Agriculture

Persistent Drought Leaves Zim On The Brink

LIVINGSTONE MARUFU/BLESSING MADZIWANZIRA

Zimbabwe’s persistent El Nino induced drought has left the country on the brink of a total famine, leaving over seven million citizens in dire need of food, experts have said.

The development comes after the country endured another El Nino induced drought in the 2018/2019 summer cropping season causing the already ailing economy to collapse even further. Given last year’s drought the country’s economy retreated -6,5%, another stronger drought will contract the economy further.

In his 2020 budget, Finance and Economic Development Minister, Mthuli Ncube, projected a GDP growth of 3% buoyed by a good 2019/2020 good rainfall season. With the looming drought, the fiscal and monetary authorities may be forced to review economic forecast downwards.

According to the 2019/2020 Domestic and International Appeal for Assistance (DIAA) document, the prevailing El-Nino induced weather phenomena is likely to cause decline in economic productivity in Zimbabwe due to low production compared to 2018 in the agricultural sector and other economic problems affecting industrial sectors.

“The combination of the climate variability and prevailing economic circumstances still characterised by turbulence in commodity prices will impact negatively on the ordinary citizens,” the DIAA document reads in part.

“Farmers are pleading to government to take precautionary measures so that in future they provide early warning signs to farmers so that they will know which type of crops to plant and what time the rains will prevail.”

Maize is Zimbabwe’s staple grain that traditionally impacts the country’s economy given its skewed influence in determining inflation rates of the consumer price index (CPI) that determines the average rise in the cost of living.

Grain shortage is causing more price increases especially in food stuffs and beer. The 2019/20 ZimVAC Rural Livelihoods Assessment projected that approximately 28% (2.4m people) of the rural population shall be food insecure during the peak hunger period (January to March 2020).

This means that food insecurity prevalence is 51percent, for the rural households, an increase from 28percent projected in 2019. Matabeleland North (58%) has the highest proportion of food insecure households while Mashonaland Central and Midlands (47%) have the lowest.

Zimbabwe Farmers Unionchief economist, Prince Kuipa, told Business Times that the Grain Marketing Board is empty right now so there is need for government to import food in order to cushion the population from the effects of drought which has affected crop production in two consecutive seasons.

“Government should import grain in order to abolish hunger and starvation in the country caused by prolonged drought and rivers to dry,” Kuipa said.

He said the government should in future impart to farmers good farming methods to reduce siltation in rivers which is burying dams and rivers. The Meteorological Service Department (MSD) had predicted good farming season in the 2019/2020 farming season but things have gone south as rainfall patterns have remained weak from October up to January.

With the prolonged drought in the 2019/2020 summer cropping season, plants and water sources have dried out and up – leaving the country on the edge. What makes this year’s drought more complicated is that most irrigation facilities are not functional due to the drying up of most water sources.

Agriculture experts say only those with well-defined irrigation facilities and deep water sources will continue to produce on farms. Experts say Zimbabwe is targeting over 300,000 hectares of irrigable land but more is needed to improve and resuscitate irrigation facilities.

However, this week MSD predicted rainfall patterns across the country, giving the farmers a ray of hope. Zimbabwe requires 1.8m tonnes of grain for both human and livestock consumption. According to GMB, around 392,000 tonnes of maize were delivered to the GMB with the rest expected to be imported.

With the looming drought, a subdued output is expected in this agricultural season. Last month, a UN agency said Zimbabwe is facing its worst hunger crisis in a decade with half of the population (7.7m) food insecure.

World Food Programme spokesperson Bettina Luescher said that almost US$300m was needed urgently to supply some 240,000 tonnes of aid to avert hunger caused by a climate disaster and economic implosion.

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