Empty calories

Zimbabwe: Mnangagwa boasts of food security, but WFP says many struggle

By Veneranda Langa

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Posted on August 21, 2023 09:25

 © Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa (R), stops to meet and eat with Mr Kwande (L), a baker. (@edmnangagwa twitter)
Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa (R), stops to meet and eat with Mr Kwande (L), a baker. (@edmnangagwa twitter)

To lure voters ahead of Zimbabwe’s elections, President Emmerson Mnangagwa says government agricultural programmes have ensured food security.

But the World Food Programme (WFP) has expressed concern that many households are still food insecure due to high inflation.

Mnangagwa’s ZANU-PF rallies have been drawing large crowds, the motivation being food handouts at the rallies.

His campaign messages boast of spearheading development programmes and achieving food sufficiency, yet his supporters have been scrambling for fizzy drinks and fast foods dished out at his campaign venues.

Boasting amidst hunger

In his campaign speeches, Mnangagwa speaks of achieving food security to the extent that non-governmental organisations distributing food aid will be rendered redundant.

“In spite of sanctions imposed on us by some Western countries, Zimbabwe has been the fastest-growing economy in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for the past three years. All sectors – mining, construction, manufacturing, and tourism are all growing,” Mnangagwa said in Harare during his 9 August ZANU-PF rally.

The president said his government’s agricultural policies called Pfumvudza/Intwasa improved produce.

“We are confident that in spite of climate change, we will be food secure because we have built dams and are promoting irrigation to give us enough food each year,” he said.

Urban dwellers still vulnerable

But a day before his Harare rally, the WFP representative and country director Francesca Erdelmann warned that Zimbabwe’s poor population still suffers from food insecurity.

“While the country celebrates the availability of adequate cereal stocks to meet the overall national requirements, we also acknowledge that many poor households struggle to meet their food needs,” Erdelmann said.

WFP reports say that up to a third of Zimbabweans in urban areas are unable to afford a nutritious diet, and programmes by the European Union, WFP and other development programmes have been assisting vulnerable communities to be food secure through mobile money stipends, agricultural support programmes and food handouts.

The latest Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee report states that there was a 59% increase in food crop production in 2023 compared to the previous season, which guarantees food security.

“Only a small percentage of rural households will be food insecure during the peak hunger period (January to March 2024) for which the country has sufficient food stocks to cover,” the report reads.

But policy analyst Nicholas Aribino says Zimbabwe is yet to achieve food security because people cannot meet their dietary needs amid high food inflation.

“One can doubt that Zimbabwe has become food secure because there is a pattern of emerging child and urban poverty. Food has been priced out of the reach of many people,” Aribino tells The Africa Report. He cites the 2022 Global Hunger Index, which classified the situation in Zimbabwe as serious and the 13th-worst-affected globally.

National Consumer Rights Association (NACORA) coordinator Effie Ncube says despite improvements in harvests, the Zimbabwe government cannot reject food aid offers because what is being experienced is seasonal food security, which is not the same as household food security.

“We are yet to get to a situation where households have sufficient stocks, and in just one bad season, the country will be back to the world crying for food aid. Most households do not have nutritionally complete food, while food inflation continues to drag more people into debilitating poverty and hunger.”

Ncube says high food inflation and currency problems in the country are rendering even the employed persons to fail to meet basic food needs.

According to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s July 2023 data, the cost of food in Zimbabwe has increased by 103.10%.

Highest food inflation

Zimbabwe’s erratic economy has made it the country with the worst or the third-worst food inflation – from 353% (November 2022) to 285% (February 2023) to 102% (May 2023).

The World Bank says food inflation is expected to remain high in Zimbabwe due to the country’s currency woes.

Food items like bread cost thousands of Zimbabwean dollars, and the latest National Financial Inclusion Strategy report states that part of the population has to “skip a meal due to lack of money for food”.

A statement by the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe on 7 August said a family of six in Zimbabwe now needs ZWL$2.5m ($7,094) to survive, spelling disaster for those households whose total income is less than a million per month.

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