HomeOpinionZim’s grim food situation laid bare

Zim’s grim food situation laid bare

TAURAI MANGUDHLA
SHOCKING World Food Programme (WFP) data released last week on Saturday demonstrating the depth of the food crisis in Zimbabwe underlined the need for immediate government action.

On the day billions marked the World Food Day, there was nothing to celebrate for Zimbabweans.

For many, it was a day to brood over struggles to put food on the table in a country that was once the bread basket of Southern Africa.

That era ended when agrarian reforms, which were meant to redress racial land inequalities on prime agricultural land, turned chaotic, leading to the settlement of ill-equipped and less experienced people on productive farmlands, which once produced the choicest beef and bumper maize.

It was just business as usual across the country, although a speech by Lands and Agriculture minister Anxious Masuka in the state controlled media was the only gesture reminding Zimbabweans of a splendid past.

Today, the agrarian reforms, prolonged droughts and economic mismanagement have turned Zimbabweans into perennial beggars and economic refugees.

Painting a true picture of the distress, WFP country director Francesca Erdelmann said Covid–19 induced difficulties had worsened an already bad state of affairs.

“Over five million people in both urban and rural communities will not have enough to eat; they were already vulnerable before the Covid-19 pandemic and will be further pushed into vulnerability if we don’t act decisively,” Erdelmann said.

“Communities can be productive if we enable them with the skills and resources that they require to produce food. Unless we find solutions, we will not move past the cycle of interdependence. Let’s build stronger food systems through working together.”

In contrast, Masuka struck an optimistic tone, promising better seasons head and improved food security situation.

His optimism was underpinned by ongoing efforts to avail funding and support to farmers through schemes like the presidential input programme — one of Zimbabwe’s longest running schemes.

This season, about 2,3 million farmers are expected to benefit from the presidential input scheme known as Pfumvudza.

These, according to Masuka’s Word Food Day address, are meant to produce surplus and improve the country’s food security situation.

Last season, 1,8 million farmers benefited from the scheme.

Now, with the population under coverage improving, Zimbabweans hope to see food shortages coming to an end.

Inputs distribution is expected to be completed by the end of October, in time for the planting season, which begins late November.

And with this strategy underway, some are hopeful.

“I recently finished my studies in agriculture and want to make the most of my land here, but the problem is funding,” said Wendy Moyo, a youth from Chiweshe.

“Farming is a calling for me and I have tried almost everything but I can’t really grow because of funding. This season I hope to get contracts for tobacco and sugar bean production so that I earn enough money to drill a borehole on my land and start all-year round projects.”

“The problem is that you can’t walk into a bank and get cash to fund your project.”

The government has had to step in with schemes for new farmers, costing the nation billions over the years, the latest mega funding initiative being Command Agriculture.

However, the efficacy of such projects has been hampered by massive politicisation with inputs distributed along partisan lines.

“We pray that this time around, all inputs will be given to all Zimbabweans. Any Zimbabwean who has the land and is willing to apply must be considered, not just (ruling) Zanu PF members. I am a farmer and Zimbabwean first before party politics,” Eunice Chatiza from Murombedzi said.

The fast-track land reform programme, which the West labeled as a violation of property and human rights, displaced thousands of white commercial farmers, who had land title and access to affordable and often long-term finance.

This disrupted Zimbabwe’s irrigation projects and commercial large scale food production and dealt a huge blow to food security.

With the economic malaise of over a decade that eroded savings and income, most Zimbabweans are living in abject poverty — unable to afford basic meals and health services and as such unable to invest in farming even for subsistence.

“Money is not the answer to all our farming problems, we need skills and knowledge. There is a huge gap there,” Chatiza said.

The skills and capital flight has for two decades now caused huge headaches for the country.

The once strong herd of cattle started depleting while acres of prime arable land went idle for years as ownership disputes, lack of funding and skills hampered production. About 100 000 cattle were lost between 2019 and 2020 due to diseases across the country.

The Zimbabwe Farmers Union recently expressed concern over the rising cost of inputs, saying they are not affordable for the communal farmer with a 10kg bag of seed ranging between ZW$3 000 (US$33) and $5 000 (US$55) recently.

As the country prepares for the 2021/22 farming season, food security is at stake. Funding and skills are among the major requirements to change the narrative. The dream to bring Zimbabwe to its heyday where it produced surplus to feed its neighbours can still be achieved if irrigation systems, funding and inputs are easily accessible and idle land is allocated to serious farmers.

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