ZIMBABWE is facing a debilitating food crisis on the back of climate change-induced droughts. In its humanitarian plan for 2020, issued in March 2020, the United Nations Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said seven million people in urban and rural areas in Zimbabwe were in urgent need of humanitarian assistance compared to 5,5 million in August 2019.
With the World Food Programme (WFP) having classified Zimbabwe to be experiencing very high prevalence of insufficient food intake, several interventions have been made by various stakeholders to address the unfolding situation.
To get an appreciation of the situation on the ground, NewsDay (ND) reporter Lorraine Muromo sat with ActionAid Zimbabwe country director, Joy Mabenge (JM) to discuss their work in combating the food crisis.
Below are the excerpts.
ND: What is your assessment of and how widespread is the food security situation in Zimbabwe?
JM: In a domestic and international humanitarian assistance appeal for April 2020-2021, the government has made a plea of US$2,2 billion with immediate effect for providing humanitarian assistance in the short to medium term. The government said about 7,7 million people in both urban and rural areas would require urgent food assistance.
Zimbabwe is currently facing a severe drought caused by poor rainfall that affected harvests in the 2018/2019 planting season. In August 2019, the President (Emmerson Mnangagwa) declared the 2018/19 drought and cropping season a state of national disaster, and later appealed for humanitarian assistance. In 2020, the government has made an appeal for assistance, but has not declared the food crisis a disaster.
Food security remains a major concern as a large proportion of poor households have exhausted their food stocks and are currently in need of food assistance, with provinces such as Manicaland, Masvingo, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South being the most affected. In addition, shortages of water for domestic and livestock use are negatively affecting many livelihood activities, leading to poor pasture conditions and resulting in poor livestock body conditions across the country. The COVID-19 has also worsened the situation with vulnerable communities relying on wild fruits and reducing to one meal a day which has affected their health.
ND: What interventions has ActionAid made in response to the crisis?
JM: In response, ActionAid Zimbabwe is implementing the WFP lean season assistance programme in Makoni and Nyanga districts reaching 92 786 people between January and April 2020. The organisation is supporting 5 046 people in Chimanimani and Chipinge through its women-led early recovery Cyclone Idai response programme from September 2019 to September 2020. ActionAid and its value chain alliance livestock upgrading programme partners supported under the European Union-funded Zimbabwe agricultural growth programme are implementing a commercialisation project to build communities that are more resilient to shocks and stresses such as droughts reaching out to 11 000 people in six provinces.
As part of the humanitarian support to the situation in Zimbabwe, ActionAid and partners under the Zimbabwe resilience building programme (ZRBF) are supporting 218 005 people in the three districts of Binga, Kariba and Mbire.
ND: In terms of geographical coverage, which areas are you working in?
JM: ActionAid is currently implementing programmes in seven provinces namely Manicaland, Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland West, Mashonaland East, Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South and Harare. We we are implementing various programmes focusing on social justice, gender equality and poverty eradication. All our programmes mainstream women’s rights issues.
ND: How will the outbreak of COVID-19 affect those that are food insecure?
JM: COVID-19 has come at a time when the country is already in a hunger crisis. In the process, the most vulnerable people get affected more than anyone else. The situation will force communities to prioritise and share the little resources they have between securing food and procuring the required preventive materials.
Women and girls living in poverty will be deeply affected by the pandemic. They will also be at the forefront of fighting this crisis worldwide. Like all emergencies, and humanitarian crises, the coronavirus pandemic will hit women, the poor and the most marginalised the hardest.
Due to drought, women are walking all day to fetch water and their children are only able to bath once a week. They are surviving by foraging for wild fruits. How can people follow health and hand-washing advice during droughts and water shortages? ActionAid is, therefore, putting together women-led response plans that target the most vulnerable communities we work with.
ND: How will it affect ActionAid food distribution plans which are taking place now?
JM: WHO set out some measures and health protocols that should be followed and because of this, the distribution period will take longer than planned as more food distribution points have to be established in order to adhere to the government directive of not carrying out any activity with people who are more than 50 at any given point.
Observing the social distance is another issue as communities are used to crowding together, greeting each other by shacking hands and or hugging. Allocating different times for communities to gather and receive their entitlements has not worked. You find everyone coming to the food distribution points at the same time, thereby defeating the idea of having a minimal number of people at any given time. As a corrective measure, ActionAid has stopped doing the public addresses and rather gets into the distribution exercise to shorten the time the community gather. There are also handwashing facilities established at these points. With social distancing being enforced and monitored, the food distribution committees have been trained on maintaining hygiene and the health protocols, so that they assist the ActionAid team on the ground.
ND: What is your assessment of the country’s preparedness to deal with climate change-induced disasters such as droughts and floods
JM: The government through the Agriculture ministry is encouraging the farmers to adopt and adapt new farming techniques and grow the small grains that suit some climatic regions, for example, natural regions four and five. There has been some resistance in some communities, but due to the fact that climate change is a reality, they are starting to feel the effects and some farmers have started to adapt to the prevailing conditions and requirements. Government should invest more in water harvesting if it wants communities to have enough food that would take them to the following season. I am not very sure if command agriculture is addressing the causes of food insecurity among communities. It seems the very people who are supposed to get farming support are failing to access the inputs as this has been commercialised. Those with collateral continue to benefit.
ND: What work have you done in building community resilience to deal with shocks and disasters considering climate change?
JM: ActionAid, through several interventions, has introduced a basket of options for coping with climate change and deal with shocks and disasters. The strategies include the establishment and strengthening of the disaster risk management committees at district and community levels. There have also been training on provision of affordable water – efficient irrigation technologies to harvest and store water from seasonal streams and perennial rivers eg under the Zimbabwe resilient building fund programme being implemented in Binga, Kariba and Mbire.
ActionAid has also sunk solar-powered boreholes and rehabilitated water points using locally available low-cost resources. It has also established links with commercial partners and set up demonstration sites as part of an integrated learning platform where villagers interact with various crop/livestock experts and market players.
There has also been the establishment and strengthening of resilient committees through establishment of information kiosks at community level and the introduction of mobile-based water, sanitation and hygiene, crop and livestock disease surveillance and development of community-based early warning systems.
Key to note is also the enhancement of livelihood food security and nutrition resilience of vulnerable communities through technology transfer like scaling up of the development of crop and livestock value chain, capacity building of government extension personnel on best crop and livestock management practices and the setting up of crop and livestock improvement centres.
ND: What specific actions do you require from the government to deal with the food crisis?
JM: We are suggesting the following recommendations to the government of Zimbabwe: Government should urgently make it public that the country is facing a humanitarian crisis to trigger the mobilisation of the much-needed relief just like it has done with COVID-19. Government must urgently pool resources together to support the people in need and prioritise reviewing the national climate change policy to boost agricultural productivity which assures food security.