Precipitation levels for the 2003/04 rainfall season has so far been below normal in the major grain growing areas of the country and, in some areas, below the 1991/92 drought year.
Land preparation and planting are the main farming activities occupying farmers throughout the country. Early planted crops suffered low rates of germination because of poor soil moisture.
Shortage of seeds, fuel, draft power and spare parts for farm machinery are expected to limit the area put under crops in the 2003/04 cropping season, further reducing the potential harvest output.
Staple cereal supplies to the rural population have become increasingly critical. Much of the rural population is heavily dependant on food aid, which reached close to half of the 5.02 million rural population identified by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee as requiring food aid.
The food component of the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) expenditure basket for a low-income urban household increased in cost by 49 percent from October to November, when it stood 1,076 percent higher than in November 2002. The industrial minimum wages being increased by about 534 percent between October and November yet remain just 11 percent of the total cost of the food basket and only 7 percent of the total CCZ monthly expenditure basket.
The CCZ reported some consumer resistance to the steady price increases, as consumers refrain from purchasing highly perishable foodstuffs as well as luxury food such as rice, margarine and meat. Some food traders have had to reduce prices to avoid losses.
The government's ability to address the food security crisis in the country during the remainder of the current marketing year and the following marketing year is seriously limited by the shrinking tax base and poor export performance of the whole economy.
1. The 2003/04 Rainfall Season has begun
As of the end of the first dekad of December 2003, the spatial distribution of rainfall during the season can best be described as mixed, with the higher agricultural potential areas receiving below normal rains and the usually drier districts of Masvingo and Manicaland Provinces receiving more rains than usual. In some cases, the cumulative rainfall in these areas has been higher than in the normally wetter districts in the central and the northern parts of the country. Much of Masvingo Province and the central parts of Midlands Province had received over 150 mm by December 10. The traditional main grain producing parts of the country (Gokwe, Mashonaland West, Mashonaland East and Mashonaland Central and the northern districts of Manicaland Province) have received between 100 and 150 mm of rainfall during the first seven dekads of the rainfall season (Figure 1). This rainfall is less than 80 percent of the long term average for these areas. In some cases, it is even less than 60 percent of normal rainfall (Figure 2). If this pattern continues, national grain production will be even lower than expected.
The decadal rainfall distribution for a few selected stations in the main grain producing areas of the country confirms that the current rainfall season has been below average in terms of both amount and distribution. Karoi, for example, illustrates that the season did not start until the 3rd dekad of November, yet it is normally expected to start around the 2nd and 3rd dekads of October (Figure 3). The cumulative rainfall for the station was still below normal and almost at par with that of the 1991/92 drought year by the end of the 1st dekad of December 2003 (Figure 3).
Figure 3: 2003/04 Rainfall Distribution Compared to Long-Term Average and the 1991/92 Drought Year for Selected Stations
Source: Department of Meteorological Services
The remainder of December has to be reasonably wet, allowing more crop planting and development of the crops already. Much of the October rains were used for land preparation and only very limited planting. These farming operations slowed down - then stopped altogether - in most areas in November because of low soil moisture.
2. Crop and Livestock Situation
The limited planting that began with the October rains stopped due to the dry spell experienced throughout the whole country in November. The recent rains received in mid December saw renewed plantings and land preparations throughout the whole country. Some of the early-planted crop suffered low germination rates due to inadequate soil moisture. The few crops in the fields are generally in good condition, despite having been afflicted by moisture stress in November. Still, regardless of the quality of the rainy season, the shortage of seeds, draught power, fuel and farm machinery spares is expected to limit the area planted to crops this season.
Livestock and grazing condition improved significantly by the end of October 2003. However, incidences of tick borne diseases are on the rise since the onset of the rains. Irregular dipping and shortages of dipping chemicals are the major reasons for the problem. Water supply for both domestic use and livestock watering has also improved throughout the country.
3. Current Food Security Situation
About 60 percent of Zimbabwe's population live in the rural areas, and their main sources of livelihoods are subsistence crop and livestock farming. Rural households in the central and northern districts are normally able to produce enough crops for their own consumption and have a bit leftover to sell. Livestock are rarely sold in these areas of the country but they play important roles in providing draft power and manure for crop production. They are also a store of wealth and a source of status within the community. In the southern districts of the country, livestock (mainly goats and cattle) form the main sources of income for the rural households. Crops rarely do well due to low rainfall. Normally livestock are sold to purchase food and other items. As a result, when crops fail and local markets are disrupted the rural population must rely on consumption, income and expenditure coping strategies that have been developed overtime. The urban population mainly relies on employment income, which is used to buy food. For urban households food security depends on the protection of their incomes' purchasing power, security of employment and functioning of food markets.
3.1 Rural Food Security Situation
Staple cereal supplies in the rural areas continue to be critical, particular in the traditionally grain deficit parts of the country. With limited means to earn cash income to finance trips to urban areas and procure food, most rural households are left with no option but to depend on food aid and employ consumption coping strategies. World Food Programme (WFP) increased the number of its food aid beneficiaries from 2.2 million in October to 2.6 million, while the amount of food aid distributed increased from 25,000 MT to about 34,000 MT (Figure 4). However, the population receiving food assistance is less than half of the estimated 5.02 million rural people requiring food assistance.
Figure 4: World Food Programme Food Aid Distribution in the 2003/04 Marketing Year
3.2 Urban Food Security Situation
Most basic foodstuffs continue to be readily available on both the formal and the parallel market, but their prices remain prohibitive to the majority of urban households. The cost of the low-income urban household monthly basket monitored by Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) increased to about Z$647,000 in November 2003, 36 percent above the cost of the basket the previous month. The twelve months proceeding November 2003 has seen the cost of the basket increase by a substantial 714 percent. The cost of the food component of the basket in November was 49 percent higher than in October, and 1,076 percent higher than in November 2002. Between October and November, the industrial minimum wage increased by 534 percent, yet this higher wage rate was able to purchase just 11 percent of the total food basket and only 7 percent of the total CCZ monthly expenditure basket. From October to November, maize meal had the highest monthly percentage increase of 117 percent, followed by beef with 79 percent, wheat flour with 63 percent and bread with a 44 percent increase. The price of rice remained unchanged and that of margarine dropped marginally by about 5 percent. The CCZ reported that some level of consumer resistance to the steady price increases is beginning to be felt on the market. This is affecting mostly highly perishable foodstuffs as well as those considered luxury foods, such as rice, margarine and meat. Some food traders have had to reduce prices to avoid losses. Most of the production this season will come from and be consumed by rural smallholders, leaving urban areas without adequate supply. The USAID-sponsored Market Assistance Pilot Program (MAPP) has succeeded in increasing the availability of sorghum in poorer suburbs of Bulawayo, and the expansion of this program to other urban areas is being discussed.
Figure 5: Trends in the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe's Low Income Household Basket
4. Food Security Prospects for the Remainder of the 2003/04 Marketing Year
The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZIMVAC) estimates that about 5.02 million people in the rural areas of Zimbabwe and at least 1 million people in the urban areas will be in need of food assistance from January to March 2004. This pre-harvest period is when rural households' food stocks are usually at their lowest and hunger is at its peak. Given that the 2002/03 agricultural production was mediocre, most rural household's food stocks ran out two months ago and these households started employing consumption coping strategies earlier than normal. The rainfall season has brought a bit of relief; some wild vegetables are available in the fields. However, the availability of cereals continues to dwindle. The supply of grains from the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) to rural households has been more erratic, reaching fewer and fewer people. The government's ability to import cereals continues to be limited by the shortage of foreign currency. The worsening of relations between Zimbabwe and its traditional international allies darkens the prospects of the foreign currency situation improving soon. Donor response to the United Nations appeal for food assistance remains lukewarm. The WFP pipeline is in real danger of breaking in January 2004. Food rations for December 2003 have been cut due to low in-country food stocks. In October and November 2003 WFP distributed about 25,000MT and 34,000MT, respectively, to food aid beneficiaries in Zimbabwe yet by mid December 2003 the Programme only had 10,500MT of cereals in stockist warehouses.
Food of all kinds is available in most urban shops, and this is expected to continue to be available for the rest of this marketing year. Still, most urban consumers are going to be priced out of the food market. The Government of Zimbabwe estimates inflation for January 2004 at 700 percent, while independent economists put the rate at well above 1,000 percent. More and more urban poor urban households will be skipping meals, eating much less at every meal or migrating to squatter settlements (where no rent is paid). Some will even migrate to the rural areas were the cost of living is considered to be relatively lower. More are expected to pull children out of school. A significant number of urban households are busy working their urban plots with the hope of supplementing their food income with produce from these plots. The plots around Harare are predominantly planted in maize, and the crop is generally in good condition, though much younger than normal for this time of year because the rains came late.