Zimbabwe Food Security Update, September 2004


  • The GMB selling price is over 34 percent higher than the maize price that the Zimbabwe VAC assumed for this time of year when it made its projections that about 2.3million rural people would require a total of 178,000 MT of food assistance. Therefore, it is likely that needs are higher than originally projected.

  • Despite a steady decline in annual inflation since the beginning of the year, at 314 percent in August 2004, it still continues to erode the purchasing power of poor urban households, whose incomes are not keeping pace with the increasing cost of living.

  • Poorer households in the grain deficit areas have limited income generating opportunities through which they can earn money to buy food; hence a significant number of these households have already started reducing their consumption, and are engaged in risky cash earning strategies such as gold panning.

  • Many ex-commercial farm workers have no reliable source of income with which to buy food and are in desperate straits. Most of these are found in areas were winter cropping is minimum. Their situation may improve as demand for casual labor increases with the onset of this summer cropping season.

  • High parallel market maize prices of about Z$1,100/kg co-exist with lower GMB maize prices of about Z$640/kg. This may be indicative of access problems associated with the relatively cheaper GMB maize.

  • The water crisis plaguing Harare, Chitungwiza, Ruwa and surrounding areas over the past five years worsened in the past three months and could result in a serious health crisis if not addressed soon

  • A significant proportion of the 2004 winter wheat crop is at risk of being spoiled by the on-coming rains due to the shortage of harvesting equipment and the prohibitive cost of hiring the available limited combine harvesters. A large proportion of this year's wheat crop was planted late and will mature well after the 2004/05 rainfall has started.

  • Current constraints on farmers' attempts to prepare for the 2004/05 agricultural season include seed, fertilizer, and fuel shortages, all of which sell at prices far above the affordable range for most people.

1. Current Security Situation

1.1 Current food security in Zimbabwe's rural areas

Food is still readily available in most rural areas of the country. In the traditionally grain surplus areas of Mashonaland, Midlands and Manicaland Provinces most households are still relying on their own production from last season's harvest. In traditionally grain deficit areas along the Zambezi River, and the southern parts of Manicaland, Masvingo and the Matebeleland Provinces, both formal and informal grain markets are becoming the main sources of staple cereals. As shown in Figure 1, in rural areas where most households are depending on local maize production, prices in mid-September ranged between Z$10,000 -- Z$12,000/bucket (equivalent to 18kg); they were significantly higher in areas where local supplies are scarce due to the minimal harvest from last year, ranging from Z$15,000 to Z$35,000/bucket. Given that average maize grain prices were between $Z5,000 - Z$8,000/bucket in April, just after the maize harvest, it is clear that already this year there have been significant increases in staple prices.

Poorer households in the grain deficit areas are unable to buy food due to the limited income options they have; hence a significant number of these households are already reducing the number and size of meals they eat, as well as attempting to make small amounts of cash in risky and non-traditional ways, such as gold panning. Those who have livestock have been selling them to purchase food, according to reports from the northern parts of Guruve and Muzarabani districts. In general, people have more options in the areas where a good grain and cash crop harvest occurred last year because casual labor opportunities are more readily available. The same is not true, however, for areas where a large community of ex-commercial farm workers is present and no irrigated cropping is taking place. In such areas most ex-commercial farm workers are not gainfully employed and have no reliable means to earn money for food. The food security situation for a significant proportion of the people in these areas is desperate.

1.2 GMB supplies and distribution

Even though, at a national level, last year's harvest was below normal, a significant number of farmers in the grain growing areas nevertheless managed to harvest some surplus for sale. The bulk of this maize is being sold to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), the quasi-governmental institution with the sole rights in the country to buy, sell, import and export maize. According to various official reports1 issued in September, farmers had sold between 294,000 MT and 325,000 MT of maize grain to the GMB. The maize collections reported by the GMB are less than 30 percent of the total amount of maize the government had estimated it would buy from farmers this marketing year.

Redistribution of this grain to urban areas and deficit rural districts, through GMB milling and distribution depots, and through private milling companies, has started. The GMB is selling maize grain through their depots in the grain deficit areas at between Z$32,000 and Z$40,000/50kg. While the lower end of this range is about 17 percent below the price at which the GMB is buying the maize from farmers, it is still more than 34 percent above the maize price that the ZimVac assumed for this time of year when it made its projections that about 2.3million rural people would require a total of 178,000 MT of food assistance in the current marketing year. Since there is no evidence that rural incomes have increased at a pace that would make up for the increased cost of maize, the population in need of food and the amount of food assistance required must have gone up.

Outside of the official markets, localized maize, cash and barter transactions are also occurring between grain deficit and surplus households. A small group of illegal maize traders is covering the width and breadth of the rural areas, buying maize for resale in the urban and deficit rural areas. The traders use cash mostly to pay for the maize, but they sometimes bring items such as clothing, household utensils, soap, cooking oil and sugar to exchange for grain. Maize trading is very risky business and the traders have to be very creative to avoid losing their grain to the police and GMB inspectors at road-blocks often mounted at strategic positions on most major roads. Relatively higher demand for maize grain in urban areas, coupled with the risks involved with maize trading makes maize prices relatively higher in urban areas than in surrounding rural areas. Parallel market maize prices of about Z$1,100/kg co-exist with a GMB maize price of about Z$640/kg. This may be indicative of some problems associated with accessing the relatively cheaper GMB maize.

1.2 Urban food security

In urban areas household purchasing power has been continuously eroded by hyper inflation, estimated at 314.4 percent (year on year) in August 2004. Although, annual inflation has dropped by almost 308 percent since January 2004, it still remains too high. The cost of the monthly expenditure basket for a low income urban household of six, monitored by the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ), went up by about 65 percent to Z$1,400,386 between January and August 2004. (Figure 2). The food component of the CCZ basket rose by 10 percent between July and August 2004. The minimum industrial monthly wage, despite increasing by over 280 percent between March and July 2004, could only cover about 31 percent of the August 2004 CCZ expenditure basket, down from 33 percent in July 2004.

High unemployment, estimated at over 60 percent, and the continuing decline in national economic output, are worsening the dependency ratio within urban households. This further exacerbates the food access problem for most poor households. Increasing numbers of urban households are failing to cope with the challenges of keeping a family in urban areas. Unlike almost every other part of Africa, therefore, the migration from rural to urban areas has begun to switch directions in Zimbabwe, and significant urban to rural migration is occurring. Some households are relocating to informal settlements on farms surrounding urban centres. Households unable to migrate are forced into the growing informal sector and, if they are lucky, are able to earn enough to get by. Others engage in undesirable income generating activities such as scavenging at dump sites, begging, prostitution and robbery. Street kids and street families are on the increase and so are the numbers of girls who find themselves forced, by economic circumstances, into prostitution. Cycling or walking to and from work has become a major expenditure-reducing strategy for a significant number of people still lucky to be gainfully employed. In addition, increasing numbers of people are looking for opportunities to leave the country altogether in search of better standards of living.

1.3 Water and Sanitation in Urban Areas still critical

The water crisis plaguing Harare, Chitungwiza, Ruwa and surrounding areas over the past five years worsened in the past three months. Due to poor management, the city failed to upgrade its water reticulation system and water reservoir capacity in line with the demands of the growing population. Plans forecasting the increased water demands and schedules to renovate the city's water treatment plants have been in existence since the 1990s, but no action was taken. Consequently, the dilapidated infrastructure is giving in, with water reservoirs too low or empty, pipes frequently bursting, and pumps breaking downs. City residents are suffering. Many are forced to drink water from unprotected wells; some schools have to dismiss children early to avoid potential disease out breaks. Industry has not been spared. Pressured to do something about the problem, the government has put in place credit facilities enabling the city to access funds to revamp the water treatment plants. Measures for the government to take over the supply of water from the City of Harare authorities are also underway. However, these measures are not likely to solve the water crisis facing the city anytime soon.

2. Food Security Prospects

2.1 The 2004/05 rains likely to spoil the bulk of the 2004 winter wheat crop

The government reported that about 33,000 hectares (ha) had been planted to winter wheat by mid-June 2004. Additional plantings are reported to have since increased the area planted to winter wheat this year to about 70,000 ha. The bulk of the winter wheat crop for 2004 is likely to be still in the fields when the 2004/05 rainfall season starts this mid-October. Where farmers have crops ready to harvest, there are reports of serious shortages of harvesting equipment. Others are finding the prevailing combine harvester hiring rates of between Z$600,000 and Z$750,000/ha too high.

Wheat yields averaged around 4 MT/ha in the 1970s. In the 1980s the average yields of wheat increased to about 5.6 MT/ha, but the 1990s saw a drop in yields to an average of about 5 MT/ha. The lowest national wheat yield since 1970 is 2 MT/ha in 1992, following the devastating drought of the 1991/92 rainfall season, when water for irrigation was very limited. Average national yields of between 2 MT/ha and 2.5 MT/ha are most likely this year, taking into account this background on yields and factoring in a number of additional factors, including: the lack of winter wheat production knowledge and experience amongst the majority of newly resettled farmers (who make up the majority of wheat producers this year); late deliveries of fertilizers; shortage of farm labor; and limited back-up irrigation spare parts.

Based on these yields and the estimated area cultivated, preliminary wheat production estimates are between 140,000 MT and 175,000 MT for 2004, leaving the national deficit at between 165,000 MT and 200,000 MT (Figure 3).

2.2 Prices for Maize Seeds and Fertilizers Too High for Most Farmers.

Despite announcements of the new maize seed price by the government early this month, and several promises by seed companies that they would be releasing seed onto the market, only limited quantities have been made available for farmers to purchase so far. Farmers will be constrained not only by both the limited availability of seeds and fertilizers, but also by the huge increases in the prices of these commodities. The price of short season hybrid maize seed shot up by about 520 percent between September 2003 and August 2004, to Z$13,000/kg. The same period saw basal fertilizers and top dressing fertilizers prices increasing by about 120 percent and 200 percent, respectively (Figure 4). As a result, many smallholder farmers will be forced to cut down on the amounts of these critical inputs they use this season. The resurfacing of fuel shortages, if allowed to persist, will disrupt the on-going land preparation.


1 From reports issued by the GMB Chief Executive, and by the Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MoARD) to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Lands, Agriculture, Rural Resources, Water Development and Resettlement