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Independent economic & planning consultants

Famine in Zimbabwe

Prepared for the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung

April 2004

Posted with permission on the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Harare office
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Since the Zimbabwe Government embarked on its fast track land resettlement programme, the food situation, particularly in respect of the staple maize, has been getting worse every year. Initially people were talking of food shortage, but "famine" would now seem a more appropriate term to apply to the situation the country now faces. "Famine" has been used to describe situations of extreme food scarcity and starvation in countries such as Ethiopia and Eritrea. Nobody ever contemplated that Zimbabwe, formerly the bread-basket of southern Africa, would come to be referred to in terms of famine.

The fast track resettlement programme was officially completed in August 2002. Theoretically, it should therefore have been possible to properly plan for the 2003/4 agriculture season, at least in respect of ensuring that enough maize would be planted. As will become evident in this report, there was no such planning. The certain consequences are going to be severe shortages of food, although just how severe is unclear due to lack of information. In the past, information about the food supply situation in the country was given to anybody interested, but in the current situation of policy-induced food scarcity and the militarization of the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), the public is deliberately denied access to information. Independent observers who monitor food demand and supply trends are concerned about the spectre of famine. The donors, who must be thanked for saving the lives of well over 6 million people over the past three years, are exasperated by the lack of information.

On its part, the government is content to manipulate food for political gain, and appears quite unconcerned about the plight of the people. This lack of care by the government is evident, for example, in the government's unwillingness to approach UNDP for food assistance in a timely fashion. The World Food Programme (WFP) cannot begin to approach donors until an official request has been received. Last year, as the well documented concerns voiced by the opposition party and the donor community became more insistent, the government request was finally made in July 2003. This year, with an election in prospect and control over food therefore more important than ever to a self-interested government, it is remains in doubt whether any official request will be submitted at all.

It is against this background that it was considered important to carry out an independent study of the food situation in the country.

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