Zimbabwe: The unfolding grain crisis

News and Press Release
Originally published
When the State President went on television and stated that Zimbabwe had grown a crop of 2,4 million tonnes in the 2003/04 season, the news was received with disbelief. How could a country which had not fed itself for four years now have a record maize crop which would allow the country to export 600 000 tonnes (500 train loads) of maize?

The truth was that the country had produced at most 800 000 tonnes - the Parliamentary Committee set up to investigate the situation at the instigation of the MDC, in fact suggested that the crop had been only 600 000 tonnes. Despite imports and donor aid supplying 5 million people with their basic needs for much of the 2003/04 season, Zimbabwe turned the corner into the 2004/05 grain marketing year with barely 300 000 tonnes in stock.

Since then the country has been importing maize grain steadily - despite Mugabe's assurance that we had plenty of food and did not need food aid. We have bought maize from Zambia and South Africa as well as from overseas. Even so, our food stocks have declined and at present it would appear that the GMB is only importing 8000 tonnes a week against estimated demand of 23 000 tonnes a week for human needs only.

There is growing evidence of this shortfall in the market place. Maize meal, the staple food for most Zimbabweans is often not available in the cities or in the rural areas. GMB management has been meeting millers to attempt to ensure they are not hoarding maize or selling it on to the stock feeders who pay double what the GMB sells maize for, as they are required to meet their own needs by importing direct.

But this only explains a small portion of the shortages - Zimbabwe is running out of maize and when it finally does exhaust its stocks a very serious crisis will develop. Some observers put this situation as only weeks away.

The National Railways - the only organisation with the capacity to handle food imports on any scale, simply no longer has the capacity to move the quantities required. A few weeks ago they were managing to put together only 9 trains a day between major centers on all lines and covering all commodities.

5000 tonnes a day of maize imports would require half of all NRZ resources to move and this would leave the organisation without capacity to move other essential goods such as fuel (3 million liters a day) and coal (3500 tonnes a day).

Then there is the problem of where to source the grain - South Africa has a shortfall looming and may be reluctant to let Zimbabwe take half its reserves of maize for consumption. If we cannot source maize in South Africa then the nightmare of logistics becomes even more alarming.

Mugabe had planned to use the food deficit and the possession of stocks in ZANU PF hands as a political weapon. But what he cannot afford is an absolute shortage of the country's basic staple food; that would be a recipe for revolution. It appears he may have miscalculated.