Binga and Nyaminyami (Kariba Rural) districts in the western Zambezi Valley are two of the least developed districts in Zimbabwe. They suffer the dual disadvantages of (a) limited agricultural potential due to poor agro-ecological conditions and the presence of wildlife and animal diseases, and of (b) being far from markets and therefore receiving poor supplies of food at high prices, while earning low prices for items like livestock which are sold out of the area.
The current assessment examined access to food and income in the last marketing year (April 2002 to March 2003) in the four Food Economy Zones that cover the majority of the districts, and also among households affected by HIV/AIDS. Based on patterns observed last year and in previous years, and based on new primary and secondary data, projections were made as to the likely food security of different socio-economic groups within the two districts over the coming twelve months (April 2003 to March 2004).
Taking all sources of food into account, it was found that most of the population came close to meeting their minimum food requirements over the last 12 months, with the most food insecure meeting approximately 80% of their minimum needs. Acute malnutrition rates were kept below standard "emergency" thresholds, and the provision of substantial amounts of food aid seems to have mitigated the need for excessive amounts of expenditure-switching from other basic needs, and for stress selling of livestock. Food aid provided 20-35% of minimum food needs in Binga and 45-65% in Nyaminyami, while wild foods also contributed on average 10-20% of minimum needs.
Had adequate supplies of maize been available at controlled prices, incomes data indicates that almost all households could have purchased enough grain by themselves to be food secure. Maize supplies from the GMB were very limited, and some households paid over 40 times the controlled price for black market grain, or struggled to pay for inferior substitutes, including floor sweepings from millers. Poisonous wild foods - particularly tubers - were also consumed in desperation in some areas.
Dietary diversity was reduced in all areas as a result of the high cost of foods. Cuts in expenditure on items like healthcare, education and agricultural inputs were reported, but were more common in Binga than in Nyaminyami. Baseline levels of spending on those items, however, were very low. Stress selling of small animals was more common than for cattle. While there were some declines in herd sizes, particularly from December onwards, the provision of food aid was reported to have reduced the need for unusual de-stocking. The real value of livestock (measured in terms of the kgs of maize that could be bought with the proceeds from the sale of 1 cow) continued to decline during the year from the normal/ baseline level of 1,000kg of maize to 400kg in April 2002 to 160kg in December 2002.
Many other income-earning opportunities were constrained by the poor agricultural situation, particularly crop sales and on-farm labouring. Gifts and remittances remained uncommon. Some activities such as vegetables sales and off-farm casual labouring remained important and yielded reasonable incomes. Most income sources were more available in the dry season, and only the better off were able to maintain income flows later in the year through livestock sales.
Households affected by HIV/AIDS were among the most food insecure, meeting less than 80% of their minimum requirements. They had low levels of agricultural production, and were particularly constrained in their access to most income-earning opportunities due to the death or illness of breadwinners. The provision of loans from the Binga District AIDS Committee was important for a small number of such families however. Their incomes were inadequate to pay for their specific dietary needs and for healthcare, although the latter was often provided on credit.
The provision of food aid (general rations and supplementary feeding) had important and wide-ranging impacts on children in addition to nutritional benefits. School enrolment and attendance was maintained, children were required to spend less time searching for wild foods or queuing to buy food, and they spent less time working for food and money. This has helped to reverse the prevailing situation whereby children's rights to adequate food, leisure and education were becoming the privileges of the better off only.
For the coming twelve months, prospects are only marginally improved in both districts, although there was a substantial increase in crop production in Nyaminyami due to a combination of better rains and a large input distribution. Grain production increased by 27% in Binga this year, and by over 75% in Nyaminyami. This translates into average grain production per capita of 22kg and 109kg respectively. Cotton production has declined in Binga and remained almost unchanged in Nyaminyami, so no changes in that source of income are expected. Livestock holdings in both districts are already very low, and further de-stocking would not be encouraged. An increase in agricultural labouring opportunities is expected in Nyaminyami, but otherwise all other sources of income are expected to remain broadly unchanged.
Assuming food availability and prices remain similar to last year, that a maximum of 80% of income is spent on grain, and to prevent stress selling of livestock, the cumulative numbers of people in need of food aid from April 2003 to March 2004 will be as follows:
Additional recommendations include:
- The Government should take further measures to ensure that adequate supplies of grain reach the market and - if they are via the GMB - that they are sold at gazetted prices
- Alternative forms of providing food to those with the means to pay for it be considered, such as monetization of food aid, food-for-livestock and (where administratively feasible) food-for-work
- Appropriate agricultural inputs will need to be provided to many poorer farmers, particularly in Binga, to assist recovery. This should be combined with additional medium- to long-term interventions to support agricultural extension and the dissemination of techniques that will optimise production
- Supplementary support to HIV-affected households is necessary, including dietary supplements and home-based care programmes. Cash loans for income-generating activities would assist this group to become more self-sufficient. Targeting is likely to be difficult, however, particularly given the limited voluntary counselling and testing services in the district