4 March 2002

ZIMBABWE: Emerging Crop Failures and Food Shortages

A total of about 2.4 million ha were planted to crops in 2001/02 season, of which 60 percent was planted to maize. Though area planted to grain crops increased by 10 percent over the 1990s average, most of the maize crop has wilted due to the persistent drought experienced from January through to February in most of the country. Even if rains were received in March 2002, most of the maize crop would not recover. A maize harvest of 456,000 to 760,000 MT is expected this year. The harvest estimates is 50 to 70 percent less than last year and 55 to 73 percent less than the 1990s average. The low production is attributed to the widespread drought in the country.

The 2002/03 marketing season which runs from 1 April 2002 to 30 March 2003 will begin with no official grain reserve and very low on-farm stocks. Zimbabwe is currently importing maize from South Africa, but imports are only arriving at a rate of about 2,000 MT per month. This does not meet daily national consumption requirements of about 5,000 MT. Given the poor harvest and stock levels experienced in the whole country in 2001/02 season, the country will need to import an additional 1.2 to 1.5 million MT to meet the preharvest estimated deficit expected during the 2002/03 marketing season.

In a normal year, crop production contributes about 40 to 75 percent of the food or income (to purchase food) households requirements, varying from one area to the other. Some households rely on petty trade, gold panning, wild fruits, selling labour in the commercial farming areas and locally to acquire food. Due to the deteriorating economic environment, the drought being experienced (which follows two consecutive seasons of crop failure due to floods in some areas and drought in others) and reduced purchasing power (as inflation rate is at 116.7 percent a record since 1980), food insecurity is expected to dramatically rise in most of the country, with over three-fourths of the country being moderately to extremely food insecure. The poor food security conditions could be similar to those experienced in 1992. However, unlike in 1992, the 2002 crop failure has occurred when households in all sectors ran out of their stocks; some have run out since March 2000. Most households are buying maize at Z$44.40 per kg and were hopeful to improve their food security through harvests in March 2002. This is unlikely to happen except for households in the extreme northern districts of the country, namely Hurungwe, Makonde, Mazowe, Guruve, Centenary and Bindura Districts who will at least harvest something. A communal population of over 2 million people, resettled farmers in the range of over 250,000 people and about 500,000 displaced farm workers throughout the country would require some form of food assistance before June 2002. This is in addition to the 900,000 people currently requiring assistance - NGOs are helping 350,000 people and WFP have targeted 558,000 people. (Famine Early Warning Systems Network - FEWS NET)

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