Zimbabweans' access to food in 2004-05 could be threatened on multiple fronts



In May 2004, the government of Zimbabwe told international donors that their general food aid is not needed. Harare has stated that it expects a bumper harvest in 2004-5. Representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), United Nations (U.N.) agencies and donor countries feel, however, that Harare has over-stated this year's crop yield and that a large number of rural and urban Zimbabweans will require assistance as the year progresses. In June, a Member of Parliament raised questions about the government's estimate, leading Parliament to authorize an investigation.

Now, should the government's projections of a bumper crop not be met, Zimbabweans' primary access to food assistance will be through the government's Grain Marketing Board (GMB). Since 2002, donors have provided food aid to Zimbabweans through a program separate from the GMB program. The government's persistence, however, in permitting the GMB to conduct its operations and distribution practices without transparency renders uncertain Zimbabweans' access to domestically-managed food assistance. The GMB refuses to publish detailed accounts of its imports or maize purchases, leaving unknown its capacity to meet the basic food needs in 2004-05 of the estimated 4.8 million citizens who will become primarily dependent on its subsidized maize program. GMB distributions are often irregular and insufficient to meet high demands. Many Zimbabweans also cannot afford to buy the GMB's subsidized maize.

Although international donors maintain an active presence in the country, their reluctance to provide food aid and agricultural inputs (seeds, fertilizer, etc.) strictly on the basis of need in resettled areas, where black Zimbabweans have been given land under the fast track land reform program, has further compromised Zimbabweans' access to adequate food.

Problems with access to food could also be compounded in the months approaching Zimbabwe's March 2005 parliamentary elections. Representatives of civil society, relief agencies and donor countries warn that access to subsidized maize distributed by the GMB is likely to be subject to political interference in the pre-election period, with supporters of the opposition suffering most, as was reported to have been the case in previous elections. Relief agencies expect interference and restrictions on their operations during the election run-up, including with respect to their targeted feeding programs that provide food to acutely vulnerable Zimbabweans, such as orphans and households with chronically ill members.

The right to food is guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In particular, the Covenant obligates both the government of Zimbabwe and the international community to utilize all available resources and capacities to ensure Zimbabweans' have access to sufficient quantities of food. Compliance requires that assistance to those in need be provided without discrimination on any basis, and with respect for the principles of accountability and transparency. States Parties to the Covenant also have the responsibility to ensure that State actions do not undermine their citizens' right to food.

This briefing paper is a follow up to the report "Not Eligible: The Politicization of Food in Zimbabwe," produced by HRW in October 2003. It finds that the situation has improved somewhat, though cause for concern remains, given the lack of verifiable information concerning grain supplies and the government's decision not to renew its appeal for international food assistance.

(pdf* format - 242 KB)


Human Rights Watch
© Copyright, Human Rights Watch - 350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor New York, NY 10118-3299 USA