By Byron Mutingwende
Across a number of counties in Southern Africa, vulnerability assessment and analysis results for the 2018/19 agricultural season paint a gloomy picture but with relevant interventions there is light at the end of the tunnel. This write-up will focus on Zimbabwe.
Addressing stakeholders during the Windhoek Regional Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis (RVAA) Dissemination Meeting for 2019, George Kembo, the Director of the Food and Nutrition Council (FNC) said Zimbabwe’s 2018/2019 said on the education front, about 18% of children of school-going ages were not in school.
The proportion has ranged between 14% and 28% during the same time in the past four years. The major reasons reported by the households with such children have not changed much in the past four years. He said some of the reasons are that schools were expensive for most parents or guardians who had no money to send their children to school.
“In some instances, children were considered too young to be in school by parents or guardians; and most of the schools were far for children to walk to. The first cause for children failing to be in school raises questions on the implementation of the Government Policy for Universal Primary Education and its complementary policy which states that no child should be denied access to schooling for failure to pay school fees. Sustainable ways of funding scaling-up of the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) programme should be considered,” Kembo said.
Kembo noted that in response to increased vulnerability in the past two consumption years, Government and its Development Partners expanded their coverage of assistance beneficiaries and the flow of remittances also went up. Overall the proportion of households that received food transfers increased, while that of households that received cash, crop and livestock inputs and water and sanitation inputs decreased during the 2018/19 consumption year compared to the previous one.
He said with even increased vulnerability in the 2019/20 Consumption Year, demand on relatives to assist their rural folks is expected to increase. However, he warned that the ability of the remittances to respond is uncertain given the depressed domestic economy as well as the depreciation of the Bond Note (RTGs) against the United States of America Dollar; the currency of choice for the general Zimbabwean public.
From statistics provided, with the exception of maize, sorghum and cotton, the proportion of households that grew the major food and cash crops in 2019 decreased significantly compared to those that did in 2018. However, the poorer rainfall season experienced in the 2018/19 agricultural season resulted in reduced household crop harvests in all districts and rural provinces.
It was revealed that inadequate agriculture inputs (due to high prices), household agricultural labour, limited ability to hire and commandeer additional labour from friends, relatives and neighbours coupled with a rather high dependence on retained and unimproved seed varieties for most food crops, other than maize, continue to constrain households’ crop productivity.
The El Nino phenomena that ravaged Zimbabwe and many other SADC countries highlighted, once more, the importance and urgency of efforts to build resilience against climate variability and climate change amongst the rural populations of Zimbabwe. These efforts could include stepping up the promotion of climate-smart agriculture, water harvesting and irrigation development, particularly in the most drought-prone areas.
The consecutive poor rainfall seasons marginally reduced the proportion of households that own cattle and those that own goats. It was reported that about 62% of the rural households do not own cattle and a similar proportion (56%) do not own goats. Kembo said that this does not only indicate low levels of strained financial household assets but also lack of productive assets with enormous capacity for providing household nutrition and overall resilience, particularly in the drier parts of the country.
On income and expenditure, the order of the most important sources of household cash income (starting with the most common) was casual labour, crop production, remittances, livestock production and vegetable production. An analysis of average household incomes for the month of April since year 2014 to 2019 suggests a very strong positive relationship between the rainfall season quality and average household income.
“This observation indicates that stabilising and growing agricultural income would be key to increasing the resilience of rural livelihoods. The 2019 Annual Rural Livelihoods Assessment results show that the share of rural households’ expenditure taken by food is around 68% thereby potentially increasing poverty or vulnerability.
“The proportion of households accessing loans remains low (4%) and these were predominantly given by family and friends to family members and friends; they remain largely informal. Financial inclusion in the formal institutions such as Banks, SACCOs and microfinance institutions remains largely constrained. This may be stemming from the fact that most of these households are borrowing for consumption hence presenting a credit risk to the formal financial institutions.”
On consumption patterns, there was a notable decline in the proportion of households consuming acceptable diets (from 55% in 2018 to 47% in 2019) and an increase in households having poor food consumption (from 20% in 2018 to 24% in 2019), which shows deterioration in household food security compared to the same time last year.
The Minimum Dietary Diversity for women and Minimum Acceptable Diet for children were reported to be low. Furthermore, consumption of iron rich foods and vitamin A rich foods by households was low, which further exposes the women and children to poor health and nutrition outcomes. Community based interventions to improve child and maternal dietary intake particularly to improve the nutrition outcomes should be scaled up if targets to reduce stunting and other forms of malnutrition are to be achieved – recommended, Kembo or the Report
Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) practices continue to be of concern across all provinces. Despite 28% of the rural households’ dependent on untreated water sources for their domestic water supply, worsening is that 26% of the households do not treat their water before use. Furthermore, open defection continues to be a common practice for about 33% of rural households. Matebeleland North is the worse-off province for all WASH indicators. In-depth research is required to understand the causal factors of the relatively high prevalence of open defecation across the country, particularly in Matebeleland North province.
This situation renders a significant proportion of the households vulnerable to water borne diseases such as diarrhoea and typhoid. Efforts to improve the water and sanitation situation in all rural provinces appear to have been negligible over the past five years and need urgent attention.
On child nutrition, it was noted that malnutrition is a major impediment to economic growth and development. It contributes to poverty by increasing mortality, increasing susceptibility to disease, impairing cognitive development and educational achievement and reducing work capacity and productivity in adulthood.
Child under-nutrition increases the risk of neonatal and child mortality and future maternal reproductive outcomes. The national prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition was 3.6%, with boys more affected than girls. The national prevalence of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) was 1.4%. The national prevalence of stunting was 26.8% with boys more affected than girls across all provinces. Whilst survey results indicate a reduction in the stunting prevalence at national level from 33% in 2010 to 26.8% in 2019, it remains above the acceptable global threshold of 20%. Stunting remains a nutrition challenge of public health significance in the country that requires sustained efforts to address its underlying causes. Fifteen of the Country’s rural districts have stunting levels above 30%.
On Food Security, rural food (cereal) insecurity in June 2019 was estimated at 21% and is projected to reach 59% during the peak hunger period (January to March 2020). This food (cereal) insecurity prevalence translates to about 5, 5 million rural people. The cereal requirements at peak will be 818,323MT at an estimated cost of USD 217,659,752.
There is an inverse relationship between levels of cereal crop production and food insecurity prevalence. When crop production is low, levels of food insecurity are high and vice versa. This demonstrates the significant impact cereal harvests have on household food access for the majority of rural households in the country.
Matebeleland North (68%), Masvingo (64%) and Midlands (63%) provinces are projected to have the highest proportions of food insecure households at peak hunger period. Matebeleland South province is projected to have the least proportion of food insecure households (49%). Eleven districts are projected to have more 70% of their households having inadequate means to meet their food needs without resorting to severe livelihoods and consumption coping strategies. Added to this are 36 districts whose food insecurity is projected to range between 50% and 70%. Manicaland (981,839); Masvingo (925,652) and Midlands (825,215 provinces are projected to have the highest number of food insecure people during the peak period.
Focusing on hazards and shocks, it was noted that communities are faced with a host of shocks and hazards both natural and anthropogenic impacting negatively on their ability to access their food and non-food requirements. Cash shortages (81.%), cereal price changes (78.8%), drought (75.9%) and crop pests (44.3%) were reported as shocks, which affected households between April 2018 and March 2019.
Generally the hazards experienced had the greatest impact on households’ food access, assets loss and cash incomes for most households. Yet a majority of the rural population lacks capacities to cope and recover from the compounded impact of the different types of hazards they experience.
In light of the above results, a number of recommendations were proffered as follows:
- Education – Cognisant of the fact that 18% of children were not attending school due to financial constraints and schools being to far, it is recommended that resource allocation towards the strengthening of the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM), the School Feeding and School Health Programmes be prioritised.
- Social Protection – In response to increased vulnerability, the Government and its Development Partners should consider improving efficiency in the identification of beneficiaries. A standardised approach to enhance accountability should be implemented.
- Management of Food Aid – Government should take far-reaching and monitor-able actions to reform the way Zimbabwe receive and manage food aid. Management of Food Aid should be in-line with the “Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness” particularly item 3(ii) – increasing alignment of aid with partner country’s priorities, systems and procedures and helping to strengthen their capacities.
- Crop Production – Results show evidence of households’ constraints in accessing agriculture inputs. During the current 2019/20 consumption year, more resources be channelled towards Government Input Support (the Command Agriculture and Presidential Input Scheme Programmes), household economy strengthening and building productive community assets.
- Crop Production – Government to consider the importance and urgency of efforts to build resilience against climate variability and climate change amongst the rural populations of Zimbabwe. These efforts could include stepping up the promotion of climate-smart agriculture, water harvesting and irrigation development, particularly in the most drought-prone areas
- Crop Pests – Considering the damage caused by the Fall Army worm, building capacity of extension agencies in providing the relevant and high quality information to farmers on Fall Armyworm is recommended. Government to ensure Research institutions have capacity to determine sustainable ways of managing the pest including efficacy of pesticides and indigenous control measures, most effective, lowest-risk, economical, accessible and easily used by smallholders (without sophisticated machinery).
- Livestock Production – Livestock drought mitigation strategies need to be prioritized in areas that suffered most from the drought and where livestock makes the most significant contribution to households’ livelihoods. The mitigation strategies could include (i) Provision of subsidised livestock feeds and animal drugs; and (ii) Facilitating access to relief grazing.
- Income and Expenditure – Interventions that strengthen households’ economy and resilience are thus recommended to ensure households remain food and nutrition secure.
- Sanitation and Hygiene – Based on evidence from results that highlighted poor sanitation practices, there is need to intensify hygiene messages for effective uptake of interventions. Elimination of open defecation through availing of resources (both soft and hardware) for the construction of latrines using locally available resources be encouraged. At the same time customised service standards should reconcile with technology choice and service levels with the economic capacity of user groups.
- Water (Consumptive and Productive Water)– In view of the drought, measures should be taken to avail water for Wild Animals, Livestock and Human consumption. Scaling up the repairing and rehabilitation of broken down water points, drilling or construction of new water points to improve access to safe water in the dry regions should be prioritised.
- Child Nutrition – In view of results showing high levels of stunting, Child Supplementary Feeding Programmes (CSFP) should be prioritised as a matter of urgency especially for districts with Global Acute Malnutrition above 5%. Livelihoods and food security interventions coupled with nutrition education programmes should be implemented alongside emergency response programmes to ensure consumption of diverse and micronutrient rich foods while simultaneously building community resilience to future shocks that compromise household food and nutrition security. There is need for a robust and real-time community based surveillance system to constantly monitor the tenuous nutritional situation especially as the season progresses towards the hunger or lean months of the year.
- Food Insecurity – In light of the projected prevalence of food insecurity (which is 59% or 5.5million people), there is need for urgent food distribution or cash based transfers (to promote the local economy where feasible) to food insecure households in order to avoid a worsening situation.
- Enhanced Food Access – The household projected food security situation is based on a number of assumptions about the most likely out-turn regarding staple cereal prices, cereal deficit households’ purchasing power and staple cereal availability. It is recommended that Government consider duty free for the import of household’s food requirements as per Zimstat’s food basket.
- Shocks and Hazards – In view of the shocks and hazards reported to have affected most communities in the report, Government and development partners should consider broadening social protection and resilience building programmes in order to strengthen absorptive and adaptive capacities of at-risk communities through scaling up of programmes such as Harmonised Social Cash transfers and Productive Community Works targeting both labour and non-labour constrained households.
- Domestic and International Appeal – Cognisant of the prevalence of high food insecurity (5.5 million people); the need to adequately support farmers in the next agriculture season, there is need to make an urgent Appeal for Food Assistance. Measure should be put in place to ensure that incoming Donors base their overall support on Zimbabwe’s national development priorities, strategies, institutions and procedures.
- Food and Nutrition Monitoring System – Given that the food insecurity projections are made on the basis of a number of assumptions, there is need to regularly monitor these and update the food security projections situation accordingly throughout the 2019/20 consumption year.