ZIMBABWE – Zimbabwe is in the grip of a severe drought and would require at least one million tonnes of food aid for both human and livestock consumption.
Last week, President Robert Mugabe declared a state of emergency and asked development partners to help combat the situation as the Southern African Development Community faces one of the worst droughts to hit the region in 30 years.
A state of emergency provides international aid organisations and governments the possibility of raising quick cash for food aid.
The hardest hit areas are in natural regions four and five, especially in rural areas, where villagers have to watch their crops wilt under the heat of the sun due to severe moisture stress. Cattle are also dying as fresh water supplies dry up.
Most affected provinces are in the southern parts of the country namely Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, Masvingo, the Lowveld, the southern parts of Manicaland and some parts of the Midlands.
Between 2,44 million and three million people face food shortages.
“It is too early to predict how much grain will be required to avert hunger because there are some areas that may harvest something, but at least one million tonnes would be required and, with stock feed, more grain would be required,” Commercial Farmers Union director, Olivier Hendrik said.
Zimbabwe previously imported maize from Malawi, Zambia and South Africa, but with these countries also experiencing drought, government is now looking to import the staple from South America.
“Zambia is secure, South Africa is importing grain and Malawi is also importing, meaning Zimbabwe cannot import grain from its neighbours. The grain will probably come from Argentina. Southern Africa as a region requires at least 10 million tonnes,” Hendrik added.
According to Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET), a regional food security crisis, including a substantial increase in the size of the acutely food insecure population, is likely in the latter half of 2016 and early 2017 should the abnormally hot and dry conditions persist.
“Regional food supplies are limited, staple food prices are higher than average, and acute food insecurity is more prevalent than usual due to poor crop harvests in early 2015,” FEWSNET said.
Food prices have increased over the past few months with indications of the maize import parity price reaching US$420 per tonne from as little US$180 per tonne.
Statistics from the Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) weekly market guide show that on average grain prices have remained stable in the Mashonaland provinces with most averaging US$6 per 20-litre bucket.
However, for the Bulawayo and Manicaland markets, maize prices have been in the US$8 per 20-litre bucket range.
“The price range for the Mashonaland areas is mainly attributed to the availability of maize grain within those areas as a result of at least favourable weather conditions for grain production as compared to the Matabeleland areas which are dryer.
“With the current poor rains, prices for the grain in most parts of the country are slowly rising due to the anticipated grain shortage owing to poor harvests expected due to the El Nino induced drought.
“Producers with grain have slowly started capitalising on this expected grain shortage. This anticipated grain shortage is expected to result in continuous rise in maize prices across all provinces,” said the ZFU report.
Besides Zimbabwe, drought emergencies have been declared in several provinces in South Africa and Lesotho. Water authorities in Botswana, Swaziland, South Africa, and Namibia are advising residents to limit water usage because of low dam levels.