Drought-affected maize crop. Picture: REUTERS
Drought-affected maize crop. Picture: REUTERS

More than a million people are in need of food aid in Zimbabwe and the number could rise due to an increased likelihood of an El Niño weather system during the 2018-2019 rainy season in Southern Africa.

Famine Early Warning Systems (Fews)‚ a think-tank on food insecurity operating in 34 countries‚ says in a report that the situation is aggravated by low or poor agrarian activity and a bad economy‚ due to both man-made and natural causes.

"Poor households are engaged in typical livelihood activities‚ though income from these activities is lower than normal. Crop sales are limited due to low production‚ and casual labour opportunities, and labour rates are lower than normal, due primarily to liquidity challenges‚" the report said.

During the run-up to the July 30 elections‚ the governing Zanu-PF resorted to vote-buying‚ particularly in the poorest parts of the country, such as Matabeleland North and South. Through a government budget‚ the party rolled out command livestock‚ a programme in which at least 30‚000 heifers were given to villagers.

Fews warned‚ however‚ that current conditions in the country do not favour rearing livestock. "Livestock conditions in arid areas are declining as a result of poor pasture and water, and it is expected that income from livestock sales will be lower than normal."

President Emmerson Mnangagwa‚ speaking at an agri-business forum in Harare on Wednesday‚ said food security is a core priority of the new dispensation and at least 2.2-million households will receive farming inputs ahead of the planting season. Most of them will be for food production.

"The government is targeting to provide inputs to about 1.8-million households for maize and sorghum and an additional 400‚000 households for cotton production. I encourage interested smallholding farmers to facilitate early planning for the season‚" he said.

However‚ these plans could be derailed because of an acute shortage of foreign currency. Justin Mpumalanga‚ the deputy chief secretary in the office of the president and cabinet‚ told delegates at the agri-business forum that all command projects depend solely on the availability of foreign currency because farming inputs and implementations are imported.

This has an impact on the procurement of irrigation equipment; agriculture machinery, such as combine harvesters‚ dryers‚ and threshers; as well as on the procurement of heifers.

The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee estimates that 4.1-million people (42% of the rural population) were food insecure during the period from January to March 2017. Most of the affected population received food aid from aid organisations at the time, which provided fertile ground for vote-buying through the command agriculture initiative ahead of the recently held general elections.