HOPE for a better harvest next year is fading; experts have warned that Zimbabwe’s food crisis is set to claw into 2009 because of poor preparation, lack of inputs and late arrival of rainfall.
Zimbabwean MPs last week declared the country’s food shortage a national disaster. More than half of the population is straying into poverty, with most of the remaining population surviving from hand to month.
The word poverty looks ordinary in print with no peculiar sound when uttered. Experiencing it however leaves one with an indelible mark on any unfortunate victim, a mark difficult to erase.
Indeed when poverty invades one’s territory and forcefully takes charge of affairs nothing good comes of that, only misery with far reaching consequences.
Growing poverty is the major issue on Zimbabweans’ minds as they watch their once prosperous and peaceful country slip further into chaos, hunger and economic collapse. And with no sign of rains, availability of fertiliser or maize seed in sight, people are losing hope and becoming desperate.
The situation, paints a bleak picture of a country on the brink of massive hunger, unemployment, stress and deteriorating health services.
Just nine years ago Zimababwe was known for assisting many countries in Africa that did not have enough food following a poor harvest. In Southern African it was once known as the bread basket of Southern Africa.
Zimbabwe’s agricultural production has been hit by a long list of difficulties, several rounds of severe drought, a collapsed currency that has made fertiliser and other farm inputsÂ —— if available – very expensive, and farmers without knowledge of farming.
Economic consultant John Robertson said many people were living from hand to mouth, as there was no food in the shops.
“The majority of the population is starving. There is no food. It is a difficult situation in the country and there are no signs of a better tomorrow on the ground,” said Robertson.
In the arid south-western provinces of Matebeleland, desperate villagers are said to be eating inedible wild fruits or unripe fruits to survive.
The aid agency Save The Children in September reported that “many people in the Zambezi Valley, the poorest and driest area, were now surviving on a vile-tasting, fibrous root called makuri”.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has described the situation as a national crisis and appealed for about US$140 million to feedÂ about four million people it says will be in need of food until mid next year.
“The situation is already critical in many rural areas, particularly in the worst affected southern districts but also in some districts in the east, centre and northwest of the country. A large number of farmers harvested very little this year and have now exhausted their meagre stocks,” said WFP spokesperson Richard Lee in a statement.
Zimbabwe’s food situation was worsened by a three-month ban on relief work imposed by government in June this year. The ban was lifted at the end August, but non-governmental organisations are yet to resume full-scale operations.
Alleged political interference during food distribution continues in some parts of the country.
Zanu PF officials are said to be demanding that only their supporters get food under the government-initiated subsidy programme, the Basic Commodity Supply Side Intervention.
Said Eric Bloch this week: “Had the land programme continued to respect property rights and thereby according quality new farmers with not only the incentives to develop and enhance the lands, butÂ also provided them with the collateral security needed to source essential developmental and working capital, agriculture would have grown from strength to strength”.
Henrick Olivier, chief executive officer of the Commercial Farmers Union, says the impending season was a “disaster” before it even starts. He saidÂ inputs are in short supply. “This coming season… before it even started, it’s been a disaster. There are no inputs, there is no fuel, fertiliser, chemicals or seed available and whatever is available is in short supply. There is no preparations whatsoever. It’s not a good season that’s lying ahead of us,” said Olivier.
According to Movement for Democratic Change spokesman for Agriculture Ransen Gasela, Zimbabwe requires an annual total of one million tonnes of grain for human consumption and 400 000 tonnes for industrial use, but with haphazard preparations way behind schedule, a harvest that size might be a distant dream for the country.
Government, through the Reserve Bank, embarked on a massive agricultural mechanisation programme while constantly reviewing producer prices of such crops as maize, wheat, tobacco, cotton and small grains. This was after realising that agriculture was not only the backbone of the country’s economy but was a critical factor to reduce the current high inflation levels.
Thousands of farmers have since benefited from the farm mechanisation programme and have, in turn, vowed to increase agricultural output for the 2007/08 season which is yet to happen.
The average Zimbabwean has over the past seven years been longing for economic prosperity. In other countries when inflation hits 50% it is considered a big source of concern, if not a national disaster. To talk about 231 million percent inflation would be unthinkable for the majority of nations in the world.
In Zimbabwe, inflation is galloping, supermarkets employees are spending a considerable amount of time changing price tags every day.
The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe no-longer publish the monthly shopping basket because the price of basic commodities are changing almost twice a day.
The consumer watchdog expressed concern at the rate prices are rising, with a lot of people straying into poverty.
“Salaries are failing to cope with the rate at which prices are rising. Over 70% of Zimbabweans are living below the poverty datum line. Such figures are not healthy for the economic development of the country.
“From our surveys, we established that many families are living on one meals a day. It is disheartening to note that most of the basic commodities are below standards these days,” CCZ said.
The Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe estimates the rate of unemployment at 80%. The is driving many people to desperation. Many Zimbabwe are longing for a time when they would spend time in a more productive way than having to queue for bread and mealie, if you can even find it, for candles if it is available, and for $50 000 at the bank which is not enough for one to visit Mabvuku or Ruwa and come back.
There are reports of increased school drop-outs in rural areas as a result of the misguided hand of poverty, driving them to the streets to eek out a living.
Children of school going age are a common sight along some major road intersections. To them, the red signal of traffic lights is an invitation to do business right in the middle of the roads.
Since the economy started cruising in reverse gear,Â corruption has reportedly been rampant with evidence of government officials who are profiting from people desperately in need of basic commodities being exposed.
“They use their connections to access scarce commodities to enrich themselves through the black market. The rich are getting richer by the day, and the poor are getting poorer,” vice president Joyce Mujuru was once quoted saying..
Another dilemma facing Zimbabwe because of poverty is coping with HIV/Aids. About 1 000 Zimbabweans are reportedly dying of Aids-related ailments every week, which is the equivalent of two huge Boeing 747 aircrafts filled to capacity crashing and killing everyone on board every week.
The emotional, social and economic ramifications have been serious. Every Zimbabwean is either infected or affected.
The levels of poverty have also resulted in an increase in brain drain as more skilled people seek greener pastures in other countries.
By Paul Nyakazeya