Zimbabwe’s food saga has taken a new twist with one report saying that contrary to claims by the government that the country has enough food, this year’s harvest is going to be lower than last year’s, while another said cereal availability at national level will be less of a problem compared to last year.
Reports about the food shortage quoted the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) which said food production this year could be lower than last year’s 980 000 tonnes. What the reports did not say, however, was that this crop estimate was based on a FAO/World Food Programme (WFP) Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission’s visit to only three provinces.
Zimbabwe has eight administrative provinces excluding the metropolitan provinces of Harare and Bulawayo.
A report by the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS), on the other hand, said cereal availability at national level was not likely to be much of a problem because of the “expected likely improved maize and small grains harvest from the 2003/04 agricultural season, cereal stocks of about 200 000 tonnes (as of March 31) as well as food aid imports since April 1 and secured food aid in the pipeline”.
Asked to explain the discrepancy between the FAO and FEWS reports, FAO spokesman in Rome John Riddle referred The Insider to a web page outlining the FAO report. The report, dated May 19, says: “Harvesting of the main season crops planted in November-December 2003 is underway. A joint FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission was in the country for part of the planned period.
“Based on the mission’s visits to three main provinces, observations along the travel routes and interviews with informants at local level, the mission estimated that total food production this year would be even lower than last year’s 980 000 tonnes.
“The overall food deficit (import requirements) could be over 1 million tones. Final estimates would be provided by FAO and WFP in the first half of June.”
Media which quoted FAO completely ignored the latest report dated May 31 which stated that: “Zimbabwe could face acute food shortages as early estimates of 2004 food production indicate a potential food deficit of up to 1 million tonnes of cereals, which may require a combination of commercial imports and emergency food assistance. But, FAO says, this forecast cannot be confirmed at this time because the FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission could not be completed.”
The FEWS report was released on June 1 but says it is valid up to May 21. It says Zimbabwe is in a much better position this year because it has managed to import significant food quantities of maize over the past three years, 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,” it says. “In addition, the revised producer price for maize recently announced by the government of about US$140 a tonne is likely to encourage greater informal cross-border trade in maize from neighbouring countries like Mozambique and Zambia, which not only have surpluses but lower producer prices”.
The FEWS report, however, said despite the general improvement in food availability cereal deficits are expected in about 20 of the country’s 57 rural districts. The majority of these districts are in Manicaland and the two Matebeleland provinces.
It also said while most basic foodstuffs were available in urban areas, the majority of urban households could not afford to buy them because their purchasing power continued to melt away. It said the minimum wage for industrial workers was equivalent to 12 percent of the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe food basket in March. The basket, which is for a family of six, stood at $850 000 but has since risen to $968 485.
Zimbabwe has been accused of lying about its food position because it intends to use food as a political weapon in the March 2005 general elections. It has barred the WFP from carrying out a food supply assessment saying this should be done by the government. This has sparked off cries of a cover up with one report from South Africa claiming that the government had already “secretly” imported 400 000 tonnes of maize ahead of the elections.
Agriculture Minister Joseph Made insisted last eek that the country had enough food but remained adamant that food assessment could only be carried out by the government.
Parliament, however, agreed that the portfolio committee on lands, agriculture, water development, rural resources and resettlement should ascertain the amount of grain that the country harvested.
The 11-member committee is chaired By Daniel Ncube of ZANU-PF but has four member from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change including its shadow minister for agriculture Renson Gasela and Chimanimani MP, Roy Bennett who was recently involved in a fracas with Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa over the acquisition of his farm.