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Cablegate: Zimbabwe Humanitarian Crisis: The Food Gap

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.










E.O. 12958: N/A

REFS: (A) Zimbabwe Emergency Food Security Assessment Report, 16

September 2002, Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee
(B) Harare 1141

1. (U) Summary: The Zimbabwe Emergency Food Security Assessment Repo
prepared by the Zimbabwe National Vulnerability Assessment Committee
(VAC), in collaboration with a number of UN Agencies, NGOs, the
Government of Zimbabwe (GOZ) and SADC, was released on 16 September
2002. This report raises the anticipated emergency food needs for
Zimbabwe by 14% (35,000 MT) over the current UN appeal to 486,000 MT
for the period September '02 to March '03. The report identifies an
unmet cereal gap of 379,020 MT, beyond plans for a significant increa
in the GOZ's total planned food imports to nearly 1 million MT of
grain, and an additional 218,000 MT of requested food aid. The repor
however, envisions virtually no role for the private sector to import
grain, as a result of continuing GOZ restrictions on private sector
food imports and sales. If the report's optimistic assumption
regarding increased GOZ imports does not come to fruition, as may wel
be the case, or if donors do not respond adequately to the appeal for
additional food aid, then the unmet cereal deficit could rise
dramatically and the food crisis could accelerate rapidly.

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2. (U) While confirmed pledges have been received for about 25% of th
EMOP appeal to date, with unconfirmed pledges for another 25%, for a
variety of reasons, the Mission believes that delivery of the remaini
50% (about 230,000 MT) before the next harvest season (March/April
2003) could prove more problematic. The vulnerability assessment als
fails to address the possibility that the GOZ may not be able to impo
the entire additional planned amount of 651,000 MT to meet its total
commitment of one million MT by that time.

3. (U) If these optimistic projections of future food imports do not
materialize, we estimate that the actual human food need gap (that
amount not covered by actual production, and food imports by the GOZ,
private sector, and donors) could increase significantly from 145,000
MT (assuming the GOZ meets its full commitment and the entire donor
appeal is met) to as much as 1.2 million MT (if no additional GOZ and
donor imports materialize). Given current actions and constraints, t
Mission suggests that a more likely food gap scenario might be around
600,000 to 700,000 MT (if the GOZ meets only half of its stated
commitment and current trends in donor contributions continue). This
cable is to alert all concerned parties that extraordinary efforts wi
be required by both the GOZ, Zimbabwe's private sector and the
international donor community to minimize this gap, and avoid a
potentially serious national catastrophe in Zimbabwe. In this
interest, the Mission offers some suggestions for USG consideration i
this regard. End Summary.

4. (U) The recent Vulnerability Assessment Committee report on the c
situation in Zimbabwe identifies a remaining uncovered human food gap
of almost 379,000 Metric Tons (MT), without any allowance for a
cushioning Strategic Reserve (ref. A, p. 8). Based on this revised
needs assessment, it calls for a 14% increase in proposed food aid
imports from the 453,000 MT included in the current World Food Progra
(WFP) Emergency Operation (EMOP) appeal for Zimbabwe, based on the
Zimbabwe Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission (CFSAM) conducted in
May (2002) by WFP and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO)
(Ref. B), to 486,000 MT (ref. A, p. 22).

5. (U) This revised assessment of Zimbabwe's outstanding food gap is
on several critical assumptions, principally relating to future food
import plans by both the GOZ and the donor community. The Mission
feels it is important to highlight these assumptions, as well as the
resulting potentially serious implications for the on-going
humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe should they not prove to be accurate
predictions of what, in fact, actually occurs over the coming months.

6. (U) Perhaps the most important assumption is that this estimated
assumes an additional 651,000 MT of food imports by the GOZ (for a
total of almost 1 million MT). Given the current parlous state of th
Zimbabwean economy and government finances (particularly with respect
to scarce Foreign Exchange (FX) resources), the Mission and greater
U.N. and donor community retain serious doubts regarding the GOZ's
ability to complete these ambitious plans and fulfill their stated
future food import commitment. In a September 25 meeting with Embass
officers, a senior Ministry of Finance and Economic Development
official admitted that thus far the GOZ had been able to scrape up
enough resources to pay for only 600,000 MT of the 1,000,000 MT of co
that the GOZ had planned to purchase.

7. (U) The second major assumption is the proposed 218,380 MT of addi
international donor food aid imports projected to the next harvest in
March/April 2003. As noted above, the current WFP EMOP calls for
453,000 MT of food imports. As of September 20, the status of
confirmed pledges to this appeal totaled 111,590 MT (about 25
percent). An additional 110,000 MT of unconfirmed pledges have also
been reported by WFP, for a grand total of about 225,000 MT, or almos
half (49%) of the total appeal. Based on these figures, it seems
reasonable to expect that the international community will be able to
meet its share of the VAC import commitment noted above within the
specified time period.

8. (U) However, even if all of these imports are successfully complet
time, according to the report, an estimated 379,000 MT food gap
remains. Approximately 234,575 MT of this gap can be met if the full
amount of the current WFP appeal is met, leaving an unmet remaining g
balance of approximately 145,000 MT. Hence, even if the full curren
WFP request is met, additional efforts will be required to ensure
adequate food stocks throughout the country until the next harvest.

9. (U) To date, approximately 70,000 MT of food aid has been imported
(approximately 45,000 MT of which has been distributed). The vast
majority of this was accounted for under WFP's original Zimbabwe EMOP
that effectively ended in June 2002 when the current, larger EMOP
began. This means, effectively, that in order to meet the VAC
projections the international community will need to import more than
the entirety of the current WFP 450,000 MT request between now and en
March 2003. Considering the lethargy of the response to date, the ye
to-be-satisfactorily-resolved problems associated with the biotech
issue for US corn/maize imports, the continuing serious constraints
imposed by government on NGO implementing partner capacity, and the
increasing congestion being experienced in regional logistical
operations (which can be expected to worsen considerably with the ons
of the rainy season in about one month's time), this will be a tall
task in itself, regardless of the government's success in meeting its
respective commitments.

10. (U) The final point is that even if all of these significant
commitments are met, a Zimbabwe food gap of about 145,000 MT will
remain. Thus, at least some additional assistance will be required.
Ideally, this additional increment could be met through local private
sector imports. In this interest, the initial CFSAM called for some
312,000 MT of private sector imports. However, due to government
restrictions, Zimbabwe's private sector has not been permitted to
fulfill any significant role in responding to the crisis. The figure
noted above suggest the need for renewed efforts in attempting to get
the GOZ to relax its current restrictions and allow private sector fo
imports to proceed. However, this also assumes that the private sect
will be willing and able to respond, as required, given current
government market and pricing controls and FX constraints/restriction
Failing this, additional government and/or donor imports will be
required (beyond the considerable amounts already discussed above).

11. (U) To address this situation, the Mission suggests the followin
course of action:

-A. Hold the GOZ publicly accountable for meeting its planned future
import commitment of 651,000 MT. Otherwise, the donor community coul
be held responsible for over one million MT of food requirements, whi
we consider to be an unrealistic target, particularly given GOZ
constraints upon food assistance and delivery.

-B. At the same time, given the high degree of skepticism regarding t
GOZ's ability to meet these requirements, the donor community must al
quietly plan, on a "contingency" basis, for the possibility that the
GOZ will prove unable to fulfill all or a part of its commitments.

-C. Underline publicly the need for the GOZ to reform current policy
restrictions related to the FX market, imports, sales and prices of
essential food and agricultural commodities, and NGOs' role in food
distribution and the greater private sector in food imports and
distribution operations, which are seriously impeding the collective
ability to respond to the growing crisis. (Note: Bilateral U.S.
leverage on such issues is minimal; that of UN and WFP is greater.)

-D. Continue USG efforts to respond as soon and as much as possible t
the current food crisis in Zimbabwe. Regarding the particular USG
issue associated with biotech food commodities:
--Finalize and complete the current WFP corn/maize swap deal with the
GOZ as soon as possible;
--Work with the GOZ to develop acceptable "permanent" solutions to th
biotech issue for Zimbabwe; and
--Determine realistic food assistance alternatives to biotech food (i
the event that a more lasting local solution cannot be found in a
timely manner). Recent discussions with government suggest that some
type of monetized wheat program may be one such possible alternative,
albeit with application limited mostly to urban areas.

-E. Continue to urge other international donors to increase and
accelerate their commitments to Zimbabwe (both through the WFP progra
as well as through supplementary bilateral activities).

12. (U) Comment: The recent VAC report serves to underline the serio
of the food security situation in Zimbabwe. It clearly highlights th
worsening nature of the crisis, and the need for renewed efforts by a
concerned parties to avoid a potential major humanitarian disaster.
The Mission believes it provides a timely reminder of the considerabl
efforts that will be required over the coming months in this interest
Continuing USG attention and support in this endeavor, as suggested
above, will be appreciated.

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