Cablegate: Rising Food Insecurity in Zimbabwe

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
SUBJECT: Rising Food Insecurity in Zimbabwe


1. The number of vulnerable households in Zimbabwe
continues to rise as food staples become more expensive.
Seed prices have risen beyond affordable levels for most
ordinary farmers and the outlook for this year's
agricultural season is not yet clear. Continuing
economic deterioration, disruptions to agriculture
through on-going land seizures, poor distribution of
rains, lack of draft animals or tractors for tillage,
and HIV/AIDS have compounded the problem. During the
next few months, the hungry period, 5 million rural
Zimbabweans will be in need of food aid assistance. In
the urban areas, it is estimated that another 2.5
million are food insecure. While donors have responded
to the food crisis with substantial resources, currently
meeting 80% of WFP's appeal, the Government of Zimbabwe
(GOZ) has publicly acknowledged that it has acquired
240,000 MT of grain, but it has not released this grain
in any significant amounts or even disclosed its
distribution plans. Post recommends that any further USG
pledges of food commodities be placed on hold until
greater transparency from the GOZ is forthcoming
regarding use of its grain reserves.


2. As the price of maize, the staple food in Zimbabwe,
has increased, it has becomes unaffordable to more
households. Thus, the number of food insecure people has
increased. Zimbabwe is now in the "hungry period,"
which will last until the next harvest in April/May
2004. Most households have depleted the last of their
stores and must now purchase food. Based on the current
price of maize, the Famine Early Warning System
(FEWSNET) has estimated that 5 million people are
currently in need of food assistance. The FEWSNET
previous estimate, based on prices in early 2003, was
4.4 million.


3. With recent pledges from USAID and the EU, about 80%
of the UN 2003-4 appeal (EMOP 10290) has been met, both
in terms of dollars and food tonnage. It is not
certain, however, if food can be procured and delivered
in time to avoid food pipeline breaks. Already, because
of delivery delays, WFP had to reduce the cereal ration
for the month of December by half to 5 kg of grain per
person. Although the cereal ration was restored to 10
kg per person in January, there were no pulses or oil in
the ration for this month.


4. It is estimated that the GOZ has stored approximately
240,000 MT of grain in Zimbabwe. The Grain Marketing
Board (GMB) has reportedly been stockpiling grain in
various depots around the country, and the GOZ has not
been forthcoming with distribution plans for this grain.
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator recently sent a letter
to the GOZ requesting better coordination between the UN
and the GOZ in this respect. He wrote "I trust that GMB
will fill the (food distribution) gap foreseen in the
next couple of months", and requested that GOZ share
whatever plans it might have to utilize the grain. The
WFP briefed the international press on January 22nd in
Johannesburg on GMB food stockpiles, leading to stories
in Reuters, the NY Times and elsewhere.

5. On January 27, 2004, the front page headline of the
Daily News, an independent newspaper in Zimbabwe, called
for the release of the GOZ stockpiled maize. There is
dismay that the government is withholding this grain
from hungry people and growing concern among Zimbabweans
that it may be used by the GOZ for political purposes
during the up-coming elections. Donors are increasingly
concerned that the GOZ is not contributing its fair
share to the feeding of its own citizens. These
concerns are heightened by the GOZ's substantial and
undistributed grain stocks. Post recommends that any
further USG pledges of food commodities be placed on
hold until greater transparency from the GOZ is
forthcoming regarding use of its grain reserves.


6. The outlook for this year's agricultural season is
unclear at this point, but preliminary information is
troubling. A joint FAO/WFP food and crop assessment
mission will take place just before the harvest --
probably in early April. Figures from the Agricultural
Research and Extension (AREX) report of January 16, 2004
show that, so far this season, the number of hectares of
crops planted is below GOZ target levels for all crops:
maize (target 3,500,000 ha, planted area 859,662 ha),
sorghum (target 400,000 ha, planted area 207,255 ha);
soybeans (target 300,000 ha, planted area 12,542 ha) and
groundnuts (target 200,000 ha, planted area 170,153 ha).
Most disturbing, however, is that the area planted for
maize is estimated to have decreased: for the 02/03
agricultural season, FAO estimated 1,395,000 ha planted
for maize, whereas the estimate for the 03/04 season is
down to 859,662 ha.

7. Within the past few days, rains have been widespread
in Zimbabwe, and the latest Rainfall Bulletin issued by
the Department of Meteorological Services (Issue No. 11,
January 21) reports that cumulative rainfall is more
than 80% of normal rainfall amounts to date for most of
the country, except for Manicaland, Mashonaland East and
Mashonaland West, where rainfall levels are between 60%
and 80% of normal. The highest amounts of rainfall
since October have been recorded in the central southern
parts of the country, with the least (less than 200mm)
over the east of Matebeleland South.

8. While this is a significant improvement over the
previous two years, the cumulative rainfall figures are
quite deceptive and only tell part of the story. The
constancy and distribution of rainfall is critical for
crop production, and rainfall this year has been very
erratic. Over the past months rains were sporadic and
varied throughout the country, with fairly good rains in
November in some areas, followed by a dry spell.

9. Some farmers who planted in November, when the first
rains arrived, watched as their crops shriveled in the
fields. Those with enough seed have since replanted.
Widespread tilling and planting are still on-going.
AREX has advised farmers who have not yet planted to use
short-season varieties due to the late date. We
believe, however, that many farmers do not have access
to seeds for these varieties.

10. Shortages of input supply and critical foreign and
local currency constraints prevented the purchase of
necessary inputs such as fertilizer, crop and livestock
chemicals, fuel, and agricultural equipment and
replacement parts. Many communal farmers have had to
plow smaller areas of their fields due to the scarcity
of fuel for tractors and/or animal draft power. In many
instances, farmers have only been able to plow by hand
one quarter of what they could previously plow with
government-supplied tractors, portending significant
reductions in income for the foreseeable future.

11. Of the approximately 4000 large scale commercial
farms in business three years ago, less than 300 remain
under the original ownership. Many of the resettled
commercial farms are out of production altogether or
producing at lower levels than they previously did.
Just this week the GOZ listed a further 130 farms for
compulsory acquisition.


12. Seed prices have risen beyond affordable levels for
many ordinary farmers. Seeds are reportedly still
available in shops, unlike last year at this time,
despite the fact that fewer seeds were imported this
year. It is not known whether this is due to
unaffordable prices, poor timing or unsuitable

13. ICRISAT is conducting a study on the effectiveness
of the emergency seed distribution programs. It will
report on amounts of seed distributed, areas targeted,
results of seed germination tests, and the quality and
performance of seeds. The post harvest analysis will
examine how crops performed, with a final report ready
in June.


14. The HIV/AIDs prevalence rate on farms is reportedly
43 percent compared to a national infection level of
24.6 percent, according to the soon-to-be-released UNDP
Zimbabwe Human Development Report for 2003. Since most
of the HIV-infected people are in the 15- to 23-year age
bracket, this greatly affects the labor force on farms.
Orphans and child-headed households are plentiful. The
productivity of affected farmers has declined, and plot
sizes have shrunk due to the reduced capabilities of
affected farmers. Many humanitarian assistance
programs, including USG programs, attempt to target
HIV/AIDS and other chronically ill populations.
Additional donor attention is needed to find ways to
more effectively target those infected and affected by

15. Labor-saving technologies and agricultural practices
can ease the burden for chronically ill farmers. There
is great need to utilize more appropriate technologies,
such as the drip irrigation (already promoted through
the USAID/Zimbabwe-sponsored LEAD program), and/or to
introduce conservation farming, such as low or no-
tillage methods, intercropping and other appropriate


16. Poverty is increasing in urban areas of Zimbabwe.
An urban assessment has been completed and presented to
the government, but has not yet been released to the
public. Our preliminary information is that the urban
assessment will conclude that an estimated 2.5 million
urban dwellers are now food insecure.

17. The practice of planting maize on empty lots, along
roadsides and in riparian zones within cities is very
widespread this year. In prior years, the City Council
prohibited maize production in certain urban areas and
took steps to remove illegal crops. So far this year,
no action has been taken against urban farmers.
18. Donors are not funding general food distribution in
urban areas. They do fund more targeted programs, such
as the USAID-funded Market Assistance Program (MAP),
which provides low-cost sorghum products through
existing market channels in poor urban neighborhoods in
Bulawayo to assist with meeting their daily nutritional
requirements. However, donors need to do more to
address the needs of the most vulnerable in urban areas.


19. Vulnerability and food insecurity in Zimbabwe
continue to increase as inflation, HIV/AIDS, and land
redistribution take their toll. Late and intermittent
rains have delayed planting of crops, and early-planted
crops have withered in the fields in some areas. Even
good rains would not solve the food shortages in the
country as almost 95% of the commercial farms have been
disrupted by resettlement within the past three years,
and most rural farmers cannot afford inputs. Pipeline
problems affecting WFP distributions in rural areas mean
that WFP would be hard-pressed to respond to the needs
of the 2.5 million food insecure in urban areas. The
GOZ reportedly has stockpiled 240,000 MT of maize.
Whether it will intervene to feed the hungry in urban
areas, viewed as opposition strongholds, remains to be
seen. The UN and the donors will need to intensify the
pressure on the GOZ to respond in a timely and
appropriate manner.

© Scoop Media

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