasting Committee June 2002 forecast of 34,000 MT.

Total maize imports of 748,773MT by WFP, NGOs, Private Sector and Government have reduced the national food gap to about 600,000MT. By 18 November, 2002, the Government had imported a total of 607,000MT while the Humanitarian Agencies had brought in a total of 111,773MT. The private sector imported about 30,000MT during the same period.

Food aid distributions by WFP and NGOs have increased from 21 to 36 of the country's 57 districts. A total of 2.2 million people (around 30% of the total number of people identified as needing food aid in the August Zimbabwe VAC assessment) have benefited from the WFP and NGOs food aid programs so far.

However, in order to meet the needs of all 6.7 million people identified as food insecure, funding commitments to WFP and the NGOs and procurement targets must be met. So far, WFP has received only 50% of the funding it needs, and the country is still waiting to receive 216,000 MT in food aid imports.

1.1. Progress of the 2002/03 Rainfall Season

The rainy season began during the last weeks of October and proceeded relatively well through the first week of November. During this period, most of the country received significant rainfall, as illustrated in Figure 1. However, this wet spell was followed by a dry spell and the Meteorological Department has forecasted hot and dry conditions for much of November 2002, with rainfall expected towards the end of the month.

Farmers country-wide have taken advantage of these good rains and, using the limited quantities of seed they had, planted most crops. A shortage of maize, sorghum, millet, groundnuts and pulses seed on the market has limited the potential area that could have been planted. (See October 2002 report for more information on seed shortages.)

1.2. Seasonal Outlook

A moderate El Niño, usually associated with drier conditions in parts of Zimbabwe, is in effect, and the International Institute for Climate Prediction (IRI) forecasted a 100% probability of moderate El Niño conditions for the remainder of 2002 and early 2003. The Zimbabwe Meteorological Services continues to forecast normal to below normal rainfall in the second half of the current 2002/2003 production season (January - March 2003), which will coincide with the reproductive stages of most of the cereal crop.

1.3. Preparations for the 2002/2003 Agricultural Production Season

1.3.1. Inputs Availability

At the moment, 47,814 MT of maize seed is available for the 2002/2003 production season. While this is enough to cover the 'normal' national demand of 40,000 MT, it is not enough to meet the season's unprecedented demand following on last year's drought. The Government estimates total seed needs to be well over 50,000 MT. The Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Resettlement said, in a National Television News broadcast on 19 November 2002, that the Government was considering importing maize seed from South Africa, It is important to note that even if this seed is obtained, it may not translate into increased maize seed sales, because the 25,000 MT Government procured may be destined to the same farmer who has either bought seed already or is looking for seed on the market. Further more delayed distribution of the seed to beneficiary farmers is likely to limit its use. Groundnut, millet, sorghum and pulses seed continue to be inadequate and this could affect the area planted to the crops in 2002/03 season.

The fertilizer shortage also continues to be of great concern. There is a deficit of 338,000 MT of NPK and 280,000 of AN. The Government is considering importing some fertilizer but details on this plan are not clear yet.

1.3.2. The Agricultural Support Schemes

Both the government and non-governmental programmes had not yet delivered the bulk of their seed support to the farmers. The input programs under FAO and NGOs are expected to reach out to more than a million beneficiaries and could contribute between 174,400 to 218,000 MT of maize. On average about 2 to 15 kg of cereal, legume and rape seed will be distributed to each beneficiary farmer.

2. Food Security Prospects for the 2002/03 Consumption Year

2.1. Current Food Availability at the National Level

WFP, NGOs, Private Sector and Government have so far imported 748,773 MT of maize, theoretically reducing the national food gap to about 600,000MT. By 18 November, the Government had imported a total of 607,000 MT while the Humanitarian Agencies had brought in a total of 111,773 MT. The private sector imported about 30,000MT during the same period. Imports are coming into the country at a rate of 99,000 MT per month, which is about 73% of the estimated requirement. (SeeTable 1).

According to official figures, a total of 1.2 million MT has been available in the country since April 1, 2002 and was made up of the following: 748,773 MT of imports; 505,581 MT of 2001/02 harvest; and the remainder in carryover stocks (Table 1). On average the maize available for the seven and half months of the 2002/2003 marketing year is 23 percent more the national requirement estimated - between 1 and 1.1 million MT. If the import figures are correct, then Zimbabwe had available about 153,000 kgs per month which should have been adequate for nutritional requirements. However, the situation on the ground does not reflect this analysis, with serious food shortages in effect. One possible reason for this discrepancy is that the distribution of available maize has been inadequate. Another reason could be that many households do not have money to buy maize even if it is available in the market.

2.2 Food Security Prospects at the Sub national Level

2.2.1 Food Security in Rural Areas

Food security in most rural areas has remained critical as supply from the GMB still remains erratic and is not adequate to meet consumption requirements and, just as importantly, many poorer households have run out of cash to buy grain in the market, even if it is available. An update on the food security situation in rural areas will be provided in December after the Zimbabwe Vulnerability assessment which is going to be conducted in early December 2002.

Food aid distributions carried out by WFP and NGOs have been more successful in some parts of the country than others, as illustrated in Figure 4. Distributions have increased and are now reaching 36 of the 57 districts in the country, targeting a total of 2.2 million people. WFP intends to expand its food distribution to 5.5 million people in January 2003 and 5.8 million people in February, up from 3 million people in November. If all goes according to plan, 86 percent of the population identified as food insecure in the August ZIM VAC assessment will be reached by the end of February. However, this coverage will only be possible if both WFP and the NGOs receive outstanding grain imports of 216,000 MT before January. As of mid-November, WFP had only 50 percent of its required funding and was still waiting to get into the country 98,000 MT of needed cereals. The current food aid stocks can only feed 3.3 million people at the full ration.

2.2.2. Current Food Access in Urban Areas

Inflation rates, which are currently estimated at 144%, continue to rise, increasing the cost of living for the urban poor at a rate which far exceeds their income. Since January 2002 urban formal sector average minimum wages rates have been less than 56 percent of the CCZ Low Income Urban Households' expected monthly expenditure basket and continue to decrease in relation to costs (Figure 5).

Price controls of basic commodities have not necessarily helped, because these commodities not readily available in the formal market and are sold instead on the parallel market where shortages continue to push prices at rates much higher than the official exchange rate. One indication of how bad things are getting is that the number of households failing to pay for their water in Harare went up by 22.4 percent between January and October 2002.

Low income households need to employ all able-bodied members in some kind of informal sector activities such as vending, hawking, gold panning, brick moulding and selling firewood in order to make ends meet. Some members of these households are even forced to engage in illegal activities such as robbery, prostitution, moving to illegal settlements and selling controlled commodities like bread, sugar, maize grain, maize meal and wheat on the parallel market. Poor urban households unable to increase their incomes are forced to reduce the number and size of meals and sometimes to forego them entirely.

4. Food Security Recommendations to Consider Immediately

FEWS NET recommends the following actions for immediate consideration:

  • The government and NGOs need to step up efforts to provide food aid to about 6.7 million people whose food security are under threat in the areas identified in the August SADC/ZIMVAC Emergency Food Security Assessment. Actions are required immediately to maintain the already precarious food security situation in many parts of the country.

  • Wheat imports of 240,000 MT are required to fill the expected gap between March 2003 and the next harvest in October 2003