Zimbabwe: Food relief after a bad harvest

5 December, 2013
Zvishavane district, Midlands province, with the highest number of food insecure households, was among the first to receive food assistance in October. Credit: Matilda Moyo/OCHA
Zvishavane district, Midlands province, with the highest number of food insecure households, was among the first to receive food assistance in October. Credit: Matilda Moyo/OCHA

Remigio Matonga has had to make some tough choices. Following a season of poor rains, he harvested 50kg of grain – a tiny fraction of the 2 tons he harvests in a good year. The father of 10 was only able to feed his family for a month before their stocks ran dry.

Then Remigio had to take two of his children out of school to save money to spend on food; one of them had been scheduled to take crucial O-level exams.
“How can I register for one child to write exams when the other children are starving?” he asks, adding that he has been bartering vegetables from his garden for grain, but that the terms of trade have not been favourable.

Zimbabwe is facing its worst food insecurity since 2009. Between October and December 2013, about 1.5 million people were food insecure, a figure expected to increase to 2.2 million – a quarter of the rural population – between January and March 2014, the peak of the hunger season.

Food assistance

The World Food Programme and humanitarian partners are responding through a programme that provides a monthly allocation of 10kg of cereal, 2kg of pulses and the equivalent of 750g of oil per person. Between October 2013 and March 2014, they plan to reach 1.8 million people in 43 severely affected districts, where the food insecure population exceeds 15 per cent. It is anticipated that some 400,000 people will receive help through other programmes.

Zvishavane District in the Midlands Province, where Remigio and his family live, has the highest proportion of food insecure households in the country at an estimated 52 per cent. It was one of the first districts to receive assistance, and Remigio says the help has been a welcome relief.

“At least now that I am getting assistance and the family is being fed, I can use whatever money I make to send the children back to school,” he says.

But the programme faces challenges. Food assistance partners estimate $86 million is required to respond to the crisis. To date, donors have contributed $37.15 million, leaving a shortfall of about $48.85 million.

Sustainable food production

In the long term, more sustainable means of food production will be required to reduce vulnerability.

“Sustainable food systems make use of available resources efficiently. We in Zimbabwe have to make sure we get the most food from every drop of water, plot of land, speck of fertilizer and minute of labour,” says Ringson Chitsiko, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development.

Efforts to promote sustainable food production are already underway. The WFP’s Food for Assets programme is helping to rehabilitate and create 300 productive assets, such as irrigation schemes. These will help people become resilient to future food shocks.

“These initiatives, coupled with appropriate policies and incentives, should enable humanitarian partners to support Government in ensuring national food security in the long run,” says Modibo Traore, OCHA’s Head of Office in Zimbabwe.

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