- The latest international assessment of food security in Zimbabwe is clear. "Food access remains a problem" and the country is set in an "emergency alert status". This again contradicts Zimbabwean authorities, claiming the country will not need food aid this year.
According to the latest monthly report on food security in Zimbabwe, released today by the US agency Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS), "food access will remain a major problem for highly vulnerable households in both urban and rural areas" during 2004 and 2005.
- Cereal deficits are predicted in about 20 rural districts, mostly in Manicaland and the two Matabeleland provinces, the FEWS report says. In Zimbabwe's urban areas, the situation is even worse, as households cannot afford to buy necessary foodstuffs such as maize meal, sugar, flour, salt, cooking oil and meat due to higher prices and lower incomes.
The new FEWS update is in stark contrast to the recent announcement by Zimbabwean authorities, calling off international food aid and food security monitoring. "We have enough for local consumption," Labour Minister Paul Mangwana told local media last month.
UN agencies monitoring the food situation in Zimbabwe saw their government support withdrawn. UN officials regretted that this had "effectively cancelled the mission" that was assessing Zimbabwe's food production and security. Zimbabwe "jeopardizes future aid," warned the UN's local representative in Harare, Victor Angelo.
While the Zimbabwean government claimed that the upcoming harvest would provide a food surplus, thus halting the need for food aid, the UN assesses that about 5 million Zimbabweans will depend on food handouts this year. UN agencies, which were in the process of mapping food production, were not convinced that a good harvest was to be expected.
The new FEWS update gives a picture between the UN's and the government's versions of Zimbabwe's food security situation. The US agency's new numbers support the claim that food production is fairly good during the still ongoing harvest. However, very many Zimbabweans will still need food aid in the 2004/05 season.
Maize and small grains production from the 2003/04 agricultural season is expected to be close to the average production of the last five years, FEWS reports from Zimbabwe. Thus, "cereal availability at national level is not likely to be as much of a problem in the 2004/05 marketing year, compared to last year," the agency adds.
In addition, Zimbabwe had secured cereal stocks of about 200,000 metric tons (as of March 31) as well as substantial food aid imports. "During the last three years, the country managed to import significant quantities of maize, despite facing severe foreign currency shortages. Conditions for importing food into the country are better this year than at any other time in the last four years," the FEWS report says.
While access to cereals has significantly improved on a national level, there are however serious problems locally. The World Food Programme (WFP) only in March distributed over 43,600 tons of cereals to about 4 million beneficiaries, meeting the needs of around 80 percent of the food insecure rural population. While harvests are going on and cereal prices grow lower, the WFP programme may be reduced.
However, 20 out of Zimbabwe's 57 rural districts - mostly in Manicaland and the two Matabeleland provinces - are set to face cereal deficits. These districts also have had a tendency of being overlooked by national food security authorities as they are traditional strongholds of the opposition.
In urban areas, the food crisis sits even deeper. Despite market availability of basic foodstuffs, "the majority of urban households are unable to afford these items, as their purchasing power continues to melt away," the FEWS report says. The minimum wage rate for industrial workers is now equivalent to just 12 percent of the cost of a monthly expenditure basket for a low-income urban household of six in Harare.
Also the cash crops sector faces serious challenges as Zimbabwe has yet to overcome the consequences of its violent and controversial land reform. Tobacco output for 2003/04 is expected to fall by about 32 percent from the last agricultural season's disastrous output of about 81,000 tons, according to FEWS' figures. Cotton production is however forecasted to surpass that of last year by about 32 percent.
afrol News - It is called "financial inclusion", and it is a key government policy in Rwanda. The goal is that, by 2020, 90 percent of the population is to have and actively use bank accounts. And in only four years, financial inclusion has doubled in Rwanda.
afrol News - The UN's humanitarian agencies now warn about a devastating famine in Sudan and especially in South Sudan, where the situation is said to be "imploding". Relief officials are appealing to donors to urgently fund life-saving activities in the two countries.
afrol News - Fear is spreading all over West Africa after the health ministry in Guinea confirmed the first Ebola outbreak in this part of Africa. According to official numbers, at least 86 are infected and 59 are dead as a result of this very contagious disease.
afrol News - It is already a crime being homosexual in Ethiopia, but parliament is now making sure the anti-gay laws will be applied in practical life. No pardoning of gays will be allowed in future, but activist fear this only is a signal of further repression being prepared.
afrol News / Africa Renewal - Ethiopia's ambitious plan to build a US$ 4.2 billion dam in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, 40 km from its border with Sudan, is expected to provide 6,000 megawatts of electricity, enough for its population plus some excess it can sell to neighbouring countries.