Almost one in five rural households will need food assistance during the next lean season (Photo:WFP/Victoria Cavanagh)
The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) estimates that over 1.6 million people will be food insecure between January and March 2013, the peak hunger months in Zimbabwe. This is a 60 percent increase from the one million people who needed assistance at the beginning of this year. WFP and partners are planning to scale up operations to ensure vulnerable households have enough food to sustain themselves until the next harvest.
It is only July, but many people in Zimbabwe are already experiencing hard times. Netsai Mutamba, 27, from the dry south east, relies on casual labor to support her four young children. She cleans or works in other people’s gardens in exchange for maize or tomatoes, which she then sells. In previous years, Netsai harvested enough sorghum to feed her family and used her meager profits from tomato sales to buy household necessities.
This year, however, she is worried about her empty granary and finding food for her children. Despite planting maize and sorghum, the erratic rains and dry spells in late 2011/early 2012 have resulted in a failed harvest for Netsai. Many other smallholders have suffered a similar fate.
“Most of my usual employers will not take me on because their granaries are empty and they have nothing to offer me,” she says.
Netsai’s neighbour, Joyce Kanda, 70, is HIV positive and frail. Each day she visits neighbors asking for food but often comes back empty handed.
“I don’t blame them if they don’t give me any because I know they also don’t much have food,” she says. “But if I take tablets without food, I feel even more sick.”
James Mundoma, Chief Executive Officer of Chipinge Rural District Council, says that last year there were pockets of good harvests but, this year, there were almost none in Chipinge.
“Some farmers simply didn’t harvest anything, not even one or two bags,” he explains. “Usually, we start receiving distress calls much later in the year, around September/October, but this year, they started coming as early as May.” He says that village heads have been reporting the poor harvests, and that people have already begun moving their livestock to sell.
“Food insecurity in Zimbabwe for the 2012-13 consumption year is comparably worse than the last few years,” explains WFP Country Director Felix Bamezon.
According to the Second Round Crop and Livestock report released in April 2012, there has been a reduction in national cereals harvest by 33 per cent.
Last year, there were significant humanitarian and commercial cereal imports from neighbouring countries. This year, as a result of the reduction in national cereal production, an increase in imports will be required to meet the deficit.
WFP continues to closely monitor the situation through its field offices and cooperating partners, and in close collaboration with the government and other stakeholders, will scale up food assistance operations to meet the growing need. The response will be through a mix of in-kind food distributions with regionally procured cereals, and cash transfers where appropriate.
“USAID has already confirmed a contribution of US$18 million to be used for in-kind vegetable oil and pulses distributions, with the assumption that the cereal deficit will be addressed through in-kind distributions or cash and voucher interventions in areas with functioning markets,” Bamezon says.
WFP’s Cash for Cereals modality aims to encourage farmer-to-farmer sales in identified areas, and to improve the market integration between deficit and surplus areas. It injects cash into the local economy, and gives people the flexibility to choose where and from whom they purchase their cereals.