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NGO Food Security Network

Community Assessment of the Food Situation in Zimbabwe

April 2003


Posted with permission of FOSENET
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There is a need of an entirely new and bold approach to address the intertwined crises of devastating illness and drought affecting agriculture'
- Guruve

The National NGO Food Security (FOSENET) involves 24 non government organisations that collectively cover ALL districts of Zimbabwe, and all types of communities. FOSENET members subscribe that food distribution in Zimbabwe must be based on a platform of ethical principles derived from international humanitarian law:
  • The right to life with dignity and the duty not to withhold or frustrate the provision of life saving assistance;
  • The obligation of states and other parties to agree to provide humanitarian and impartial assistance when the civilian population lacks essential supplies;
  • Relief not to bring unintended advantage to one or more parties nor to further any partisan position;
  • The management and distribution of food and other relief with based purely on criteria of need and not on partisan grounds;
  • Respect for community culture and values of solidarity, dignity and peace
As one of its functions FOSENET is monitoring food needs, availability and access.

Fosenet monitoring for April 2003 is drawn from 151 monitoring reports from 58 districts from all provinces of Zimbabwe, with an average of 2,6 reports per district.

Nearly two thirds of districts (60%) report improved food security primarily due to early harvests and relief supplies, although a fifth report a worsening situation with falling national supplies and quantities in relief packages. Ensuring a balance between production, relief and local deliveries is important and demands transparent and responsive co-ordination mechanisms locally.

There are a number of indicators of continued food insecurity, such as the continuing inadequacy or absence of GMB supplies, continued reported sale of assets for food in 67% of districts, and food related movements into or out of districts in 38% of districts in April.

Household food stocks have however gradually improved: An estimated 20% of households had more than one months food supply, up from no households in December /January. The large majority of households still have less than one months supply.

Fertiliser and maize seed prices show up to twentyfold ranges in variation between formal and parallel markets and between areas, moreso for seed than fertilizer. The costs of seed, fertilizer and transport are reported to be significant limiting factors to yields. The number of people reported returning from resettlement areas indicate that making seed, fertilizer and transport available and affordable are as critical as land to agrarian reform and food security strategies.

The area planted increased later in the season as people took advantage of late rains, but crop yields are reported to be poor to average, especially in Manicaland, Midlands, Matabeleland South and North, due to erratic or late rains and poor access to seed and fertilizer.

These conditions make it important to obtain quantitative information on the share of households who experienced early drop failure, were unable to replant and now face poor yields. This will give a closer understanding of food security than overall yields and aggregate grain availability in areas.

There was some evidence of a small increase in frequency and volumes of GMB deliveries in April over March, although fuel shortages were reported to affect deliveries, the price of GMB maize was reported to have risen and political bias in access continued to be widely reported. Many people are now reported to have stopped trying to buy GMB food, relying instead on relief foods and own harvests. There appears to have been little progress in resolving bias in access to GMB maize or in making GMB maize sales more transparent within communities.

While parallel market prices have remained high in April they have not risen further and in some areas the widespread availability of relief food and milling of local maize by small scale millers has brought informal market prices down. Urban dwellers who do not access relief or local produce are likely to face inflated prices for longer.

From reports the expansion of relief cover appears to have begun to plateau, with reports of unmet relief needs in farmworkers, settlers, urban areas and rural workers.

While food supplies have increased in the month due to relief and harvest yields, there are thus a number of indications of high levels of household food insecurity.
  1. Poor harvest yields, erratic rainfall and cost barriers to seed and fertilizer undermining effective land use and household food production
  2. Continued inadequacies and bias in the delivery of GMB food to poor households, and leakage into parallel markets selling at inflated prices
  3. Reliance on relief food as a primary source of staples in rural areas
  4. Poor regulation and high levels of speculation in food markets
  5. Household sale of assets to purchase food from markets deepening household poverty and undermining future ability to withstand shocks
There are reports of interventions at community level to deal with these problems, including to monitor and organize for fair management and distribution of food at local level, ensure improved and more open performance of local management committees, and stop food theft and leakages to parallel markets.

This round highlights that the economic, social, political and institutional factors undermining household food production and food access are by no means resolved. Relief has mitigated these problems, but has not solved them. While community social action is yielding some returns in making local food distribution fairer and more accountable, this needs to be backed by stronger measures at all levels to deal with production costs and inputs, ensuring the transparent and effective performance of the GMB, the control of price speculation and ensuring participation and accountability in co-ordination of food security at local and national level.

FOSENET welcomes feedback on these reports.
Follow up queries and feedback to FOSENET,

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