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Tenth Day of Christmas: Looking for a “bumper harvest…”
Sokwanele Reporter: 4 January 2004
This article is a repeat of a story Sokwanele circulated last year on the 26th October 2004.
In May Robert Mugabe told Sky News, and the world, that Zimbabwe was on its way to producing a "bumper harvest". Accordingly the activities of the World Food Programme (WFP) were to be curtailed. Donor food was no longer required. Even the United Nations' own national food security assessment was stopped in its tracks. Henceforth the government would feed its own people without any outside help. So five months on one might well ask - Where is the bumper harvest ? How are the people faring, especially deep in the rural areas where it is very difficult for reporters from the independent media to penetrate ?
Just this week this writer interviewed an MDC Councilor from Binga; let's call him Isaac Moyo to protect his real identity. How would he describe the situation on the ground in the Ward he represents some 30 to 40 kilometers removed from the Binga Centre ? From our conversation it emerged that he was deeply troubled about the food security situation. The people of Binga are already suffering chronic shortages of staple foods, and that suffering is expected to intensify in the months ahead.
Councilor Moyo was full of praise for all the NGO's had been doing in his area prior to the scaling down of their operations. Just before the last rainy season for example CADEC the Catholic Development Commission and Save the Children (UK), the two NGO's most active in the Binga area, supplied seed maize to the people, and although some of the seed proved not to be ideal for that terrain and climate, at least it enabled local farmers to plant and reap a harvest. They also supplied seed for vegetables which were grown with some enthusiasm in local gardens. Overall it was not a good season for this remote district in which survival margins have never been that large. At best the harvest was patchy, but at least many households had some home-grown maize and vegetables. The same will not be true in the season ahead..
Apart from providing seed for the 2004 season both CADEC and Save the Children set up supplemental feeding schemes to help the most vulnerable in the community. CADEC supplied porridge to the under 5's in schools, to patients attending local clinics and to the frail and elderly. Mealie meal, sugar beans and cooking oil were provided to the most needy. For its part Save the Children laid on a regular monthly distribution of 10 kgs mealie meal to an estimated 80,000 households. As a result of these programmes the incidence of malnutrition was reducing in the area and the health of the people improving visibly. The local Council was mighty appreciative of this help and anxious to ensure that the programmes continued.
Yet all these positive developments came to an abrupt halt when the WFP was instructed to terminate its activities and local NGO's were informed they required express permission to continue with any relief or humanitarian work. A directive was issued from the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare requiring all NGO's to sign a memorandum of understanding indicating precisely the nature and scope of their operations and the intended beneficiaries. The approval of the District Administrator and the local Council would be required in future in each instance. In the case of the Binga Council which has a 16 to 5 MDC majority, that approval for the established feeding programmes was readily forthcoming, but still the NGO's could not proceed without the Minister's approval which has not been forthcoming. The memoranda of understanding submitted for approval are gathering dust while there is no indication that Save the Children or CADEC will be permitted to resume their feeding programmes.
ZANU PF's extreme sensitivity about issues of food does not apparently extend to health, hygiene and developmental projects. Save the Children were therefore permitted to continue the "livelihood" programmes they initiated last December, involving an AIDS awareness project and the provision of water and sanitation. But it is the enforced suspension of the NGO feeding schemes that has caused the greatest suffering on the ground and deepest sense of outrage among the people
"People in Binga are very angry", says Councilor Moyo. "When they were getting cooking oil and mealie meal (from the NGO's) we could see their health was improving. Malnutrition was reducing and there was more participation in (food-for-work) community projects. Now the people are suffering. There is no food , even for the under 5's, the elderly and the sick".
Questioned further Councilor Moyo revealed that people are dying in the area as a direct result of the suspension of the NGO feeding schemes. Malnutrition may not always be given as the reason for death but certainly it is hastening the deaths of a significant number of AIDS patients and others in the "at risk" category medically.
Furthermore with the first of the summer rains expected at any time now and hence the need to plough the fields in preparation for sowing, the people simply do not have any seeds to plant. Here again the invaluable work previously done by the NGO's can no longer be continued - at the cost of untold further suffering to the community in the months ahead.
Those seeking to defend the regime's reputation would no doubt point out that maize is available at this time at the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) depots in Binga and Lusulu. Councilor Moyo however counters that the Lusulu depot, between 80 and 90 k's south of Binga is only accessible over a very rough road and transport is always problematic. Furthermore while maize is now available at $Z 30,000 per 50 kg bag few local people can afford even this price. The price was in fact reduced from $ 40,000 to $ 30,000 per bag because it was not selling to hungry (impoverished) local people. Even at $ 30,000 per bag however it is beyond the reach of most of the local population. The irony is that at this subsidized rate it has become attractive enough for business people in Bulawayo to make the round trip to Binga, to buy up supplies for re-sale in Bulawayo. Once again the real losers are the rural poor who, until ZANU PF intervened to seize control of all food supplies, were being well cared for by CADEC and Save the Children.
What is even more sinister is that by channeling all available grain through the GMB which has been politicized and militarized (with nearly all senior management now being drawn from the military), the ruling party have set up a system of food distribution from which at a stroke opposition MDC supporters can be excluded. "The next step", says Councilor Moyo, "will be that ZANU PF party cards are required by anyone seeking to buy maize". It hasn't happened yet he says in his district, but he is no doubt that such a system will be in place before the Parliamentary elections of March 2005. ZANU PF will then hold all the cards, and they know how easily a starving people can be persuaded to vote for whatever party they are told to vote for - even if that party is responsible for their wretched plight. Mugabe's bumper harvest is a myth of course, but then he was always far more concerned with a harvest of votes for himself than a harvest of food for his starving people.
Day 11: 5 January 2005
Tomorrow we look at another rural situation - Insiza in Matabeleland South - where, on the orders of the local ZANU PF member of parliament, a Christmas party intended for hundreds of AIDS orphans and poor villagers and a substantial donation of much need food, maize seed, medical supplies and clothing to the community, was cancelled at the last minute.