Source: Southern Zimbabwe faces food crisis | The Financial Gazette March 9, 2017
PARTS of southern Zimbabwe could experience food shortages in the wake of cyclone Dineo whose downpour caused floods in the region, resulting in crop fields being either washed away or swamped.
Indications are that the heavy rains left farmers in Matabeleland provinces, Masvingo, parts of Manicaland and Midlands poorer after crops and even livestock were destroyed.
The region has also been invaded by the fall armyworm pest, currently munching away the staple maize crop.
The 2016/17 summer cropping season had started on a promising note, with a healthy-looking maize crop.
It now looks unlikely that government will achieve the three million-tonnes of maize harvest it had projected.
Assessments by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) indicate that northern Zimbabwe would harvest an above average crop, with the southern parts likely to face a deficit.
In the north and other high maize producing areas, yield levels, and overall production will be average, said FEWSNET.
This will result in average national production for the season.
“Some districts in the north are expected to have surplus stocks from their 2017 harvest, which will supply markets mainly in the south and for national commercial needs during the 2017/18 consumption and marketing seasons,” observed FEWSNET.
“However, other northern districts are unlikely to produce a surplus as usual due mainly to fertilizer shortages amidst above normal rains. The southern areas are mainly expected to produce at below normal levels despite the favourable rainfall forecasts”.
As fate would have it, hundreds of people in the southern parts of the country are either now homeless after their homes were destroyed by the rains or have lost hope of harvesting anything.
Since January, the international humanitarian community has been supporting two million food insecure people, complimenting government efforts to provide decent meals to affected families.
Although the impact of the floods on crops is still being assessed, the World Food Programme (WFP) fears that the harvest in areas experiencing localised floods would be negatively impacted.
“Despite the rains, for most parts of the country, the current rural assessments suggest average to good harvest,” WFP country director, Eddie Rowe told the Financial Gazette.
“However, to disincentivise the early yield and consumption of immature crops, international food sector partners are planning to extend the lean season assistance by a month in selected districts, depending on the timing of the harvest,” he added.
Should Zimbabwe experience an above average harvest, Rowe said the food security situation would in all likelihood drastically improve from April onwards.
Extreme flooding has been experienced in the Lowveld and south eastern areas.
WFP together with government is now assisting people displaced in Tsholotsho, one of the worst affected areas.
As more details on the impact of the floods become available, there might be greater need for food assistance from WFP, according to Rowe.
The Southern African Development Community Climate Services Centre’s outlook for February to April 2017 indicates normal to above normal rains across Zimbabwe.
Despite the heavy rains and flooding, stakeholders in the sector still expect a good harvest compared to the previous seasons.
Bulawayo South legislator, Eddie Cross, said commercial crops covered about 30 000 hectares and should yield about 10 tonnes per hectare.
He said the Command Agriculture crop, although much smaller than planned at about 40 000 hectares, should yield about four tonnes per hectare overall.
“The communal crop will be affected by the excessive rains, but will yield more than last year and the urban crop will be much bigger than last year and will contribute six to 10 percent of the crop,” Cross said in his prediction.
“My overall feeling is that the overall output will be higher, but not to the extent that it will pull the country out of the current decline in Gross Domestic Product. Imports of food will remain high but might decline overall by 30 to 50 percent”.
Preliminary findings from ZimVAC Rapid Rural Assessment conducted last month indicate that the harvest outlook would most likely range from average to good across the country. – By Tabitha Mutenga and Nyasha Chingono