Drought: Policy failure worsens situation

Not that it’s anything new in these areas surrounding districts like Gutu, Bikita, Zaka and Chivi located in one of the most drought-prone geographical regions of the country, but 2012 has been worse and there are fears it might deteriorate to catastrophic levels of the 1992 drought.

In 1992, the country experienced a severe drought resulting in human and livestock fatalities.

Climatically, these area falls under natural region III. Natural regions in Zimbabwe’s context are areas delineated on the basis of soil type, rainfall and other climatic factors.

The drought and hunger stalking the country has forced cabinet to form a committee to deal with the issue and food security at a national level.

The looming food crisis has several causes. Besides drought, there is the issue of lack of productivity following the land reform programme and government policy failures in agriculture.

Since the 2000 land seizures Zimbabwe has been surviving on food imports and donations. At the height of Zimbabwe’s economic and political crisis in 2008, aid agencies estimated that at least five million Zimbabweans — almost half the country’s population — survived on food aid.

Although the government has an uneasy relationship with the Western countries over limited sanctions imposed on targeted individuals and companies, there is a “gentlemen’s agreement” in which President Robert Mugabe’s regime allows aid agencies to distribute food to avert mass starvation.

Even though the economy has shown signs of recovery since the establishment of the coalition government, a major drought is threatening to expose the fragile nature of the country’s economic recovery and food security. Like on previous occasions, the inclusive government is reacting to the consequences instead of planning ahead.

In the Mutoko District of Mashonaland East, most crops have wilted due to moisture stress and, in most areas, the crops are a complete write-off.

Most farmers had applied for compound D fertiliser but this was followed by a long period of dry weather, resulting in most crops failing. Communal farmers in the Nyamuzuwe, Kawazva and Charehwa areas area have given up on their crop.

Estimates show that at least half a million Zimbabweans would require food aid but the number could be higher as the cost of the drought is still being counted.

While the inclusive government is preoccupied with election issues, millions of people, especially in the rural areas, face severe famine.

With most countries in the region unable to export maize amid reports that a third of the national maize crop is a write-off while 55 000 tonnes of maize were destroyed because of poor storage at the Grain Marketing Board, Zimbabwe is clearly facing hunger

Agriculture and Mechanisation minister Joseph Made recently warned that hundreds of thousands of people were facing starvation due to the drought which has resulted in poor yields after vast tracks of maize failed. He said according to the final crop assessment by government, about 500 000 hectares of maize crop is a write-off due to poor rains.

Zimbabwe Farmers Union executive director Paul Zakariya recently said the outlook for the 2011/2012 agricultural season was not encouraging.

“Chiefly, most farmers failed to access inputs through the support scheme launched by government. There was an acute shortage of AN fertiliser on the market. Resultantly, most farmers lost a significant portion of their crop. The situation was worsened by the late onset of rains,” Zakariya said.

The unpredictability of the rainy season continues to stifle the full potential of local farmers. Owing to these challenges, hectarage for this season has significantly gone down, and that in turn would lead to reduced yields.

Against that background, government only provided US$226 million to agriculture this year while the sector requires an estimated US$2 billion each season if it is to realise its full potential.”

However, Commercial Farmers Union president Charles Taffs said poor planning by both government and farmers resulted in the looming food shortages.

“It is more than just a drought. The agriculture policy is not conducive to production. The problems on the land whether big or small is that farmers do not have security hence they cannot put money into such business. There is no planning or investment. People don’t plan for this agricultural season. They wait for government handouts,” he said.

“The situation this year is that the planting season was done up to December of which if you plant maize after the 15th of December don’t expect to get much yields. The southern part of the country has always been known as not the best area for maize seeds and it usually experiences erratic rainfalls and there is nothing new about that. If you are a serious farmer, use irrigation to mitigate that; plant early to cover the dry spell, but if you don’t own the land you cannot do that,” he said.

Debay Tadesse of the Institute for Security Studies — African Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Programme last week told African parliamentarians in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at an inter-parliamentary dialogue organised by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, that variability in the weather patterns as a result of climate change has had major implications for pastoralist livelihoods and security.

Tadesse said: “Threats from climate change, particularly persistent drought, have devastating consequences. The overall effect is that climate change will fuel existing conflicts over depleting resources, especially where access to those resources is scarce.”

Unless government makes decisive interventions, achieving the first objective of the Millennium Development Goals (eradication of extreme poverty and hunger) will be frustrated by changes in rainfall patterns which threaten crop production and food security.


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