Zimbabwe: drought / famine / malnutrition in Southern African countries

1. Background Information about Zimbabwe
Midlands Province

  • Total Population - 1.5 million.
  • Size of the province
  • Agro-ecological zones
  • Administrative districts - 13
  • Farming practices - cropping in the north and more ranches in the south, farming sectors
  • Economic activities - agric, mining, manufacturing
  • Health - health facilities; HIV/.AIDS prevalence, malaria, nutritional issues - low birth weight
  • NGOs active in the province - Plan International, Christian Care, Red Cross, Africare, World Vision, Lutheran World Federation
  • Water and infrastructure (sanitation, schools, clinics, roads, and telecommunication) are of concern in the district.
Table 1: Number of people requiring food aid for Midlands Province
Number of People needing food assistance
Gokwe South
Gokwe North
Kwekwe Rural
Gweru Rural
Gweru Urban
Kwekwe Urban
Zvishavane Urban
Shurugwe Urban
Redcliffe Town
Source : Department of Social Welfare, Midlands Province

Table 2

No. of people requiring food aid
Care International feeding children in schools. GMB deport operational but supplies are erratic. Sugar and cooking oil not available.
Plan International assisting with supplemental feeding in Zhombe, Mealie meal, sugar, and cooking oil scarce
No intervention fro m NGOs, scarcity of basic commodity
Gokwe South
No intervention. Erratic grain supplies at GMB
Gokwe north
World Vision covering only 4 wards. GMB grain supplies erratic
No NGO support. GMB supplies erratic. Cooking oil not available, sugar supplies erratic
No support. Erratic grain support, sugar and cooking oil not available.

Source: Christian Care 2002 Plan.

Table 3: Rate of malnutrition for ages 0-4 years for 2000 and 2001
Rate for 2000
Rate for 2001
Overal for province
Source: Midlands PMD records

Table 4: Number of farms gazetted in the Midlands Province

No. of farms gazetted
Source: Midlands PROVINCIAL land Taskforce Records

2.1 Health and nutritional status in Zimbabwe ( FAO/WFP- May 2002)

Malnutrition continues to be a major public health problem in Zimbabwe. According to the Demographic Health Survey (1999), national acute malnutrition is estimated at 6.4 percent with very high rates in Mashonaland West (19.4 percent), and Mashonaland East (12.7 percent). Rural areas have twice the rate of acute malnutrition (7.7 percent) compared to the urban areas (3.7 percent). More than one out of four children are chronically malnourished. About 5.6 percent of the women of childbearing age are underweight. Other data show the prevalence of children 12-71 months old with Vitamin A deficiency is 35.8 percent. The present precarious food security situation has serious nutrition implications especially for young children. Anecdotal reports are already showing increases in acute malnutrition in some areas of Kariba where there is no targeted child supplementary feeding. The time lag between the reduction in food consumption and increases in acute malnutrition makes it difficult to evaluate the effects of changes in food consumption on nutritional status.

According to UNAIDS, Zimbabwe along with other southern African countries has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates epidemic. National adult HIV prevalence rate is estimated at more than 25 percent. About 1.5 million adults are living with HIV/AIDS and 624,000 children have been orphaned due to HIV/AIDS. The high incidence of HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe has been a major contributor to increasing poverty as well.

HIV/AIDS pandemic is affecting all households, rural and urban. Studies have shown that HIV/AIDS affected rural households have low crop output and revenues due to labour constraints and poor crop management. In urban areas, deaths/illness particularly of breadwinners have resulted loss of income, children dropping out of school and the disintegration of families. HIV/AIDS affected households have higher expenditures on health and funerals, which, compete with food and other basic expenses thus contributing to increased vulnerability. Some communities visited by the Mission reported the presence of child headed families and an increase in the proportion of female-headed households over the last few years. Many orphaned children are however taken into care under the extended family systems particularly elderly grandparents thus increasing dependency burden and destitution. The drought will further increase the burden of taking care of orphaned children and the chronically sick.

The national poverty survey of 1995, reported that 61 percent of the population lived in poverty; the rural areas had disproportionately higher rates (75 percent) than the urban areas (39 percent). Female-headed households were more affected than male-headed, 85 percent against 72 percent respectively. The drought is likely to plunge these households into deeper poverty and deprivation as they try to maneuver their income to meet the food and non-food needs

2.2 Estimation of seriously - affected population and emergency food aid requirements in 2002/03

Population affected and food aid needs

The Mission of FAO/WFP (May 2002) indicates that a total of 6,074,000 people will require at least 705 0001 tones of cereals as food aid during the April 2002 to 31 March 2003 period (see Table 5). At least 5 267 000 of these affected populations will require immediate assistance, and for the entire marketing year. Another 807 000 people will require at least nine months of food aid, in the amount of at least 72 900 tones of cereals. In addition to these amounts of cereals, other food items, such as oil and legumes, should be provided to ensure that households have access to a minimally nutritionally-adequate diet.

Table 5. Zimbabwe: Mission estimates of affected populations and food aid requirements for 2002/03

Severely affected
Seriously affected
Total affected
Population ('000)
Population ('000)
Food aid needs (tonnes)
Population ('000)
Food Aid Needs (tonnes)
Population ('000)
Food Aid needs (tonnes)
Rural population
7 204
3 592
431 071
72 900
4 399
503 971
Urban population
4 477
102 000
102 000
Commercial farm workers
1 650
99 000
99 000
Total Zimbabwe
13 331
5 267
632 071
72 900
6 074
704 971

Food requirements of other populations

The populations identified above as requiring food aid assistance include rural households that have lost most of their production and income, at least half of the former commercial farm workers and their families, who have neither income nor food, and an initial estimation of the percentage of the urban poor who have no income, or insufficient income to purchase food because of the current extremely high prices prevailing in the market. But there is also a substantial number of additional people in Zimbabwe who now have the resources to buy food when it is available on the market, but who suffer when it is not. They are rapidly using up their income and savings buying high-priced food, and will eventually need food aid if major new supplies of food do not enter the market soon and moderate prices. This population's food crisis can best be resolved with food imports for the market, not food aid. If their needs are not soon served, the food crisis will become much larger and more difficult to resolve.

2.3 Actions required to avert severe malnutrition and elevated mortality due to hunger

Extraordinary measures will be required by the GOZ and the international community to cover both the food aid needs identified, as well as the country's other consumption requirements. At present it appears that the GOZ, through the GMB, will not be able to import a sufficient quantity of cereals to assure other consumption requirements, due to its severely limited foreign exchange reserves. The Mission recommends a combination of private-sector commercial imports (852 000 tones) and humanitarian assistance (705 000 tones, of which 60 000 tones are already pledged) to meet this food gap (see Table 6).

Table 6: Recommended Strategy for Meeting the Uncovered Deficit (tones)

Remaining deficit after GoZ GMB imports (from food balance sheet)
1 497 000
Proposed private-sector commercial imports
852 000
Recommended Food Aid (in addition to current food aid pledges of 60 000)
645 000

Private-sector commercial imports would require the removal of the GMB monopoly on the import of maize, maize meal and wheat, removal of Government price controls to allow these products to be sold at prices reflecting the import cost, and the removal of all restrictions on the movement of grain inside the country. For people not able to pay the full price, a consumer subsidy scheme might also have to be introduced, possibly with donor assistance. This strategy will require co-ordination and agreement between Government, donors, and private-sector importers.

The food aid requirements described above assume that both actions, expanded imports and food aid, will be undertaken and completed in the quantities described. If, in particular, the private/sector imports in the amount specified above are not carried out, then the nutritional impacts, associated elevation in hunger-related mortality, and food aid needs would almost certainly be higher in the near future.

Below, the Mission describes the basis for estimates of affected populations and food aid needs for each group considered: rural populations (communal and resettled), urban residents, and commercial farm workers.

a) Communal and resettled rural populations: food aid needs and population affected

For the communal and resettlement sectors, the total number of people requiring food aid is considered to be 4 399 million, who will require 503 971 tones of food aid (see Table 7 below). Those who are "severely affected", and who require assistance both immediately and for the 12 months of the marketing year, total 3 592 million people, and 431 071 tones of cereals (plus oils, legumes, etc.). Those who are "seriously affected" total at least 807 000, and require food aid of 72 900 tones for a 9-month period.

Table 7: Communal and Resettlement sector affected populations and food aid needs

Population ('000)
Total cereal deficit (tones)
Severely affected
Seriously affected
Total affected
Population ('000)
Food Aid Needs (tones)
Population ('000)
Food aid needs (tones)
Food aid needs (tones)
1 203
160 659
83 309
13 410
96 719
Mashonaland C.
57 795
22 080
6 930
29 010
Mashonaland E.
111 754
62 160
9 630
71 790
Mashonaland W.
29 687
10 320
2 430
12 750
1 228
177 609
100 922
11 790
112 712
Matabeleland N.
103 555
60 240
6 840
67 080
Matabeleland S.
91 123
35 640
9 360
45 000
1 187
134 995
56 400
12 510
68 910
Total Zimbabwe
7 204
867 177
3 592
431 071
72 900
4 399
503 971

For the communal and resettled rural population, the assessment of food aid (cereal) requirements and the number of people requiring assistance were based on the following data and assumptions:

  • All cereals produced this year were considered to be used for household consumption.

  • Incomes from cash crops produced this year were assumed to be used for cereal purchase.

  • Households holding livestock were assumed to sell livestock to help bridge their gap in cereals. An estimated livestock off-take rate was used to calculate potential incomes from livestock sales available to buy cereals.

  • The uncovered consumption deficit after deducting own production and the amount of cereals bought from the income from cash crops and livestock sales was considered to represent the food aid requirement. This estimate was then used to derive the number of people requiring assistance at the district level. Poverty data were used to further classify the population into severely and seriously affected.

Severely affected communal and resettlement households are estimated to need assistance to cover the entire remaining deficit (12 months of consumption), and have most of the following characteristics:
  • Lost all, or most of their food crop production.
  • Have no cash crops.
  • Have no livestock.
  • No or little remittances.
  • No or little income from petty trade.
  • Child or elderly-headed households.
  • Very large households taking care of orphaned children.
  • Households with chronically ill.

Seriously affected households will require assistance to cover 75 percent of the unmet deficit (9 months of consumption). This reflects an assumption that moderately affected populations have still access to other sources of income such as remittances and/or petty trade, and include those that have:
  • Lost a large part of their harvest.
  • May have one or two heads of cattle or less than five goats.
  • May have remittances that would help cover part of the food deficit.

Communal farmers generally have income from cash crops and other alternative sources of income to meet the gap between what they produce and their total food need. The amounts of food that these alternative sources of income can buy depend on the price at which these foods can be purchased on the market. In Zimbabwe today, even though price controls for basic foodstuffs are in effect, only a part of these needs can currently be met because almost no food is being put up for sale at this uneconomic price. The controlled GMB price for maize is Z$875 per 50kg bag, but prices on the free market are between two to four times higher and could rise even further in the months ahead.

The Provinces with the largest number of affected people in percentage of the total provincial population would be Matabeleland North, Masvingo, Mashonaland East, Manicaland and Midlands, and the number of Districts that are self-sufficient or surplus is only 6 out of the total 57 Districts.

b) Urban food aid needs and affected population

The number of people requiring assistance in urban areas was based upon the results of the Harare and Bulawayo urban assessments. These two assessments found that about 20 percent of the urban population now has inadequate income to assure adequate food consumption. Based on this information, the Mission estimates that 20 percent of the urban population or about 850 000 people are food insecure and require food assistance under current market conditions. Some of the features of these food insecure groups include the following: very poor female headed households, orphans, the chronically sick, elderly households and those that have lost employment due to closures caused by poor macro-economic conditions.

WFP is presently undertaking two sets of analysis to identify the modalities of intervention in urban areas: a) Market analysis will identify the most appropriate channel for undertaking targeted sales to food insecure households; and b) Targeting and institutional analysis to identify the target groups for food aid assistance either through market intervention or free food distribution/food for work. Pending completion of these analyses, these food aid needs may need to be reviewed.

c) Commercial farm workers: food aid needs and affected population

The Mission was unable to visit the commercial farms during the assessment due to insecurity prevailing in the areas visited. Estimates of the number of commercial farm workers requiring food assistance are therefore based on secondary data and previous evidence from other visits, and especially on the number of farms that have been taken over or resettled under the land redistribution program. The commercial farms had a workforce of about 350 000 permanent workers. With an average family size of 5, about 1 650 000 people lived on commercial farms. Estimates provided to the Mission indicate at least half of the commercial farms have been "settled" or taken over for resettlement, with an equal percentage of commercial farm workers affected. Pending a more complete assessment, the Mission has tentatively estimated the number of former commercial farm workers and families requiring assistance at about 825 000, with food aid needs of 99 000 tones of cereal.

2.4 Strategies for WFP assistance

Ongoing Emergency Operation

WFP is currently operating in Zimbabwe an Emergency Operation (EMOP 10140) covering a total of 558 000 beneficiaries in communal areas in 19 districts which were affected by drought and floods 2001 in southern, western and extreme northern parts of the country. The 12-month EMOP began first distributions in February 2002 and aims to provide a total of about 117 000 tones of foodstuffs (93 646 tones of maize, 2 036 tones of oil, 12 215 tones of pulses, 5 090 tones of groundnuts and 3 664 tones of blended foods). Distribution is being undertaken through NGOs implementing partners already operating in the country in close consultation with national and local authorities.

As of mid-May about US$29,620,805 (50 percent of the total value of the EMOP) equivalent to 59 370 tones of food commodities had been pledged by donors. Distribution has been hampered by the slow arrival of the commodities in the country. As of 21 May 2002, WFP working through its Implementing Partners had distributed some 9 000 tones of food in 15 districts to over 453 000 beneficiaries. It is expected that distribution rate will increase in the near future and to attain the planned monthly distribution level of over 9 000 tones. WFP is discussing with NGOs involved in food aid projects a possible expansion of WFP operations with additional implementing partners.

As planned under a proposed Phase Two of the EMOP, WFP is currently undertaking an the study of maize markets and targeting mechanisms in urban areas for the design of an urban intervention program to address urban food needs.


1 A cereal food aid ration of 10 kgs per month per person has been used in these calculations of need, based on practice in the past, current maize consumption patterns, and assuming that affected households will have access to other foods, such as vegetables and fruits, to assist in covering their emergency food consumption requirements.