Zim’s food situation set to improve

THE number of food-insecure people in the country is set to decrease by over 50 percent this year on the back of a bumper yield achieved in the country last season.

This was revealed by the Food Security Information Network (FSIN)’s 2018 Global Report on Food Crisis.

According to the report, only half a million people, mostly in southern and dry districts of the country, will be in urgent need of food aid between October and December.

This is a marked improvement from the 4 million people who survived on food aid between 2016 and 2017.

“Food security improved markedly from April 2017, mostly thanks to a significant rise in cereal production, reflecting both larger plantings and better seasonal rains, which boosted yields,” reads the report.

“Maize production in 2017 was more than four times that of 2016, it was estimated at a well above average level of 2.2 million metric tons.”

In 2016, the production of maize, the country’s main staple, fell to well below average levels thereby acutely reducing food availability until the 2017 harvest in March.

As such households were forced to engage in unsustainable and negative coping strategies as incomes from casual and agricultural labour also substantially reduced.

While food was generally available in markets, the purchasing power of poor households was severely constrained, diminishing their ability to access enough acceptably diverse food.

The expected bumper harvest is, however, also said to have increased household food supplies and average incomes in April 2017 which were 20 percent higher than a year earlier. Subsequently, maize meal prices were generally stable and lower since 2016.

The improvement comes on the back of the success of command agriculture which provided inputs and irrigation equipment to selected farmers.

The report nevertheless notes that in the minor-cereal producing areas of the southern provinces, maize prices were the highest in the country and because of poor livelihoods and cash shortages, it remained unaffordable for the majority of poor households.

And while the number of food-insecure people is set to decline significantly, the Famine Early Warning System Network FEWSNET has warned authorities not to relax as this year’s harvest is expected to be comparatively lower.

“Most typical surplus-producing areas in the north are expected to maintain minimal and stressed food security outcomes due to carry-over stocks from last season, as well as stocks from the 2018 harvests.

“In the typical grain surplus areas, some poor households will face challenges meeting their livelihood protection needs due to poor livelihood options.

“Most southern and other typical deficit areas are expected to experience stressed and crisis outcomes in March, and this will extend into April in most areas.”

According to FEWSNET, most typical grain deficit areas will be stressed between May and June as households consume own-produced stocks from the 2018 harvests, which will marginally improve their food security situation. However, while the food situation has been improving, malnutrition levels and stunting in the country are still considered very high. At the rate of 27 percent, FSIN says micro-nutrient deficiencies are still widespread. As such, around 37 percent of Zimbabwean children aged 6-59 months and 28 percent of women are anaemic.

In 2017, only 13 percent of children aged 6-23 months were reported to have minimum dietary diversity which is a significant decline from 18 percent in 2015 and 26 percent in 2014.

This is a result of steadily deteriorating food consumption patterns which experts say partially explain persistent malnutrition rates. There has also been a general decrease in the proportion of children consuming iron-rich foods across all provinces.

Nationally, just 9 percent of children aged 6-23 months receive a minimum acceptable diet.  The minimum dietary diversity for women was 40 percent and even lower in Matabeleland South and North.

A nutritionist and dietary expert with a local NGO, Mr Tariro Mugomba said Government should consolidated the gains made in the fight against food insecurity.

“The Government’s work is there for everyone to see,” he said.

“They have done well with the command agriculture programme and the harvest was favourable.

“But what is most important going forward is to consolidate the gains that we have made because we can’t have the number of food insecure people decreasing this year only to increase again next year.

“But for that to be achieved, we should be concentrating on water harvesting and new farming technologies to achieve maximum yields even in drought years.”

The decline in food insecurity is testimony to Government’s dedication to end food insecurity and boost nutrition through initiatives such as Command Agriculture and the Presidential Input Scheme.

UN agencies such as World Food Programme and Food and Agriculture Organisation have also come in with community resilience programmes such as nutrition gardens and agricultural markets.

President Mnangagwa is also on record saying the country will no-longer experience hunger as his Government is prioritizing water harvesting, irrigation and the use of modern technology in farming.

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