Cash For Cereals: Making Money Work In Zimbabwe

WFP's new Cash for Cereals programme is providing a vital backstop to poor Zimbabweans, hard hit by years of recurrent drought and the loss of remittances from migrant workers abroad. 

CHIRAMBADARE, Zimbabwe -- Mashonaland -- the land of the Shona people -- is a beautiful region of rolling countryside in northern Zimbabwe. But years of recurrent drought and the drying up of remittances from recession-hit migrant workers in the cities of southern Africa have taken their toll.

With little to sell and cash in short supply, life has become a hand-to-mouth struggle for many farmers. That is why Elizabeth Nyika is so glad to receive a regular allocation of US $25 for herself and her four sons.

The money, paid by the World Food Programme every six weeks, enables her to buy maize, or sadza, as Zimbabwe's staple is known. In addition to the cash, she receives a supply of pulses and vegetable oil to help tide her over the seasonal food insecurity which besets the region.

"I suppose we could have starved by now if we'd not gotten this help," she says laughing.

Launched this year in five districts of Mashonaland East province, WFP's Cash for Cereals (CFC) programme is a unique initiative that combines cash with food rations and reaches 142,000 people. More than a million people throughout the country also receive seasonal targeted WFP assistance.

Better diets

A pilot run in 2009/10 found that beneficiaries given cash only tended to buy maize to the exclusion of other foodstuffs. Experience shows that cash and food combined results in people having more balanced diets.

Nyika smiling with a bag of sadza on her headThe idea is that recipients will use the money to buy sadza from shops or farmers with surplus stock. Not only does this give people the flexibility to buy where and from whom they choose, it also injects much-needed cash into the local economy.

"I prefer getting the cash than a bag of sadza," says Nyika, a widow in her '50s who farms a small plot of communal land in the village of Chirambadare. "If I buy at a good price, I can get more sadza and also have something left over for salt, soap and some paraffin."

Besides planting her own crops -- maize, nuts and vegetables -- she sometimes does casual labour for her neighbours. In the past, they often had surplus produce. But recent years have been patchy and this year is no exception.

The CFC initiative is all the more vital since Zimbabwe’s cereal production fell short of national requirements yet again last year. The upcoming harvest in late April and May is also expected to be poor or below average.