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Zim in acute food security crisis

THE Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has raised concern over Zimbabwe’s food insecurity which has been worsened by a deteriorating economy.

The revelation was made a few weeks after the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) revealed that crossborder migration had become one of the “key” survival strategies in the country in the face of the prevailing harsh economic landscape.

Driving the poor economic climate is a depreciating Zimbabwe dollar that has seen the cost of living shooting to ZW$73 000 (US$647,04) as of last month, up from ZW$58 284 (US$551,61) in November 2021, according to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ).

Also, the downturn of the local currency which has translated to increased inflation coupled with the cost of living is severely eroding employee earnings.

“In the case of Zimbabwe, it is affected by the deterioration of the economy and that is the main reason. From the nutrition angle we are planning to organise regional training in the first half of the year,” JICA Economic Development deputy director general, and group director for Agricultural and Rural Development 2 (Africa, Middle East and Europe) Shinjiro Amameishi said during a zoom meeting.

“We will be inviting the government of Zimbabwe and that is what we can do.  What your country is facing is serious and this is mainly coming from the deterioration of the economy. We are aware of a crisis looming in Zimbabwe.”

The Zoom meeting was an online press briefing regarding JICA’s commitment in Africa concerning nutrition improvement, as a follow-up of the ‘Tokyo Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Summit 2021’, which was held on December 7 and 8, 2021.

“Regarding financial support for Zimbabwe, our major operations are technical cooperation and we do not have a function to directly support by providing financial support…What we can do is provide opportunities to take part in technical training,” Amameishi said.

With inflation and the cost of living rising, most businesses are increasing prices to maintain the value of goods and services.

However, this has left most consumers unable to afford goods and services resulting in most households experiencing a poor diet and forced to reduce food quantities.

Food rationing and skipping meals has been noted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAid) food security arm, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FewsNet).

The rise in inflation and the cost of living is against monthly wages that range between an average of ZW$20 000 (US$185) to ZW$50 000 (US$462,96).

In FewsNet’s most recent food security outlook, it warned that inflation and the cost of living was now leaving the majority of urbanites poorer.

“Annual inflation and cost of living as reported by Zimstat continue to rise, increasingly negatively impacting poor households’ access to food and other basic commodities and services in both rural and urban areas. The food poverty line – the amount required to meet minimum food needs of 2 100 calories per person per day  increased by 6,2% to ZW$5 760 (US$53) per person per month in December,” FewsNet said.

“The total consumption poverty line, which includes the cost of minimum basic food and non-food needs, increased by 6% to ZW$8 000 (US$74) per person per month. Fuel prices in ZWL increased by at least 10% early in the month, putting additional pressure on other food and commodity prices.

“These increases are eroding household purchasing power and rendering more poor rural and urban households unable to meet their basic food and non-food needs.”

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) in a recent 2022 outlook report, found that food insecurity is anticipated this year, particularly during the lean season from October last year to March this year.

Unicef said this will be a factor of some poorer households in some deficit producing southern and extreme-northern areas who will be market reliant with lower purchasing power due to volatile macroeconomic conditions. As such, Unicef estimated that up to 2,5 million people will face nutritional crises.

Some of these challenges highlighted led to the British based global network of humanitarian agencies, Start Network, announcing the purchase of an innovative insurance policy in partnership with African Risk Capacity (ARC) and the Zimbabwe government this week.

 “Start Network is working alongside the World Food Programme (WFP) who purchased a similar insurance policy, and has been working on ARC with the government of Zimbabwe since 2019. The three complementary policies will protect more than 800 000 people in Zimbabwe from drought risk during the 2021/2022 agricultural season,” the Start Network said in a statement.

“The US$2,5 million policy purchased by Start Network and the US$1,5 million policy purchased by WFP are provided by African Risk Capacity and complement the US$2,5 million product purchased by the government of Zimbabwe.”

In a letter dated January 14, 2022, addressed to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) noted that employee incomes had been severely diminished leaving more people vulnerable and that there was a need to rectify the situation.

“Prior to your government assuming power from the late former President Robert Gabriel Mugabe, teachers were earning a salary of US$540,00 per month and now only earn about US$200,00 per month. Teachers wonder whether this is the new dispensation that you promised,” ITUC said.

“Furthermore, teachers and other civil service employees continue to earn in Zimbabwean dollars while goods and services are mostly priced in United States dollars. This has resulted in their income severely diminishing through the unfavorable exchange rate of the US$ and the Zimbabwean dollar. Your government has dismally failed to contain the rising cost of living.”

The ITUC pleaded with Mnangagwa to consider repealing “ill-conceived economic policies” that have failed, to restore the purchasing power of consumers to curb the worsening food security situation in the country.

The World Bank warned in its January 2022 Global Economic Prospects report that countries like Zimbabwe may have little room for support owing to debt, lost fiscal revenue and rising inflation.

“Policy space has narrowed further owing to increasing public debt levels, lost fiscal revenue, and rising inflation in some countries. Several large SSA economies tightened policy in 2021 over concerns about rising energy and food prices (Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe),” the World Bank said.

This is one of the reasons why the country is being encouraged to implement internationally recommended political and economic reforms to unlock fresh lines of credit.

These recommendations include reducing corruption costing Zimbabwe over US$1 billion a year, fixing electoral laws to encourage an environment of free and fair elections, reducing state sponsored attacks by the country’s security forces and increasing social and infrastructure spending.

The Zimbabwe government has been encouraged to stop the interference of security forces in the governance and democratic processes of the country.

One big test for the government will be the upcoming March 26 by-elections and the 2023 elections.

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