The Herald (Harare)

29 August 2011

Zimbabwe: Subsidised Grain - the Poor Priced Out

Some famine-hit households cannot afford to buy maize from Grain Marketing Board depots at the subsidised price of US$16 per 50kg bag.

Those with cattle and goats are now selling these to buy grain.

In the June Agriculture and Food Security brief, Agritex states that the pricing system and transport costs would "ultimately have an effect on households' access to grain, thereby affecting the food security situation in the next few months".

The Agritex report comes after submissions by GMB that it had since finished moving grain to deficit areas in February yet most distressed families were still facing starvation.

"We have moved 49 000 tonnes of maize to the distressed areas and this is actually an addition to the cumulative total of 56 400 tonnes that was already in the depots scattered all over the country.

"This means that even if the Department of Social Welfare was to take all the 50 000 tonnes it has earmarked for its relief efforts, there would still be an extra 6 400 tonnes. We are still going to be regularly sending more grain to all areas," GMB general manager Mr Albert Mandizha said last week.

He said all depots had adequate stocks.

Thousands of households in dry regions are facing acute food shortages.

The bulk of these areas fall along the country's borders and are in natural agro-ecological regions 4 and 5 where rainfall is erratic and sometimes as low as 250mm per year.

Matabeleland South Province, for instance, has been hit by acute food shortages after repeatedly going through bad seasons.

Most households in the province are in need of urgent food aid, but are struggling to raise cash to buy grain.

"We have several grain selling points across the province, but the communities are worried about the $16 per 50kg bag of maize, which is beyond their reach," Zanu-PF provincial chairman for Matabeleland South Province and Public Service Deputy Minister Andrew Langa recently said.

He said the situation was compounded by the poor performance of major irrigation schemes, which were grounded or facing imminent collapse.

Deputy Minister Langa said people faced food shortages while their livestock did not have enough pasture.

"The province did not receive good rains and the entire seven administrative districts are starving and in dire need of urgent food aid.

"In some cases the communities have the money to buy the grain but they have challenges in accessing it though the GMB has set up more grain selling points across the country.

"The most affected areas are Gwanda South, Mangwe, Insiza South and Beitbridge where nothing was harvested at all.

"We want to urge farmers in this region to prioritise the production of small grains, which do well in these dry regions," said Deputy Minister Langa.

Beitbridge district administrator Mr Simon Muleya, said on average the district needed 1 300 tonnes of grain for consumption every month.

In Masvingo over 21 000 households are facing severe food shortages.

The province has an estimated food deficit of 56 00 tonnes, a figure that is far more than what GMB has moved to all its depots countrywide.

Masvingo Governor and Resident Minister Titus Maluleke, recently said the province harvested only about 81 000 tonnes of maize and about 50 000 tonnes of small grains that was not enough to meet its requirements.

Governor Maluleke said the province had a population of about 1,5 million people and required about 186 000 tonnes of grain.

"Drought relief committees have been set up in all the seven districts in Masvingo to identify maize selling points so that vulnerable and needy families can access grain," he said.

Governor Maluleke added that the Ministry of Labour and Social Services had also embarked on a two-pronged thrust to mitigate food shortages in Masvingo through free distribution of food relief and the food for work programme.

Under the free food distribution programme, each household would receive US$10 each and a 50kg-grain coupon that is redeemable at various GMB depots.

About 21 500 vulnerable households had each already received the US$10 and 50kg bag grain coupons.

Masvingo district had the highest number of beneficiaries with over 4 600 households followed by Zaka with over 3 600 households.

Government has also started the food for work programme where able-bodied villagers will work in return for food relief.

The situation is also not looking good in some parts of Mashonaland East Province.

Mudzi, for instance, has gone for three seasons without harvesting enough to last a month's consumption.

The Goronga area of Mudzi has over 4 000 households currently reeling from critical food shortages.

In a recent tour of the area, The Herald learnt that in the past three seasons most households only managed at most two 50kg bags of maize or even just a gallon of maize, leaving them entirely dependent on handouts.

"We have been depending on Government and donor aid for a very long time. This region is very dry and not suitable for maize production.

"I remember that over the past 28 years we have had less than five good seasons, which has relegated us to perennial food scavengers. All the villages from Chigaramumba to Nyakadecha are facing acute food shortages as we speak," Chief Goronga said.

He said most villagers in his area had resorted to selling cattle at prices ranging between US$250 US$400 to raise money to buy grain.

Goats are priced between US$15 and US$40, he said.

"All those cattle you see loaded in trucks in Harare are coming from here. We fear that many families may soon exhaust their livestock, leaving them without draught power or just cattle for economic security.

"There is nothing we can do to stop the trend as most of them are doing so to save their families," he said.

Mashonaland West province has not been spared. At least 74 000 households are in need of food assistance after the mid-season drought scorched their crops, while elephants destroyed some of the crops in areas such as Makonde.

Mashonaland West provincial administrator Mr Christopher Shumba recently revealed that the households were affected despite the province realising a maize surplus of about 201 089 tonnes.

"The province produced about 451 089 tonnes of maize against annual aggregate demand of about 220 000 tonnes, which means as a province, we have a surplus of about 201 089 tonnes," he said.

The province put about 379 066 hectares under maize and 5 730 hectares under small grains, which yielded about 451 089 tonnes and 3 945 tonnes respectively.

He said the most affected areas were communal areas of Makonde (wards 14 -18) and Nyaminyami districts, where a combination of poor soils and unfavourable weather conditions affected yields.

"The extent of need varies from place to place but our communal areas are most affected to the extent that those hard hit have a food deficit of about six months," he said.

Makonde legislator Mr Risipa Kapesa, said elephants had wreaked havoc in the Chigaro area, which borders with Sanyati district and falls near the confluence of Runde and Mupfure Rivers, which feed into the Zambezi River.

"There is urgent need for food in the Chigaro area, where elephants destroyed crops and villagers did not yield much because of the poor weather," he said.

Meanwhile, Agritex, has in the June 2011 Agriculture and Food Security Brief, revealed that the prices of grain have been falling with the national average price of grain dropping from US$0,33 per kilogramme in April to US$0,30 per kilogramme in June.

The report added that the lowest grain price had been recorded in Hurungwe where the average price was US$0,16 per kilogramme followed by Guruve with US$0,17 per kg, Murewa with US$0,18 then Bindura and Gokwe with US$0,19 per kg.

The highest average grain prices were in Chiredzi and Bikita districts at US$0,57 per kg and US$0,46 per kg respectively.

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