GOVERNMENT last week said nearly seven million Zimbabweans, in both urban and rural areas, face starvation due to drought.
Editor’s Memo with Faith Zaba
This is an alarming food insecurity situation, as those vulnerable constitute 42% of the country’s total population.
Finance minister Mthuli Ncube said last week at the Alpha Media Holdings’ In Conversation with Trevor (Ncube) event: “The biggest issue on social safety nets is food . . . The situation is pretty serious and we have about 6,7 million people around Zimbabwe who are vulnerable to hunger and climate change because the two are now communed”.
While government has extended a begging bowl for US$3,2 billion emergency assistance to avert the hunger-driven humanitarian crisis, the country needs to formulate sustainable solutions to food insecurity. As the world grapples with climate change, rising population and urbanisation, Zimbabwe should seriously consider ways to overcome some of the pressing food production challenges in the 21st century.
According to Fewsnet, an organisation which tracks global food insecurity, the total cereal production is estimated at around 850 000 metric tonnes (MT). In May, the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) held about 590 000 MT of maize, including 500 000 MT held by the strategic grain reserves. The official national cereal deficit for the 2019/20 consumption and marketing season is currently estimated at 760 000 MT.
In the face of this adverse situation, government needs to massively invest in irrigation to increase yield through double-cropping and multi-cropping. It also has to professionalise or privatise government farming estates, giving them the mandate to produce grains for food security.
The country also needs to adopt low-cost and low-skill maize and soya farming on rural plots. This alone can potentially supply 90% of our annual maize requirement and 70% of our soya needs.
Zimbabwe has over 1,8 million rural households farming on their A1 plots, which government can take advantage of. It needs to capacitate them to produce, as it historically did through simple funding mechanisms based on their produce, like what the GMB and Cotton Marketing Board used to do.
Couple this with economic but attractive producer prices — government should remove pricing distortions that incentivise people to speculate and play the markets, but not producing. These households and small-scale farmers used to produce 70% of our maize requirements.
One of government’s biggest shortcomings has been creating a dependency syndrome through state food aid.
Many rural households have reduced or stopped producing essential grains, banking on government food handouts. Government should roll out a comprehensive education programme to convince rural households to adopt small grains adaptable to climate change-induced low and erratic rainfall patterns.
The country is currently facing power outages that have literally plunged it into darkness. Zesa has been switching off electricity for up to 18 hours a day, a situation that has affected farmers, business and ordinary people.
If the nation is to find a sustainable solution to food insecurity, it must sort out power deficit challenges to allow irrigation to occur uninterrupted. Current levels of load-shedding are having catastrophic effects on wheat and horticultural production. If power cuts continue up to the 2019/20 agricultural season, this will have a devastating impact on maize and other cereal production.
Also quintessential is for government to finalise 99-year leases for A2 farmers for productive farmers to be financially supported, while non-productive ones are exited from commercial farming.
Lands minister Perrance Shiri should chuck out inept beneficiaries of the land reform programme.
The first farmers to go should be those that were given the once green Kintyre Estates, now reduced to a waste land. The farm, which was used as an example in our Geography text books for being the leading dairy, wheat and soya bean producer, now lies idle, with no evidence farming.
While government seeks donor assistance to feed the seven million Zimbabweans, it should as well stop politicising land distribution and ensure that deserving productive farmers get commercial farms. Land distribution should not be done on racial lines, but should effectively be based on what is best for the country.