Zimbabwe Food Security Alert: January 17, 2008

Food scarcity, high prices undermine urban food security as heavy rains compromise seasonal progress

Widespread food insecurity will continue to affect 4.1 million Zimbabweans out of the projected population of 11.8 million, through the first harvests in March 2008. While ongoing food assistance programs are expected to meet all of the assessed needs in rural areas, targeting close to four million beneficiaries, only one third of the one million urban Zimbabweans estimated to be food insecure are receiving formal food assistance. In urban areas, high levels of food insecurity persist and are likely to worsen as the hunger season continues, due to food shortages on formal markets, exceptionally high and rising prices on parallel markets, and inefficient maize procurement, distribution, and pricing policies.

Figure 1. Estimated current food security conditions, Quarter One 2008 (Jan-Mar)

Source: FEWS NET

In addition to food shortages, low employment, and high inflation, urban households must cope with declining access to public services such as water, sewage, electricity, transportation, and waste collection, which has not kept pace with the over– crowding in peri– urban areas that has increased pressure on a deteriorating infrastructure. The decline in public services and infrastructure has a direct impact on public health, food utilization, and incomes. Sewage bursts are common in suburbs where the housing density has increased significantly. In December, 459 cases of cholera were reported in two high– density suburbs of Harare, attributed by city health officials to the decline in garbage collection, sewer blockages, and erratic water supplies. The situation is similar in other urban areas.

Planting rains began early this season in most of the country. Government estimates indicate that, midway through December 2007, farmers had planted about 32 percent more area under maize than had been plant around the same time last season. However, in most of the country, heavy rains since mid– December have slowed land preparation and planting, and promoted weed growth. Most rivers are at risk of flooding and many low– lying areas have already been flooded. Excessive rainfall has also compromised the growth of established crops, particularly in low– lying fields where heavy clay soils have been water– logged. Fields with lighter, sandy soils have been leached of nutrients. Fertilizer is scarce this season, but even those farmers with access to fertilizer will not apply it if the rains continue with the same intensity. Heavy rains have also disrupted livelihoods and destroyed homes and productive assets, including livestock.

The Department of Agricultural Extension (Agritex) and its National Early Warning Unit (NEWU), and a team including the Grain Marketing Board, Meteorological Services Department, Ministry of Agriculture, Central Statistical Office, farmer unions, FAO and FEWS NET, plan a first round crop assessment from the end of January to early February 2008. FAO, in collaboration with its NGO partners, plans a post– planting assessment in February 2008. Both assessments will focus on rural areas and are likely to provide more information on the impact of the heavy rains on this season’s crop production.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) issues alerts to prompt decision-maker action to prevent or mitigate potential or actual food insecurity. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the view of the United States Agency for International Development or the United States Government.

For more information see: www.fews.net/zimbabwe