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Cablegate: Field Visit Report to Matebeleland North;

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HARARE 002632

SIPDIS

USAID/W FOR DCHA/OFDA FOR HAJJAR, KHANDAGLE AND MARX
DCHA/FFP FOR LANDIS, BRAUSE, SKORIC AND PETERSEN
AFR/SA FOR POE AND COPSON
AFR/SD FOR ISALROW AND WHELAN
STATE/INR FOR LESLIE CURTIN AND WILLIAM WOOD
STATE FOR AF/S DELISI AND RAYNOR
NAIROBI FOR DCHA/OFDA/ARO FOR RILEY, MYER AND SMITH
REDSO/ESA/FFP FOR SENYKOFF
GENEVA PLEASE PASS TO UNOCHA, IFRC
PRETORIA FOR USAID/DCHA/FFP FOR DISKIN
DCHA/OFDA FOR BRYAN AND USDA/FAS FOR HELM
ROME PLEASE PASS TO FODAG

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID PREL US ZI
SUBJECT: Field Visit Report to Matebeleland North;
7-9 November 2002

REFS: (A) Harare 2496, (B) Harare 2623

------------
INTRODUCTION
------------

1. This cable summarizes the major findings on the food
security situation in Matebeleland North Province from a
recent field visit conducted to the area by a joint USAID
Food for Peace, Famine Early Warning Service Network
(FEWS NET) and World Food Programme (WFP) team.


----------------
PURPOSE OF VISIT
----------------

2. The purpose of the visit was to conduct a rapid
appraisal of the food security situation in Binga and
Insiza districts of Matebeleland province, and to provide
guidance to the Regional Food for Peace Officer (FFPO)
visiting Matebeleland province on a mission to
investigate the politicization of food aid in the
province (see reftel A for sep-FFPO report on this latter
subject).

-----------
METHODOLOGY
-----------

3. The trip was conducted over the period 7-9 November
2002. Findings presented in this report are based on a
rapid appraisal of food markets in Bulawayo City and
Lupane, Hwange and Binga Districts in Matebeleland North
Province. Personal observations were complemented by
interviews with representatives from WFP in Matebeleland,
World Vision (WV), Organization for Rural Areas Progress
(ORAP), and Dabane Trust (the last two local NGOs), as
well as the District Administrator for Binga, the Binga
Co-coordinator for the Catholic Archdiocese Ecumenical
Commission (CADEC, the Zimbabwe equivalent of CARITAS),
and villagers from Lupane, Hwange and Binga Districts.
Note: Following preliminary discussions, Insiza was
dropped from the visit itinerary due to security concerns
related to the continuing sensitivity of the situation in
that district (see reftel A for more on this subject).
End Note.

-----------------------
FOOD SECURITY SITUATION
-----------------------

4. The food security situation continues to worsen, both
in the provincial capital (Bulawayo) and in the rural
areas of Matebeleland. Food access is seriously limited
by the run-away inflation - estimated at 144% as the end
of October 2002, suppressed incomes and the ever-
increasing levels of unemployment. Incomes of poor urban
households are trailing way behind inflation. Recent
salary reviews for unskilled and the semi-skilled workers
saw their salaries increase to between ZD13,000 and
ZD24,000 per month - between one-third and two-thirds
less than the October 2002 Consumer Council of Zimbabwe
recommended minimum expenditure basket for an average Low-
Income-Urban household. The staple food maize meal and
maize grain are not readily available in the shops, but
are occasionally available on the parallel market at more
than six times the controlled price. Bread, until
recently the main substitute for maize meal (along with
Irish potatoes and rice), is selling for twice its
controlled price, and is in seriously short supply.

5. Prices of Selected Basic Goods as at 8 November 2002:

------------- ------ ---------- ------- --------
Food Item Unit Controlled Prices Prices in
Price in Bulawayo
Binga City
Town
(ZW$) (ZW$) (ZW$)
------------- ------ ---------- ------- --------
Bread Loaf 60.44 160 130
Sugar 2kg 114.70 300 200
Irish potatoes 15kg Na 3000 3000
Rice 2kg Na 1075 800
Cooking oil 750ml 114.70 700 700

6. The majority of rural households in Matebeleland North
did not have any meaningful harvest from the 2000/2001 or
2001/2002 production years. As a result, they have been
dependent on food aid and/or the market for the last two
marketing seasons. WFP is currently feeding between 40
and 70% of the people in five out of six districts of
Matebeleland North Province. In Binga, the only district
in which WFP is not currently operating, CADEC and some
church groups were undertaking feeding operations. Save
the Children - UK (SCF-UK) was active in providing
assistance in Binga until they were stopped by
Government, following accusations of supporting the
opposition in the September local government elections.
Note: SCF-UK has just received final approval from the
GOZ this week to resume their humanitarian assistance
activities in this district. They expect to resume
feeding programs there soon. End Note. WFP, through
their NGO implementing partners in this Province, ORAP
and World Vision, supplies about 2,000 MT per month of
food aid in each of the districts in which they are
operating.

7. Government, through the Grain Marketing Board (GMB),
supplies about 1,000 MT of food to each district per
month. The food is sold to local communities at around
$10.20/kg, down from ZW$19/kg in May 2002, at
distribution points established throughout the rural
areas. Maize deliveries by GMB to the communities are
very erratic in all of the districts of Matebeleland
North. Households wait for between two to three months
to get maize sufficient for only two to three weeks'
needs. The main reasons for the irregular maize supply
are reported to be limited stocks from the supply depots
in Bulawayo, and inadequate transport to move available
grain from Bulawayo to district depots and, in turn, to
the selling points within the districts. Transporters
are not comfortable with the generally poor road network.
In the case of Binga, transporters find the route from
Bulawayo too long and dangerous, particularly the section
that goes through Kamativi Mines which has sharp curves
and steep slopes. In addition, the strip road to Nkayi
is accused of tearing tires apart with its deteriorating
shoulders.

8. To address the access side of food security,
government is operating a cash-for-labor programme,
parallel to the food sales programme, in which community
members undertake some work in infrastructure development
and repair to receive between ZD500 and ZD1,500 per
person per month for the work.

9. Poor management of GMB maize has allowed some
unscrupulous villagers with cash to buy more food than
they need which is being smuggled across the Zambezi
River for sale in Zambia for hefty profits. For example,
it was reported that a 50kg bag of maize bought for about
ZD510 can be sold for up to ZD3,000 in Zambia. Binga
residents complain that, in addition to maize grain and
meal, sugar, fuel and other basic items are also being
smuggled into Zambia. In addition, although illegal,
limited maize grain sales by some private dealers are
reported to be occurring throughout this Province.

-----------------
COPING STRATEGIES
-----------------

9. To deal with the food shortages, rural communities are
employing a variety of different coping strategies.
Reported strategies include reducing the number of meals
per day (while reductions to one meal per day were most
common, some households are reportedly skipping meals for
an entire day), feeding on leaf vegetables (kale, rape,
chomolia, etc.), and collecting/eating wild fruits
(baobab, utsiga) and vegetables (utende). Some
households share the limited grain or maize meal that
they receive as food assistance or buy from GMB with
relatives and friends who have run out of stocks.

--------------------------------------------- ---
PREPARATIONS FOR THE 2002/2003 PRODUCTION SEASON
--------------------------------------------- ---

10. Like the greater part of the country (see reftel B),
Binga, Lupane and Hwange Districts have received adequate
rains to date, and farmers have started planting this
season's crops. Smallholder farmers in the three
districts visited have limited stocks of sorghum and
millet seed available to plant this year. There is no
maize seed on the market. As a result, farmers are
resorting to planting some of the maize grain they have
received as food aid or bought from the GMB for food.
Input support schemes run by government, NGOs and church
organizations are attempting to address the seed
availability and access constraints that are spread
throughout the Province (and indeed the entire country -
reftel B).

-------
COMMENT
-------

11. The team's findings support the increasing gravity of
the deteriorating food security situation in this region
of the country. While the situation is indeed grim, it
remains difficult to assess accurately due to the paucity
of available/systematic data on the nutritional status of
the affected populations. More effort needs to be
devoted to national nutritional surveillance in Zimbabwe,
on an urgent basis, to address this situation and guide
future relief efforts over the coming critical "hungry
season" months. The preliminary findings on preparations
for the 2002/03 agricultural season appear to support
similarly dire predictions for greater country at large
(reftel A). Although it remains too early for any
accurate projections, this initial anecdotal evidence
bodes extremely ill for this chronically poor, rainfall
deficit and highly food insecure region of the country.
Sullivan

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