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Household Economy Assessment: Nyaminyami (Kariba Rural) District - Save the Children Report, 21 June 2002

 
4. PROBLEMS IN 2002/03 AND CAPACITY TO COPE

2001-02 was undoubtedly a below average year for food security in Nyaminyami, mainly due to the relatively poor harvests, the death of livestock due to tsetse-borne disease and due to the maize shortages and prices rises that occurred in the early months of 2002. All of these factors look set to be present again in 2002-03 to a greater or lesser extent. In year-ranking exercises carried out in the current assessment, interviewees consistently ranked 2002-03 as being as bad as, if not worse than 1992. Agricultural production levels are not unlike those of 1992, however there are the additional problems this year of neighbouring districts also being affected (reducing migrational labour opportunities), of livestock dying from disease, and of limited amounts of food being available on the market.

This section describes what we already know of the situation in 2002, and then based on experience in previous years we can examine the likely implications for food security in the period until the next harvest in April 2003.

Grain Production

As in much of the rest of Zimbabwe, agricultural production in Nyaminyami was severely affected by the drought which occurred between January and March 2002. Total production of grain (maize, sorghum and millet) in Nyaminyami was estimated in the national 2nd round crop forecast to have been 1,077 MT. Given a population estimate for Nyaminyami for 2002 of 40,8272, this translates into 26.4 kg per person for the year, or 12.5% of minimum energy requirements. The graph below places grain production this year in context by comparing with other years:



This year's grain harvest, therefore, is only 26% of the average level of the 1990s.

The perennial problem of crop destruction by wild animals, particularly in wards around Matusadona Game Park, also negatively affected production this year.

These figures were verified by the primary data collected for this assessment. There were some differences within the district. Mola/ Negande was the worst affected area, with most households harvesting nothing at all, and some with plots on streambanks only harvesting one 50kg sack. In Kasvisva/ Msambakaruma, the poor harvested an average of 50-100kg of grain, while the better off harvested 300-400kg. Kanyati was slightly less affected than other parts of the district, having received higher rainfall levels. Production by poor households in Kanyati was also 50-100kg, while the better off produced up to 750kg

Cash Crop Production

Cotton is very important as a source of income in Nyaminyami. At an estimated of total output of 2,448 MT this year, production was at 70% of last year's level. Although this is not as bad as the situation for food crops, it is still a substantial decline.

It is also important to note that this drop in output occurred as a result of an increase in hectarage planted combined with a substantial decline in yields per hectare. As there are relatively fixed input costs per hectare (estimated at around Z$8,000 last season), the profitability of cotton declined more than would be suggested by the output figures. Cargill Cotton was offering prices of between Z$39/ kg and Z$42/ kg for Grade C to A quality cotton. Grade C was said to be the most common quality this year. This means that 1 bale (roughly 200kg) of cotton would have to be produced per hectare for cotton farmers just to break even. Most of the middle and better-off households who produced cotton estimated that they had harvested 1 to 3 bales. This would give a net income of Z$0 to Z$15,600. With the high cost of maize, this will be totally inadequate to buy the household's maize requirements, let alone pay for other goods and services. At parallel market prices this could buy a maximum of 3 months' worth of maize, or 7 months' worth at controlled prices (though very limited amounts are available at controlled prices).

Livestock

The drop in livestock holdings was discussed earlier in the wealth breakdown. There are two main reasons for the reduction in livestock holdings. The first is the increase in cases of trypanosomiasis, which is related to a breakdown in tsetse fly control measures. Although the tsetse traps observed along the main road through Kasvisva were observed to have been reasonably well maintained over the past year, there were no traps to be seen anywhere off the main road. Cattle and donkeys were affected by this, with deaths peaking in mid-2001. Even the control herd kept by the government's Tsetse Control Unit died. The situation improved towards the end of 2001, partly due to the use of stronger medication. Tick-borne diseases such as gull sickness and red-water were also reported by the Veterinary Services department to be common.

The loss of cattle and donkeys to disease has greatly reduced the availability of draught power in the district, which will limit agricultural production in the next season. It has also reduced the number of animals available to households for sale as a coping strategy.

Sales or exchange of animals, particularly goats, as a means of coping with the food problems in 2001-02 has also meant that there are limited holdings available for sale in 2002-03. Goats are also affected by internal parasites and by a disease locally known as "chikwekwe". Owners of small animals are less likely to seek treatment for these animals mainly due to the expense involved.

There is a downward spiral affecting livestock and livelihoods. Livestock sales and death from disease mean less income from sales and less draught power in future, which means lower production and less ability to pay for veterinary treatment, which leads to more deaths and a need to sell more animals to cope.

Animal prices relative to maize prices have also fallen sharply compared to normal years. A goat can now be exchanged for only 1 bucket of maize (20kg), while a bull can raise enough cash to buy 300-400kg. Only the better off groups in all three zones have enough livestock to bridge their maize deficit at these terms of trade, and even then only if they sold their draught animals.

Agricultural Labour

Unlike in some other bad years, agricultural production in 2002 has also been affected in the parts of neighbouring Gokwe North district, where many of those in Nyaminyami go to seek piecework employment.

As was seen earlier, there were real limits to how expandable this option was last year, even though last year was significantly better than the current year. Payment rates plummeted to anything from 16-33% of normal levels, and almost every available family member in some households, including children, was required to participate in this work.

It appears unlikely that payment rates could decline much further, but the availability of this type of work will be much less while more people will compete for what is available. It was said that those who do agricultural labour every year are better positioned to get what little work will be available, as employers will know and trust them from their previous experience. The middle group, which only seeks this work in bad years, therefore, may not be able to use this as a coping strategy.

Food Availability

During the assessment period (May 2002), the availability of maize grain was not as serious a problem as in some other parts of the country3. The GMB has made efforts to increase the number of selling points in the district, and the combination of GMB supplies and much more expensive private supplies seems to be meeting demand at present. However, in the month after the harvest this should be the case anyway. What is questionable is how long that situation can continue for. Nyaminyami will certainly benefit until July or August from the supplies available in Gokwe and Hurungwe districts, but after that availability will depend on the GMB's ability to import grain. Given the very limited total amounts imported into the country in early 2002 (100,000 MT during a 3-month period when requirements were 450,000 MT), and the government's precarious financial situation, it must be assumed that absolute food shortages will occur again later this year. Any targeted food aid programmes will need to make contingency plans for a situation where even those with purchasing power will not be able to access grain.

Main Coping Strategies, Availability and Costs

Already it has been possible to illustrate some of the coping mechanisms used by households in Nyaminyami by comparing their access to food and income and their expenditure patterns last year with the baseline year. The main methods of coping were:
  • To reduce spending on and consumption of non-staple foods and non-food items
  • To increase the number of household members involved in agricultural labour, and to do more such labour when it is available
  • To increase consumption of wild foods, including "famine foods"
  • To increase the sale or slaughter of livestock
The limitation to the expansion of livestock sales and agricultural labour have been detailed already in the sections above. The consumption of wild foods could continue to be important. However it is unlikely to be able to provide a significantly greater portion of household food requirements than it did last year. There are a number of reasons for this. First, more households and more wild animals will be competing for the available stock of wild foods. This may not result in less being collected per household, but will certainly have costs in terms of greater amounts of time being spent by household members to find the foods. Second, drought also affects the availability of many wild foods, which again will make it harder to find such foods.

In addition to these, many households last year also took advantage of the improved opportunities for casual labouring and for selling crafts. These are not strictly coping strategies, as their availability and use was not very related to the food security situation in the district and the needs of the households. Crafts may be important again in the coming year, and there is no reason to believe that the value of this source of income should change. The importance of casual labouring, however, was mainly linked to once-off construction projects last year, and therefore is unlikely to be as important in 2002-03.

Fishing along Lake Kariba was mentioned in Mola as a possible coping strategy, and it is certainly one that was used in neighbouring Binga district last year. There does seem to be scope for increasing income from this activity, although the cost of fishing equipment, the illegal nature of the activity, and the sometimes limited access to the lakeshore all hinder its use.

It is clear that there will be very few options available for expanding access to food or income in the coming year. Experience from 1992 corroborates this. In that year people spent more time doing things like gathering wild foods and doing agricultural labour, but for the same reasons mentioned above (limited availability and declining payment rates), the total amount of food or income accessed by these means did not increase; people had to do more to get the same amounts.

School-teachers reported that a number of older girls had resorted either to prostitution, or had been married off at an early age so that their families could get lobola. Both of these are very harmful for the children involved, especially prostitution with the high risk of exposure to HIV.

In the absence of an ability to cope positively, households are likely to try to stretch their existing resources, and re-prioritise spending. A detailed investigation was made into what food and non-food items would be sequentially cut out of households' consumption baskets as resources became more and more limited. The rough sequence of cutbacks (which, as can be seen from the discussion on 2001-02, has already started happening for many), is as follows:
  1. Sugar and cooking oil (other purchased foods such as meat and bread had already been cut out of diets)
  2. Beer and tobacco
  3. Clothing and blankets (old items are simply not replaced, and people keep warm by burning firewood)
  4. School Fees (see below for more discussion)
  5. Visiting relatives ("we don't visit people when we or they are hungry")
There was a lot of agreement between and within interviews on the sequence so far. There was also agreement on certain essentials which could not be cut out of expenditure, namely maize, salt and soap. However, there was a lot of debate about a number of other items:
  • Grinding: some argued that it was better to save money by pounding maize rather than bringing it to the grinding mill, but others argued that pounding by hand results in too much wastage in comparison to milling.
  • Seed and agricultural inputs: some felt that these were essential for future productivity, but others felt that in hard times they have to worry about current needs now, and future needs later, and that therefore they would just use retained seeds instead of purchased, certified seed.
  • Healthcare: some felt that healthcare was essential, while others felt that they would just have to cope with illness on their own, or would try to use traditional remedies.
Overall it is clear that without outside support the current crisis could have very high costs not only in terms of food access, but also in terms of reduced future productivity (from sale or death of draught power, inability to purchase inputs, and the need to sacrifice work on own fields to earn food or income elsewhere), reduced access to education, reduced access to healthcare, and increased abuse of children.

Interactions between Food Security and HIV/ AIDS

There are a number of key points to be highlighted relating to the specific problems of HIV/AIDS-affected families, and relating to how food security and HIV/AIDS interact in other ways.

For HIV/AIDS-affected families, the main problem this year will be that their capacity to cope with problems will be limited by the loss of able-bodied family members. In the first place, their problems may be worse anyway because an income-earner may have been lost, or because the number of dependants being supported has increased. But given that situation, when things are worsened by additional shocks such as drought, those households cannot take advantage of many coping strategies available to other households because they simply do not have the time to do extra activities. The livelihoods of the few HIV/AIDS-affected households interviewed for this assessment appeared in a normal year to very much resemble the livelihoods of an unaffected family in a bad year; they do not have additional coping capacity.

Food insecurity and poor nutrition within a household with HIV+ members tends to speed up the progression from HIV to AIDS, while malnutrition combined with HIV/ AIDS can lead to an increase in the incidence and severity of opportunistic infection. HIV+ people have greater energy requirements (10-15% above normal) and also require a somewhat different diet, with an emphasis on micronutrients that help strengthen the immune system and fight infections.4 As has been shown, in Nyaminyami there has been a marked decrease in the diversity of diets, and as food insecurity worsens, the total amount of food access is likely to decline further.

Increasing food insecurity may also increase the spread of HIV/AIDS, as a number of important coping strategies involve high-risk behaviour. This is most obvious in the case of prostitution, but a less obvious case is agricultural labour and other migratory activities. As people move farther afield in search of employment opportunities, adults may spend more time away from their families and this is often associated with an increase in HIV transmission.



Impact of the Current Crisis on Children

It is clear that children will be among the worst affected by the current crisis, with their rights in a number of areas likely to be disregarded.

In terms of access to food, it is true that children are physiologically more vulnerable to malnutrition and diseases in hard times. The assessment could not conclude on whether children would be specifically disadvantaged in terms of access to food within the household. Most interviewees said that children were prioritised when food was limited, and there was disagreement with the common assertion that men are prioritised. This was only discussed in brief and therefore cannot be confirmed.

However, it is very clear that children will be affected in a number of other ways. Children are already contributing to food- and income-earning activities, and their roles increase as food shortages worsen. All children normally assist in cultivation, particularly in activities such as weeding, bird/ wildlife-scaring and harvesting. Children of both sexes from as young as 6 were reported to be taking part in piecework employment. Boys and girls are also required to assist in the collection of wild foods. Young boys assist with the herding of cattle, while young girls also play an important role in the sale of vegetables and other petty trading activities.

In addition, girls have many responsibilities in the home. Younger girls look after infants, sweep around the household, fetch water and firewood and wash up plates and dishes, while older girls do additional tasks such as cooking and taking maize for grinding. The burden on girls increases in turn as mothers are required to spend more time labouring and doing other activities to earn food and income. This has implications for the quality of care given to young children.

Regarding education, although there were limited drop-outs reported over the last year (which was attributed by teachers and parents to the assistance from BEAM and from food aid programmes), it is likely that as hunger increases and as the demands on children increase, that reduced attendance and drop-outs will increase. Parents were asked about how they decide which children to withdraw from school first in hard times. Three types of explanations, all with underlying economic rationales, were given by different parents:
  1. Those who are further advanced either in primary or secondary education will be removed last, as a greater investment had been made and their parents wanted them to complete their exams.
  2. Those who perform poorly academically will be removed first, as it is less worthwhile spending money on their education
  3. Girls would be removed before boys (irrespective of their Grade or academic performance), because "a boy's learning benefits the whole family, but a girl will soon get married and so her education will only benefit another family".



Footnotes:
  1. This population estimate is provided by FEWS-NET, and is based on the 1992 census figures with a derived population growth rate. FEWS-NET's estimates are the most widely used figures, including by WFP and the UN.
  2. There was a marked contrast in the situation between Nyaminyami and neighbouring Binga district, for example. The latter still receives very limited supplies from the GMB.
  3. FANTA Project: "HIV/ AIDS & Nutrition: A Guide for Care and Support", 2001, p15
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