HomeLocal News‘Millions face starvation by January’…stocks running low in Masvingo, Matabeleland, Midlands and...

‘Millions face starvation by January’…stocks running low in Masvingo, Matabeleland, Midlands and Manicaland

ZIMBABWE’S rural communities and poor urbanites have been finding it increasingly hard to access basic foodstuffs following a spirited rise in the cost of living, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fewsnet) said this week.

Fewsnet, a food situation monitoring arm of the United States Agency for International Development, said it was worried that the crisis was worsening in spite of a record agricultural season that helped the southern African country cut on food imports.

Despite the high rainfall season, millions of Zimbabwean households in low rainfall regions were scrounging for food, with many likely to starve by early 2022.

“Following near-record national production in the 2020-2021 agricultural season, most households in surplus-producing areas are still able to meet their food needs through own-produced stocks,” Fewsnet said in its food security outlook covering the period October 2021 to May 2022.

“However, deficit-producing areas in parts of Masvingo, Matabeleland North and South, Midlands, and Manicaland Provinces experienced relatively poor production despite the above-average season nationally.

“Most poor households in these areas have now depleted their stocks and are increasingly relying on markets.

“Across both urban and rural areas, access to basic food and non-food commodities and services on the market is increasingly constrained by reductions in household purchasing power related to ongoing macroeconomic instability, limited income generating opportunities, and spiking prices,” the report noted.

Zimbabwean consumers have been pushed to the brink by rocketing prices of goods and services in the past few months, which have been precipitated by an extensive depreciation of the domestic currency.

Initially, the Zimbabwean dollar had suffered a beating on the parallel market, where rates had breached the US$1:ZW$200 mark, from about US$1:ZW$120 in January.

But in the past few weeks, the currency has also carved in on the official market, where it has plummeted to US$1:ZW$105 at this week’s foreign currency auction, from about US$1:ZW$83 in January.

The currency decimation has sparked off an inflationary rage, which has seen annual rates taking a spirited northwards march after almost one year of decline.

Fewsnet warned of dire implications to vulnerable communities stemming from the meltdown.

“The volatile macro-economic environment continues to pose livelihood and food access challenges, especially for poor households in both rural and urban areas,” it said.

“Spiking parallel market exchange rates are the main driver of most Zimbabwean dollar price increases on the market.”

Fewsnet said parallel market rates were running at a premium of between 85% and 105% above the official rate at the end of October.

“With continued Zimbabwean dollar cash shortages, premiums for mobile and electronic money payments increased by almost 15% in October,” Fewsnet said.

“Annual and monthly inflation rates remain high, increasing in October to 54,5% and 6,4% respectively, up from 51,5% and 4,7% respectively, in September.

“The national poverty lines – averages for the minimum cost of procuring basic food and for the total cost of living – increased by 7,6% and 7%, respectively, between September and October, among the highest monthly increases in the year.”

As a result of the exchange rate depreciation, rentals increased in urban areas, while utility charges also rose.

However, wages and salaries for formal sector workers, social security benefits and most household incomes for those earning a living through the informal sector have not been reviewed in line with market dynamics.

The crisis has been amplified by the fact that rentals are now being charged in United States dollars, against Zimbabwean dollar incomes for most households.

“Prices for most basic goods (including staple maize and maize meal) and services continue to increase, most significantly in Zimbabwean dollars,” the agency said. “Cooking oil, bread and sugar (prices) rose nearly 10%, 20%, and 30% respectively in October relative to September.

“Fuel prices remain above normal levels in both US dollars and Zimbabwean dollars, increasing by between 1,5% and 6% in early October, compared to September in line with rising international prices.

“Transportation shortages and high transportation costs are especially affecting the livelihoods of poor households by constraining travel and eroding disposable incomes and access to markets in most rural and urban areas,” it said.

Fewsnet said throughout the outlook period, urban areas were expected to remain stressed.

“Poor households may meet their minimal food needs but will continue to experience increasing difficulty, accessing other foods and non-food needs mainly due to macroeconomic challenges, below-average income, above average prices, and increasing cost of living,” it said.

Consumer bodies, parliamentarians, business membership organisations and international financial institutions have warned the government that they need to quickly implement a social spending strategy as millions are facing tougher times.

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