Widespread food crisis in Southern Africa

A severe food crisis in southern Africa continues to affect millions of people. Oxfam partner Association of Women's Clubs (AWC) continues to deliver desperately needed food to over 13,000 families (78,000 beneficiaries) in Zimbabwe.
According to James Morris, head of the UN World Food Program (WFP), the overall situation in the region improved markedly between September 2002 and January 2003, largely due to the "remarkably swift and effective response from international donors, regional governments, UN agencies and NGOs." Congratulations on averting the crisis may be premature, however. Reports in recent weeks from Mozambique tell of growing food insecurity in the south, as well as rising numbers of deaths from malnutrition-related causes in the north of the country. The situation in Zimbabwe, says Morris, is "cause for serious concern... [and] people in Zimbabwe will experience continuing food shortages in the coming year due to a combination of dry weather, lack of affordable food on the market, and a dramatically reduced amount of land under cultivation."

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Association of Women's Clubs (AWC)

The Association of Women's Clubs, with roughly 60,000 members (mostly women) in rural areas throughout the country, purchases grain for over 13,000 families from farms, local millers, and grain suppliers. AWC concentrates on getting food to the most vulnerable communities in Zimbabwe, especially in the Seke, Wedza, Chikomba, Mhondoro and Murehwa districts.

AWC's greatest strength is their connection to local communities. Beneficiaries for food relief are selected is based on vulnerability, with priority given to the elderly, the chronically ill, widows, orphans, and child-headed households. Food is distributed in the presence of the community, and people are encouraged to speak up if they feel that there is a discrepancy or injustice in the allocation system.

The food distribution system is impartial, apolitical, and run by local women. The organization is well-established and has a good reputation, and the communities themselves are directly involved in the distribution process through their AWC members and representatives.

As of early March, the breakdown among the 13,200 beneficiary families is as follows:

  • Elderly: 2,775 (roughly 21%)

  • Orphans: 2,615 (roughly 20%). 35 of these households are headed by children, the rest are households that have taken in orphans. Grandparents provide most of the foster care.

  • Sick and disabled: 1634 (12%)

  • Able-bodied destitute and AWC members in need: 6,176 (47%)

Individual families receive 20 kg of maize per month, or 50 kg when supplies are adequate. Household size is taken into account, with large households given greater amounts. Efforts are made to deliver in each area once a month.

The system is extraordinarily successful because it places a priority on transparency, on-going involvement by the community, control of the distribution process by women, the "prohibition on politics" within AWC business, monitoring by AWC staff who are not local residents, and awareness and support of the distribution process by the local leadership.

Zimbabwe is facing a food shortage that will most likely continue until the next harvest season in April, 2004. AWC is expanding its relief program, adding additional rehabilitation measures such as bean distributions, water pumps and micro finance programs.

We urgently need your help to support their work!