Article written

  • on 23.10.2012
  • at 06:12 PM
  • by admin

Food Security in Crisis: Lessons for South Africa from Zimbabwe 0

Once again, Zimbabwe is experiencing a drought with famine affecting at least 1.4 of the 12.6 million people still living in the country. USAID estimates that the country produces just over half the two million metric tons (MT) of cereal needed to feed the entire population.
Those most affected are the people in the rural areas located in the drier regions of the country, the estimated 350 000 farm workers and their families, most of whom lost their jobs under Zimbabwe’s “Fast Track Land Reform Programme” and, of course, the urban destitute.

Zimbabwe is no stranger to drought. Since 1980 the country has suffered from insufficient rains no less than 14 times. The central question however is, how was it possible for Zimbabwe to transform from a once self-sufficient, food secure and self reliant country into one that is structurally producing less than it needs and that has to regularly extend a begging bowl to the outside world?

Answering this question may well reveal some lessons for South Africa.

Worldwide, Mugabe’s detractors point at the land reform programme, corruption and incompetence as the causes of Zimbabwe’s food shortages, while his supporters invariably point at drought and the economic boycott by the West as the true reasons. While both parties are partially right, they overlook several other crucial factors that came into play after the country’s independence.

From Food Secure to Food Deprived

In the first 10 years of its independence, Zimbabwe generally managed to meet its food requirements and avert famine despite having to deal with four serious droughts.

Two major factors contributed to this. After independence, the Zimbabwean government redirected its efforts in infrastructure development, credit, research, extension and training services towards the development of small-scale agriculture in communal areas. Consequently by 1986, 60% of the country’s maize was produced by communal farmers, up from less than 10% before independence. The move away from maize to cash crops such as tobacco and horticulture by large-scale commercial farmers was more than compensated for by the increase in maize production by communal farmers. In addition, the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) held over three years of maize reserves and over eight years of small grains.

But the food stability of the 80’s gave way to a decade of dismantlement, as Zimbabwe embraced an IMF/World Bank inspired Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) in 1990 and pressure mounted on the GMB to sell its large reserves, close non-profitable grain depots and drastically reduce its subsidies. Consequently, in 1990 and 1991 Zimbabwe exported a significant amount of its maize reserves.

The timing could not have been worse – 1991 also heralded one of Zimbabwe’s worst droughts, which cut national maize yield down to less than a quarter, forcing the country, which had recently held abundant grain reserves, to import emergency stocks. Nevertheless, for much of the decade, given the dictates of the ESAP, Zimbabwe continued exporting maize even with the occurrence of two more serious droughts in the 90’s. As a result its strategic grain reserves dwindled substantially.

Over the same period, government also introduced export incentives and cash crop stimulus measures and both communal and small-scale farmers increasingly diversified into cash crop production. The acreage under seed cotton increased from 90,000 hectares (8%) in 1980 and 230,000 hectares (20%) in 1990 to 370,000 hectares (26%) in 2000.

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By Joe Martens

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi