Zimbabwe: Food security threatened - maize stocks low

JOHANNESBURG, 7 February (IRIN) - Zimbabwe faces a critical shortage of maize with preliminary production figures looking gloomy, the Grain Producers Association (ZGPA) told IRIN Thursday.
Vanessa McKay, administrator for the ZGPA said it was clear that the expected yield this harvest would be insufficient to feed the country in the next few months.

Production of maize in Zimbabwe has been affected by a number of things, among them disruptions caused by the controversial land re-distribution programme of President Robert Mugabe. Further exacerbating the situation is an unusually dry season, a shortage of fertiliser and a decrease of 41 percent in the total area of land planted with maize by commercial farmers.

While the World Food Programme (WFP) has begun importing into Zimbabwe basic items, such as maize meal and cooking oil, they as yet have insufficient stock in their warehouses to cover the expected shortage.

Said McKay: "It's been a dry year so far and in parts of the south of the country crops are devastated, so crop projections are for a low yield of 820 kg per hectare, which would give a national output of (just over) 1 million mt. If by some miracle it turns out to be an average season, with a yield of 1.11 mt per hectare, we'd have a total national output of 1.4 million mt."

However, an average yield is unlikely, said McKay: "February should be our wettest month of the year, but the forecast is that we'll only get rain on 11 February, so its a very, very dry season."

Zimbabwe's annual maize consumption is conservatively estimated 1.8 million mt per annum.

"However, if one bases consumption on the official mid-year population rate then the consumption figure would be two million tons. It's highly likely that consumption of maize is down, for some months (people in) certain areas of Zimbabwe have been resorting to eating roots of plants and boiling grasses for nutritional requirements because of the short supply," McKay claimed.

The Zimbabwean Grain Marketing Board (GMB) is reportedly sourcing 200,000 mt of maize from South African producers to cover the shortfall. However, reports have suggested that it is now having problems in transporting the maize into Zimbabwe.

Said McKay: "With official crop estimates of last year, including the grain marketing board reserves, we predicted that we would have a national stock-out (no maize stock) in mid-February this year, if imports had not landed prior to mid-February. Information is that four truck loads (of government sourced maize) have crossed the boarder into Zimbabwe. They are 32 ton trucks, which means it's a drop in the ocean. It takes 150,000 mt a month to feed the country, and only four trucks with 128 mt have arrived."

At the end of December last year the government introduced new legislation which enabled it to seize maize that is held outside the GMB. Traditionally farmers, particularly large-scale commercial farmers, keep maize to sustain their labourers and dependents and livestock. "Since 28 December government and the GMB have been moving onto farms to seize maize stocks, so far about 50,000 mt have been seized. I would estimate there's not more than 15,000 mt left," said McKay.

Although WFP will soon begin distributing food, it does not have sufficient quantities to completely cover the shortage. WFP programme officer in Zimbabwe, Anna Shotton, told IRIN that they bought 5,200 mt of maize meal, 600 mt of beans, 250 mt of ground nuts and 110 mt of vegetable oil.

"We've already bought that in South Africa and we are trying to move it to warehouses, one in Bulawayo, one in Chiredzi and another in Bindura." The warehouses were chosen for their locations to better enable the WFP to distribute food.

"The food security situation is now serious and will continue to worsen after the harvest, which is March/April. The situation in the rural areas should improve, we are planning to start distribution of food aid from the middle of this month. We hope to mitigate some of the food shortages," she said.

Shotton quoted local reports of high maize prices to underline the seriousness of the shortage. "In mid January the price ranged between Z$22.22 (about US $0.40 at the official rate) to Z$38.89 (US $0.70) per kilogram and that's a 100 percent increase compared to October 2001 prices. In October 2001 the range was Z$11.11 to Z$19.44 per kg. Although it's normal to see price increases as it gets nearer to harvest, the current maize prices in Zimbabwe are abnormally high for this time of year."

Shotton said maize stocks continue to decrease. The last official maize stock figures date back to December 2001.

"Farmers are experiencing a shortage of fertilizers, there are reports of water logging and dry spells in various areas, this will reduce maize yields. The outlook is that production of maize will be lower. With cash crops there's been a significant decrease in areas planted, 54 percent decrease for tobacco, 44 percent for soya, and 56 percent decrease for sunflowers. Tobacco of course is a foreign currency earner," she said.


[This Item is Delivered to the English Service of the UN's IRIN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. For further information, free subscriptions, or to change your keywords, contact e-mail: Irin@ocha.unon.org or Web: http://www.irinnews.org . If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Reposting by commercial sites requires written IRIN permission.]

Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2002