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Apr 11, 2012

Zimbabwe Once Southern Africa's Breadbasket Using Food Rations to Rebuild Infrastructure

In late March and April 2012, the World Food Programme (WFP), IRIN, and Voice of America reported that up to 1.5 people are in need food aid in Zimbabwe.  This number will inevitably increase as up to one third of the 2012 corn harvest will have to written off due to crop failures due to lack of proper irrigation system and farmers who do not have the resources to purchase adequate agricultural inputs.

WFP's food-for-assets campaign
at work in Zimbabwe
Photo:WFP/Michael Huggins
To address the growing crisis, the WFP has implemented a “food-for-assets” program which provides food aid to rural communities that repair and develop basic local infrastructure.  Much of this has been destroyed since 2000 when President Mugabe supported a radical land reform program.  This replaced white commercial farmers with inexperienced farmers, mainly supporters of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.  In the process,  irrigation systems were destroyed or not properly maintain.  Prior to 2000, Zimbabwe was known as the "breadbasket of southern Africa."  It is now a net importer of food.

According to Zimbabwe's Minister of Finance, the country is now moving "towards market-related solutions towards agriculture, bearing in mind our incapacity as a state to look fully after our people." In other words, Zimbabwe will now be removing federal government assistance programs that have provide some support to the new farmers up until now.  According to a WFP press release, it "remains to be seen if these untrained farmers are able to survive on their own without being assisted by the government, as has been the case since the land reform started."

Under the WFP's “food-for-assets” program, rural villages are receiving food aid in exchange for rebuilding bridges and roads.  Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) assisting the WFP with this program include Plan International, World Vision, Save the Children and community-based NGOs.  In 2010-2011, the program reached approximately 20,000 households in Manicaland, Mashonaland Central, Masvingo and southwestern parts of the country.  They distributed cereals, pulses and vegetable oil in return for community work on irrigation projects, dam and well construction, repair of school buildings, installation of dip tanks, dairy parlors, and vegetable gardens.

Zimbabwe's Labor Ministry has been running a similar program since November 2011 with funding from the World Bank.  These funds are used for “community productive works teams” and to pay for tools and food rations for the workers.  These projects are concentrated in the Midlands districts of Chivi and Shurugwi.

According to statistics from Zimbabwe's Agriculture Minister Joseph Made, the country's worst corn harvest was in 2007-2008 when only 400,000 tons were produced.  In 2010-2011 this number had increased to 1.35 million tons.  However, the country consumes an average of 2 million tons so it is still experiencing a deficit.  It is likely to import corn, looking to regional suppliers in South Africa, Zambia, and Malawi.  These countries may not have supplies and/or they may only have gene-modified (GM) corn exports, which may not be acceptable to the government of Zimbabwe.

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About Margaret

CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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