Tag Archives: food security

Is Zimbabwe food secure this year?

A bumper harvest has meant that Zimbabwe is largely food secure this season. Despite the fall armyworm outbreak, maize production was up to an estimated 2.1 million tonnes, thanks in large part to good rains. Government and donor support programmes supplying fertiliser helped too. Total cereal production – including small grains such as sorghum and millet – was estimated to be 2.5 million tonnes. Areas planted expanded significantly, with maize planted on 1.9 million ha, up from 1.2 million ha the previous year. Tobacco production – a key source of income for buying food for many – suffered a bit due to heavy downpours and waterlogging, but a good season was recorded with 186 million kg produced. Grain imports were expected to be minimal – perhaps 5,000 tonnes mostly through informal cross-border exchange – and the GMB and private producers were storing grain in large quantities. The Grain Marketing Board was expecting to purchase about half a million tonnes of maize.

So, with a good season, combined with effective supply of lots of fertiliser, Zimbabwe returned to its former ‘breadbasket’ status. Or so goes one narrative on last season. Certainly output last year was impressive. Everywhere you went was a maize field; green and productive. The government hailed the ‘command agriculture’ scheme as the basis for reviving commercial production (see next week’s blog). And the aid donors were thrilled with their food security programming. But without greater resilience in the agri-food system, this new success is fragile. What if the rains fail again, as they did in 2016 due to El Nino, when only 512,000 tonnes of maize were produced?

Vulnerabilities persist

Even in this year of apparent plenty, the ZimVac study, which looks at food security and livelihood vulnerability nationally, warned that some people, in some places, right at the end of the season were likely to be food insecure. The World Food Programme country director quoted the figure – 1.1 million people will be food insecure in Zimbabwe. As discussed many times on this blog, this sort of statement is dangerously misleading and irresponsible, but of course understandable, as it is wrapped up in the politics of food, and the positioning of large UN agencies, donors, relief NGOs and the state, each reliant on claims about food insecurity for their flows of income.

But there is an important point underlying the headline figure (which really is a distraction, but one the newspapers love each year when the ZimVac report comes out). As the detail of the report shows, vulnerabilities have not gone away. The cash crisis currently gripping the country, the stealth of rising inflation and parallel markets, and the lack of access to food or income to buy it is what is worrying. Pockets of vulnerability persist: on the margins of the country where market connections are poor; among highly marginalised groups (the unwell, disabled, aged, infirm, or child-headed households); and particularly in communal areas where access to productive assets (most notably land) is limited, or in urban settings where employment is fragile and connections to rural homes is weak.

Understanding food systems

With centralised food storage and a boosting of irrigation and production capacity in commercial farms (notably A2 land reform areas), the prospects of overall food balances being met at a national level are improving. But as Amartya Sen argued long ago, aggregate food availability is not the same as access and entitlement; and it is entitlement failure more often than not that causes food insecurity and famine. This is why the debate needs to shift to food systems – and the links between production, markets and provisioning. While getting estimates of total production through the annual crop assessments is vital, it is not enough. Even the relatively sophisticated vulnerability assessments that use this data do not capture everything, as I have discussed before.

The maps of food insecurity that the agencies put out do not reveal the social and political geography of the different colour shades. How are urban and rural areas linked? What is the relationship in the food system between communal areas and new resettlements? Where are markets and how are they linked to producers and consumers, by what infrastructure? And so on. This requires a more connected approach, one that perhaps looks at regional interactions, and especially links between areas.

Land reform areas: central to food security?

My hunch is that at the heart of the new agri-food system, and central to a new perspective on food security in Zimbabwe are the new resettlement areas – to date mostly the A1 areas, but increasingly A2 too. While not everyone by any means, our data from Mvurwi, Matobo and Masvingo shows that there are a significant group (ranging from 60% to 40%, depending on site and season) who are producing surpluses year on year, selling on through local markets, transferring to relatives in town, or storing for future years. More or less everyone produced surpluses this year, but even in bad years, like the last few, this is an unseen motor of the new food economy.

In the generic reports or undifferentiated maps, this dynamic is not revealed. Aggregate pictures do not tell the full story. There is a politics to keeping this from view of course, but also a lack of capacity in data sampling and analysis. We are currently extending our earlier studies that looked at communal areas near our A1 sites to look at links, and interesting stories are emerging, but these will inevitably remain case studies in need of locating in a wider national picture for planning and policy.

It is great news that Zimbabwe is (mostly) food secure this season, and such a massive harvest was reaped. But food and agriculture policy cannot rely on just hoping for a good rainfall season – especially with the heightened variability due to climate change – and must take on board a more nuanced perspective rooted in a deeper understanding of how the post-land reform agri-food system works in Zimbabwe. It is amazing to me that this has yet to happen, more than 17 years on.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

 

 

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Will white farmers in Zambia feed Zimbabwe?

 maize-zambia

The El Niño drought has hit southern Africa hard. Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and seven provinces in South Africa have announced emergencies. Coming on the back of a bad season last year, the food situation across the region is dire. Large volumes of food will have to be imported into drought-affected areas, with a regional deficit of 7.3 MT reported. News reports – including one from the Southern Daily that was widely circulated – point to white farmers who fled from land reform in Zimbabwe and now farming in Zambia as the saviours. Is this really the case or, as ever, is it a bit more complicated?

Who is producing Zambia’s food?

As discussed last week, the figures on how much food is needed and where is confused, but the latest on Zimbabwe suggest that up to 4.1 million people will need food aid before the end of the consumption season. While the estimates may be problematic, even adding a large margin of error, the bottom-line is that food must be imported into Zimbabwe in large quantities. The nearest source is Zambia, where good rainfall produced a harvest higher than predicted at 2.8m tonnes (not 3.3m as the Southern Daily reported, which confusingly took figures from 2014 and reported as if this year).

Who then is producing all this maize in Zambia? One of the oft-repeated narratives has been that the food being supplied to Zimbabwe now is being produced by white farmers who were evicted from Zimbabwe during the land reform. In a 2004 piece by Jan Lamprecht on the blatantly racist, white-supremacist site AfricaCrisis.org gloated that white farmers outcompeted 150,000 peasants in Zambia. Even President Mugabe seemed to have been swayed by the propaganda, commenting on the success of former large-scale commercial farmers from Zimbabwe at a rally. This was the narrative too of the error-filled Southern Daily piece (that was sent to me at least four times when it came out, with commentaries not dissimilar to that on AfricanCrisis.org). The evicted-farmers-save –Zimbabwe narrative is prevalent, but is it true?

Certainly there are some former commercial farmers now farming in Zambia – in such places as Mkushi block. Mkushi has attracted South Africans, Tanzanians, British and Zimbabweans, and is a focus for large-scale agriculture in the centre of the country.  Estimates suggest there are perhaps 750 white Zimbabwean farmers in Zambia, rising from 400 following land reform in 2000. External finances, such as through Agrivision Africa supported by the IFC, has allowed the capitalisation of commercial operations, and farms there produce a mix of crops, ranging from soya to maize to beef and dairy. Many commercial agricultural enterprises in places like Mkushi are highly productive, and currently very profitable. In part this results from skill and investment, but also the combination of recent periods of good rainfall and supplementary irrigation capacity that has improved production.

Maize being exported to Zimbabwe in part comes from such farms, but it’s actually – and contrary to the simplistic narrative – primarily grown on smallholder producers across the country. Maize production – and so the ability to export – has been massively supported by a highly-subsidised input support programme over a number of years. For example, in 2011 the Government of Zambia spent US$184 million on 182k MT of fertiliser and 9k MT of hybrid maize seed. This amounted to 0.8% of GDP then, and 30% of total agricultural expenditure. This is an enormous investment and, as in Malawi before, it has boosted maize production massively, but probably unsustainably. Today smallholders in Zambia produce around 2.5m tonnes annually, while large-scale producers 300k tonnes in a good year, like this past one.

In other words, the maize export story from Zambia is driven not by valiant white farmers of the much-promoted narrative (although they of course contribute) but mostly by the efforts of smallholders (including of course black Zimbabwean migrants who came during the Federation era, and have been important producers in central Zambia since then). But in fact the big story too is the role of massive (and fiscally untenable) subsidies from the Zambian state (and its aid donor allies), and big questions as to whether this will continue under the new political dispensation.

White farmers in Africa: mixed fortunes

White commercial farming in Zambia, as Zimbabwe before, and in experiences from Nigeria and Mozambique too, has been one of mixed fortunes. The lack of infrastructure, limited state support and poor finance and other support systems, made many farmers complain bitterly about their new settings. They had been successful farmers in Zimbabwe in the context of a massively supportive environment, with huge subsidies and state support, consistent from the 1950s at least until the 90s. This is not the case in Zambia – or Nigeria and Mozambique. Commercial farming in Zimbabwe was not always an independent, heroic effort by whites in the face of adversity. Of course there is always skill, hard work and entrepreneurial acuity in the mix, but state support, infrastructure and public investment was also part of the picture.

However, despite the challenges – and many gave up – some former farmers from Zimbabwe have become highly successful in Zambia. Considerable private resources from other businesses (some still in Zimbabwe) have been invested to make these farms going concerns, and now in the context of favourable exchange conditions and high demand, they are definitely contributing to the feeding of the region. But there is also other food entering circulation from a range of sources, most notably from smallholders in Zambia, and, as discussed last week, from production not captured by standard crop surveys and livelihood assessments in Zimbabwe itself.

A regional approach?

SADC and COMESA have always tried to take a regional approach to food security, with the expectation that at different times different countries or regions will feed others. An approach to open borders and trade should, ideally, allow low-cost food to move from places of surplus to those of deficit.

Supply of maize from surplus areas in Zambia to the Zimbabwean market has been restricted, however. Controversial restrictions on exports have helped drive the trade underground. Despite the formal limits, there is much that is travelling across the border illegally. The allure of the US dollar in the Zimbabwean economy is attracting much speculative trading activity, including in food (as well as other commodities). With a declining Zambian kwacha due to the collapse in mineral commodity prices, selling food to Zimbabwe in US dollars is an attractive prospect, and formal restrictions are very often circumvented. This of course adds to the liquidity problems and cash crisis in the Zimbabwean economy, as the dollars end up in Zambia, even if food is provided. This cross-border currency exchange politics is creating potentially large problems, especially as the US dollar increases in value against other regional currencies.

As much research shows, trade restrictions damage investment and can undermine food security. An open trading regime by contrast, it is argued, is efficient and economic, and offsets risks, which because of differential patterns of rainfall and the widespread reliance on rainfed production makes sense. Ensuring that there is regional surplus and efficient movement will offset the requirements for shipping from elsewhere in the world, which is slow and expensive. In this respect if Zambia feeds Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique this year (and maybe South Africa too), this is fine, and the reverse may be the case at other times.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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Food security in Zimbabwe: why a more sophisticated response is needed

food-aid-1

The food security situation in Zimbabwe – and indeed across large swathes of southern Africa – is serious. El Niño has struck hard and production levels this past season were well down. The UN estimates that in Zimbabwe alone 4.1 million people – 42% of the rural population – will be in need of support before the next season. Aid agencies are raising funds and are involved in a major humanitarian operation (see WFP and USAID, for example).

We are now entering the most difficult period. Between September and March, when early ‘green’ crops become available, the food situation will be tough, and many will be reliant on handouts and purchased imported food. Disposal of livelihood assets is already occurring and FEWSNET predicts that large parts of southern Zimbabwe will be in ‘emergency’ conditions, together with parts of Mozambique and Malawi.

There is little doubt that the harvests this year were really poor. And this was on the back of a bad season last year. This means that stocks are low and funds circulating in the local, rural economy limited. I do not want to question for a minute the severity of the situation, but I do want to challenge the way it is being portrayed, and ask whether this allows for the most effective targeting of those really in need.

Data challenges

For Zimbabwe the basic data comes from the annual ZimVac report, complemented by various crop surveys. ZimVac, as discussed on this blog before, is a major survey based on a sample of 14,434 rural households across 60 districts. Enumeration areas are chosen across districts and samples selected based  on population density estimates from the most recent population census. It assesses food production, cash income, livestock and so on, and comes up with a food access estimate, based on a daily 2100 k Calorie intake requirement during the consumption year to 31 March. Those unable to meet food needs through a range of sources are deemed to be in deficit and in need of support. This is where the 4.1 million figure comes from – the number of people estimated to be in this situation at the end of March 2017 (even if just for a day).

But as discussed before on this blog, these estimates may miss out on certain aspects. For example, In April, when visiting field sites in some areas hit badly by drought, I was surprised how much maize was being produced in home gardens and around settlements this year. While the main field crop had failed, more intensive production near the home. Sometimes involving supplementary irrigation, and certainly higher inputs of organic fertiliser, home garden areas were producing maize, including substantial quantities of green mealies. These crops rarely get noticed in the larger censuses as they focus on the main field crop, but added up these can be significant, although of course totals are way down on other years.

The other missing story relates to livestock. This year there were major concerns that the El Niño drought would decimate livestock. There were significant die-offs early on, but thankfully sporadic rains fell in February. This was too late for most crops, but it did replenish grass and water sources in many parts of the country, including those drought prone areas of Masvingo and Matabeleland that were suffering livestock mortalities. This turn-around will have had major impacts on food provisioning in these areas in the absence of harvests. There were entrepreneurs buying up animals in numbers and this was a ready source of cash for many. Many livestock were moved to resettlement areas where there is more plentiful grass due to (currently) lower population densities. The high livestock populations in resettlement areas, particularly in southern districts, adds to their food security resilience.

Livestock and their movement is often forgotten in food security assessments (ZimVac covers elements of this, but it’s complex, and difficult to capture in large surveys). Along with the importance of green mealies, other ‘famine’ crops, and the range of (often illegal) coping strategies that people employ mean that successful food provisioning is far more extensive than the UN agencies suggest.

While the data is broken down by district, it is not differentiated by the type land tenure and use. We do not get a sense of the differential vulnerabilities of, for example, communal area dwellers, those with A1 or A2 farms, villagised or self-contained, nor workers linked to such rural households. We know from extensive research that rural communities are highly differentiated, both within and between sites. At the moment we get a very blunt assessment, district by district. The report lists the ten best-off and worse-off districts, for example. Some of the districts where we work, where there was more land redistribution, both in the Highveld and further south, are in the better-off areas. Does this mean land reform areas are less food insecure? We cannot tell from ZimVac data as presented.

A more complex pattern: why land reform is not to blame

There are hints though that a more complex pattern sits below the aggregate numbers. The ZimVac summary report (p. 150) shows that nationally only 11% of households will be food secure this year based on their own cereal crop production. This is even lower in drought-prone areas, such as Masvingo, for example. On aggregate 58% of the national rural population will be food secure through the consumption season, but this is made up through access to income from a variety of sources, not just food production. How do these aggregate figures match up with data from the new resettlement areas?

We’ve been tracking food production in our study areas in Masvingo for some years. In our sites in Masvingo and Gutu districts for example across the harvest seasons from 2003 to 2013, between 44% and 69% of households produced enough for household consumption (estimated at 1 MT). In the Wondezo extension A1 site in Masvingo, farmers produced on average 2 MT in 2014 and over 6 MT in 2015, with 85% and 89% producing sufficient from maize alone for household consumption in those years. In our A1 resettlement sites in Mazowe, over 5 years between 2010 and 2014 seasons the average household maize production was 3.5 MT, declining over time as tobacco production increased. This means that on average 78% of households produced more than a tonne of maize in each year, and were food secure from own-farm production alone. This of course does not account for the significant cash income from tobacco in Mazowe (realising nearly $3000 per household on average across A1 farms between 2010 and 14), or vegetable production and livestock in Masvingo, along with other sources of income.

In other words, the ZimVac sample must be very different. 11 per cent this year (and higher but still low figures in other years) having sufficient food from own production is way lower than in our admittedly much smaller samples in the resettlements. In our areas, consistently over time and across sites, we do not see the level of food insecurity recorded by the ZimVac surveys – although of course it exists in pockets, among certain vulnerable people. There are of course communal areas nearby our A1 sites where the situation is quite different, and it is probably from here that the ZimVac data derives. Our comparisons with communal areas showed the contrasts, with resettlement areas outperforming communal areas across the board. But without any differentiated national food security data, it is difficult to make sense of the aggregates generated by standard crop assessments and livelihood surveys.

This food security crisis therefore is not the result of land reform as some would have it (as I keep telling journalists who ask; here’s an example from a Dutch daily that offered a more sophisticated take). Other countries in the region have suffered badly from the same drought, and Zimbabwe has before, long before the post 2000 land reform. In fact, land reform areas are an important part of why the actual underlying situation is better than it might be. My hunch – still not tested despite much encouragement – is that ZimVac’s sampling frame (appropriately for a national sample that is proportional to population density) is focused on communal areas. This means that the dynamics of the new resettlements in the food economy are being missed out on.

As reported many times on this blog, we see significant flows of food and other finance coming from the A1 resettlement areas, both to communal areas and to urban centres, through kin networks and labour migrancy. This is unrecorded and therefore not accounted for. My guess is that it is really significant in the overall food security story in the country, and taking account of land reform in the wider assessment would allow a redirection of effort by humanitarian and development agencies to support production for boosting local food security and economies, investing where the potential lies.

There is no reason for complacency though. Things could and should be much better, with proper investment. For example, the lack of irrigation infrastructure (and its state of repair, and its poor functioning due to intermittent electricity supplies) is a cause for major concern, and undermines resilience

The politics of food aid: why a more targeted approach is needed

Food aid is of course is highly political. It always has been, and accusations of partisan allocations have occurred again this year. Many are happy not to rely on the obligations and patronage that food aid implies – whether to the party-state or NGOs – and seek their own way. But there are some who are really destitute, without the networks that provide support. They are really needy and include a lot of people, but it’s certainly not 4.1 million. They include widows or older parents without living children, child-headed households, farm labourers, those with illness and disability, for example.

They all need help, as existing provisioning and coping strategies are insufficient. They are scattered all across the country – including in the high potential, richer areas within communities who are otherwise prospering, and are difficult to find. These are the people who need food, and would be a better focus for a more sophisticated, targeted approach to relief, which could combine with a more strategic developmental approach to increase production and market led economic development across communal, resettlement and urban areas.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Zimbabwe is food secure this season, but more questions raised

The annual ZimVac assessment based on a national sample survey of over 10,000 households and carried out in May came out a month or two back. Unlike last year, when alarm bells were rung over a potential food security catastrophe, this year the prognosis was good. Excellent rains, including in some of the drier and usually more food insecure parts of the country, resulted in a bumper harvest.

Last year I critiqued the use of the headline figure from the assessment as potentially misleading. The same limitations of the survey apply, but the media reporting is more balanced this year (with some extreme exceptions – see comment string in an earlier blog). The survey is based on the 2012 Zimstat sampling frame and covers a large number of enumeration areas across the country, sampled proportional to population densities. Annoyingly the report still doesn’t separate out communal areas and resettlement areas, and my guess is that there remains some sampling bias. More on this below. Last year fortunately the dire predictions were not borne out. In part this was because the rains came, and a green crop filled the hunger period, but also I hypothesised in an earlier blog that the production from new resettlement areas was being undercounted. I suspect this remains the case.

Anyway, I thought blog readers would like a quick summary of the report, as without an impending disaster the media has largely ignored it. You can read the powerpoint report in full, which covers all sorts ranging from nutrition to sanitation. I will concentrate on agricultural production and food security, and draw text directly from the report.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development estimates that the country will have a cereal harvest surplus of 253,174 MT in the 2014/15 consumption year from a total cereal harvest of 1,680,293MT.

Maize remained the major crop grown by most households (88%) compared to 80% for 2012/13, while groundnuts were the second most grown crop. Generally, the proportion of households growing crops increased except for cotton which showed a decline (due to the collapse in prices) and soya beans which remained unchanged.

Nationally, average household cereal (maize and small grains) production was 529.5kg. This was higher than last season (346kg). In Masvingo maize production averaged 339.7 kg and small grains 126 kg, given a total of 525.7 kg per household. Overall, average household cereal production was highest in Mashonaland West and lowest in Manicaland, and the contribution of small grains to total household cereal production was significant in Masvingo, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South.

While improvements, these average figures are still low. And compared to the production levels from new resettlement households minute. Our studies in Masvingo, even in the poor rainfall years of between 2010 and 2012, show much higher averages (although with variations). Gareth James’ studies from Mashonaland shower higher outputs still. Again in the poorer rainfall years, he recorded average outputs of maize some 12 times these average national figures for all cereals for the good rainfall year of the past season. Of course the new resettlements have proportionately fewer people and so appropriately in a national representative sample this should be reflected. But, without data broken down and without indications of variation, the ZimVac study still fails to capture this story. As I have argued before (many times!), this is important for policy, and for thinking about national food security.

The ZimVac survey showed that for the 2013/2014 agricultural season approximately 45.2% of the households benefited from the Government Input Support Scheme, which was the main source of inputs. The proportion of households accessing maize inputs through purchase remained unchanged (39%) from 2013. About 2.3% of the households accessed their maize inputs from NGOs which was a decrease from 4.0% in the 2012/13 season.

Given the higher levels of production, the national average maize price was $0.37/kg down from $0.53/ kg during the same period last year. This pattern was also reflecting at the provincial level. Matabeleland South recorded the highest maize price ($0.65/kg). This was the same pattern during the same period last year.

Livestock (cattle, sheep and goats) were in a fair to good condition when the survey took place. Grazing and water for livestock were generally adequate in most parts of the country save for the communal areas, where it was, as is normal, generally inadequate. However, the report notes, there are marginal parts of Matabeleland North and South, Midlands, Manicaland and Masvingo provinces which had inadequate grazing which may not last into the next season.

According to the report, around 60% of the households reported not owning any cattle. Mashonaland East had the highest proportion of households not owning any cattle and Matabeleland South had the least. Nationally, only 14% of the households owned more than 5 cattle with Matabeleland South and Matabeleland Matabeleland North having a higher proportion of households owning more than 5 cattle.

Like the cereal production data, these national and provincial figures are very different to what we have found (and Gareth and others) in the new resettlements. Here cattle ownership is far higher, reflecting the richer, more capitalised form of farming found. Of course the ZimVac study may suffer from under-reporting, as in many large-scale surveys with huge samples, but the contrasts are interesting – and again potentially important.

In terms of food consumption, Masvingo had the highest proportion of households consuming an acceptable diet (75%) and Matabeleland North had the lowest (54%). This showed increased local availability of foodstuffs, and improved off-farm opportunities. However, nutritional indicators remained low, including a high prevalence of stunting. As commented on before, this mismatch between food intake and nutritional indicators remains puzzling.

So, following the food balance methodology the assessment adopts (see discussion of the methodology and its limitations in an earlier blog), the report estimates that for the 2014/15 consumption year at peak (January to March next year) is projected to have 6% of rural households food insecure. This is a 76% decrease compared to the (disputed) estimate the previous consumption year.

This proportion represents about 564,599 people at peak (which may of course be people suffering deficits for only a few days), not being able to meet their annual food requirements. Their total energy deficit is estimated at an equivalent of 20,890MT of maize; actually a very small amount, and not suggesting any urgent need for food aid, given the margins of error in the estimates. Matabeleland North (9.0%), Matabeleland South (8.3%) and Mashonaland West (7.7%) were projected to have the highest proportions of food insecure households. By contrast, Manicaland (2.7%) and unusually Masvingo (3.4%) provinces were projected to have the least proportions of food insecure households.

So in sum, a good harvest results in a good food security situation. This is of course good news, and no surprise. But the report and the analysis still raise many questions. I hope that those working on food and farming in Zimbabwe can join forces and think harder about questions of sampling, the contributions of the new land reform areas to production, and the complex dynamics at the heart of the food economy that underpins food insecurity prevalence and distribution. The ZimVac annual survey is a major contribution, but with some thought and adaptation it could be contributing much more to our understanding of changing livelihoods and food economies in the post-land reform era.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

 

 

 

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Millions at risk of food insecurity in Zimbabwe? Or not? How the dire predictions were confounded by a good harvest

Last September I critiqued the assumptions behind the prediction that 2.2 million people would be needing food aid. In order to raise funds and galvanise attention, international agencies, local lobby groups and the media were using an extreme worst case scenario figure, based on a variety of assumptions, many of them highly questionable.

As it turned out, the rains arrived and a good season has followed (with some exceptions of course). In the section below, I offer some extracts from the most recent USAID-funded FEWSNET update on the food security situation in Zimbabwe. Good rains have boosted production and the current food security projections to September are largely very positive.

It is amazing what a change in the weather can do. But it also adds to my earlier plea to be cautious about headline figures and assumptions in forward projections. There is no harm in being cautious – this must be the sensible stance – but overblown figures and dramatic proclamations that serve particular interests should be guarded against.

Unlike the portrayals of imminent doom, the relatively good news about a reasonable harvest does not hit the headlines, or raise aid money, and the bad news stories from Zimbabwe persist. So for a change, and in case you are not regular readers of FEWSNET bulletins, I thought you would like an update on a good harvest and a reasonably positive food security situation

Here is a summary edited from from the May update:

The majority of very poor households across the country including the traditionally food insecure southwestern districts, will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity outcomes between May and June owing to the projected above average 2013/14 harvest. Similar outcomes will continue from July through September as most households will still be consuming cereals from own production.

Markets will continue functioning but most of the cereal supplies are likely to be locally procured with a few imports by private traders. As households begin to access cereal from their own production there have been significant reductions in monthly maize grain price trends. Since March, national maize grain prices have dropped by 11 percent, but in comparison to national averages during the same period last year the prices are still 16 percent higher. For maize meal the national average stands at $0.66 and has decreased by 2 percent in comparison to the same time the previous month, but remains 4 percent higher than the national average for same time last year. Month-on-month maize grain prices fell by 26 and 16 percent in Manicaland and Masvingo Provinces, respectively.

Casual labor opportunities are projected to increase by up to 20 percent throughout the outlook period as a result of ongoing harvesting activities. Additional incomes, particularly in the northern areas, will be earned through tobacco preparation, sales and casual labor for poor households. However given cash constraints, most casual labor will likely be paid by in-kind.

The first round results of the Ministry’s crop and livestock assessment indicate that there are increased chances of an above average harvest, especially for maize, millet, and sorghum. This assumption is based on an estimated 16 percent increase in cropped area for cereals this season in comparison to the 2012/13 season. Maize alone this season accounts for approximately 1.6 million hectares, which is an 18 percent increase from the previous season. This increase in area planted for cereals is due to fairly well distributed rainfall patterns this season.

Ongoing tobacco curing and sales are boosting household income, particularly in the northern areas, where production levels are projected to have significantly increased. Based on the first round assessment, this year’s production levels has surpassed the 2012-13 season by about 21 percent. At the household level, higher than average tobacco production will increase farmer income levels and opportunities for casual labor opportunities (i.e. curing, processing, transportation) for poor households. Households benefiting from this labor will therefore receive additional income for food purchases and other livelihood needs.

Cotton production this season is 16 percent below last year’s levels. The processing of cotton is ongoing in cotton growing areas but incomes are likely to remain low. The reduction in the area under cotton is due to marketing price uncertainty given the low marketing prices offered during the previous season.

The increase in the availability of water due to the good rainfall this season will increase gardening activities from May through September. Vegetable production will provide both food and cash to very poor households.

Livestock body conditions in areas including Matebeleland South and Masvingo Provinces have significantly improved and are in good shape. Despite the improved pasture and water access for cattle, the calving rate included in the recent first round crop and livestock assessment report remains low at 49 percent, and only 2 percent higher than last season.

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The FEWSNET report provides the assumptions it uses in this analysis, along with some useful graphics. The second assessment report is due shortly and this will update the situation. Certainly the tobacco harvest looks promising, and reports from many parts of the country shows grain production is good.

So, thankfully 2.2 million people in Zimbabwe didn’t need food relief assistance, and the agricultural production has prospered in a good season. This however should be no reason for complacency. Droughts strike hard in a system where irrigation is not widespread, and improving resilience to such shocks must be a key part of future investments.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

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Food crisis in Zimbabwe: 2.2 million at risk. But where do the figures come from, and what do they mean?

The newspapers have been full of commentary on a looming food crisis in Zimbabwe. This has followed from the World Food Programme’s press release that 2.2 million people will be in need of food aid in the coming months. The Commercial Farmers Union has called it a ‘man-made crisis’, the direct result of the ‘chaotic’ land reform, and a decade of inappropriate policies.

I wanted to find out a bit more about where the 2.2 million figure came from. It’s a big number, and would mean a lot of food imports, way beyond the means of the Finance ministry. After a bit of digging I eventually found the figure, buried on page 122 of the ZimVac (Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee) livelihood assessment draft report for 2013.

Each year ZimVac, a coalition of NGOs, researchers and government agencies, undertake a major rural livelihood assessment, based on a sample of over 10,000 households across the country. The sample is drawn according to the latest ZIMSTAT ‘master sampling frame’, and the resulting data is aimed to be representative of the country as a whole. It’s an excellent and important initiative, but it has its deficiencies, as those involved readily admit.

The process for deciding the headline figure is complex. It involves assessing for each household all the cereal production, and then adding in income from employment, remittances, livestock sales, and other sources of income that could be used to buy food (p. 120). Assumptions on prices and market availability are used to translate income into food and in turn energy (p.121). The food security assessment is based on the household’s potential access to enough food from all sources, including purchases, to give each member a minimum of 2100 kilocalories per day in the consumption period 1 April 2013 to 31 March 2014 (p. 119). The total number in food deficit figure is then calculated as a sum of all of those experiencing any negative balance in the accounting period.

It’s a complicated procedure with lots of steps and plenty of assumptions. What the headline figure doesn’t indicate – although the report does, and the background documents for the ZimVac surveys over the years are quite transparent about this – is that the big number includes many people who may have a projected deficit for actually a very short period. Indeed, at the time of the survey in May 2013, over 80% of households surveyed had no hunger problems with only a very small proportion recording ‘severe hunger’ (p. 115). The report shows that there is a progression of food insecurity, with a peak of 2.2m people expected in January to March 2014 (p.124). 31% of the total (683,000 people) move into food deficit only in this crunch period before the next harvest; and some of whom may in fact be food insecure for only a very few days.

The 2.2 million figure is of course a good flag-waving number for the WFP to raise funds, and for the CFU to bash the government for the land reform (and even President Mugabe is now joining the critique of the ‘new farmers’), but the actual implications are more complex. Here are five reasons why we need to be cautious about the figures.

  • First, there’s geography: as the report shows the problems are concentrated in the dry south of the country which experienced the worst season in terms of rainfall and its distribution (p.125-6).
  • Second, there is almost certainly (as ever in surveys) an underreporting of income, and so purchasing power. Since in drought years, market purchases are essential for food entitlements, this is rather crucial.
  • Third, the assessment model allows for only limited sales of livestock to compensate for food deficits (households are assumed to retain a minimum of 5 goats and 3 cattle). Yet livestock is precisely the asset in the drier parts of the country that are used in times of drought to exchange for grain, and distress sales are common, and important for food security.
  • Fourth, remittances are especially important in drought-prone areas, yet the figures used in the model for this year are based on recall of last year’s receipts. Last year was of course a relatively good year for rural production, and so remittance flows inevitably dropped. But this year, you can be sure, they will increase in response to the shortfalls. For perfectly good reasons, the model does not account for this, but it’s another reason why we can expect things to be not as bad as predicted.
  • Finally, the assessment does not include early cropping – for example of green maize – which is often important in that crunch period before the ‘proper’ harvest.

For all these reasons and more, we should be cautious about the headline statistics, and understand in more detail what happens to whom and where.

One of the most striking figures in the report is the prediction that 98% of rural households nationally will hit a food deficit by next March if only cereal production and stocks were included (p. 123). Of course this includes those with no food production to speak of, such as farmworkers and other rurally-based non-farm households. But even discounting this group, this is striking, and does suggest a problem in agricultural production, as Charles Taffs of the CFU indicates. However, again we must be cautious in jumping to conclusions.

One big concern I have with recent national surveys is that they have been sampling according to old sample frames set before the land reform. This was the case for the 2011 PICES (Poverty, Income, Consumption and Expenditure Survey) study and the 2010-11 Demographic and Health Survey, both using the 2002 census sample frame. I have been assured that the ZimVac survey for 2013 used an updated sample, with ‘enumeration areas’ allocated proportional to population distribution derived from the 2012 census. If so, this would have included the significant populations, especially in A1 areas, who are – at least according to our data from Masvingo – producing more and doing better than their counterparts in the communal areas, where most the earlier rural samples are drawn from. And in our study areas on A1 sites we see between half and two-thirds of the households producing sufficient cereals for the year – not just 2%,

Following the 2012 census, ZIMSTAT is revising the national ‘master sample frame’, and hopefully from now on national surveys will be statistically more representative. Unfortunately it is still difficult to stratify the data according to land use types, and so distinguish between resettlement areas and others, so Taffs and co should probably hold off on their outright dismissal of land reform on the back of this data for now. As ever, it’s more complicated than it first seems.

That said, last season was unquestionably a worse one than experienced in the last few years, including in Masvingo. It also hit some higher potential areas hard, with a very unevenly spread rainfall. Despite improvements since 2009, input supply was again erratic and untimely last year. Also, maize area planted was again down, reflecting the shift from food crops to tobacco in some areas, perhaps especially in those food producing areas in the higher rainfall zones. This restructuring of the crop system is directly driven by incentives – tobacco, supported through contract arrangements – , is a much more profitable crop than maize, especially if marketed through the Grain Marketing Board. Over the last decade or more we have seen switches to small grains (although plantings were down this past year according to ZimVac), but these are still a small percentage of total crop output, and it remains maize that drives the food economy, although much of this circulates outside the formal channels, and so is difficult to capture in national statistics.

So what should we make of all this? Certainly there is going to be a problem of food deficits in the coming months. However, problems are going to be concentrated in a certain time period, and outside a few areas and for more vulnerable people, it’s not going to be as bad as the headline figure and the media commentary perhaps suggests. Imports will certainly be needed, and targeted food aid will be important, but other coping strategies will also come into play to offset the worst.

Indeed this seems to have been the pattern over many years now. There is a ritualised flurry of activity around this time of year, with the aid agencies calling for funds to support food aid, and those critical of land reform saying that this ‘proves’ that Zimbabwe has gone for food producer to ‘basket case’. Yet by the end of the season, the expected famine has not occurred and, although hardships unquestionably are faced, the scale and depth of the problem is not as expected. This can be explained due to both sampling and non-sampling errors inherent in the standard surveys; but also significantly because assessments have not got to grips with the new patterns of production (particularly in A1 areas) and marketing (mostly informal). This will require new, and better attuned, data collection techniques.

Unfortunately too often the emergency, humanitarian aid and disaster relief momentum overrides discussion of the developmental issues, and the scramble for food aid (and all the associated politicking) diverts attention and resources. As I have mentioned in this blog many times before, rural development challenges are many. They include the need to invest in irrigation to offset drought vulnerability, the importance of investment and reforms to ensure timely supply of inputs, a pricing and market policy to balance incentives between food and cash crops, a livestock policy that ensures such assets are secure and available in times of need, and, overall, more concerted support for the resettlement areas to ensure that they can indeed supply the nation with food.

Next week, I will continue this theme and look at the data on production and imports over time in a bit more detail. Since 2000 there is little doubt Zimbabwe is in a new era, and policy responses have to take this into account.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

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