Re­set­tled farm­ers un­af­fected by food short­age

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Analysis/opinion - Anal­y­sis Ian Scoones

THE food se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in Zim­babwe — and in­deed across large swathes of South­ern Africa — is se­ri­ous. El Niño has struck hard and pro­duc­tion lev­els this past sea­son were well down. The UN es­ti­mates that in Zim­babwe alone 4.1 mil­lion peo­ple — 42 per­cent of the ru­ral pop­u­la­tion — will be in need of sup­port be­fore the next sea­son. Aid agen­cies are rais­ing funds and are in­volved in a ma­jor hu­man­i­tar­ian op­er­a­tion.

We are now en­ter­ing the most dif­fi­cult pe­riod. Be­tween Septem­ber and March, when early “green” crops be­come avail­able, the food sit­u­a­tion will be tough, and many will be re­liant on hand­outs and pur­chased im­ported food.

Dis­posal of liveli­hood as­sets is al­ready oc­cur­ring and FEWSNET pre­dicts that large parts of south­ern Zim­babwe will be in “emer­gency” con­di­tions, to­gether with parts of Mozam­bique and Malawi.

There is lit­tle doubt that the har­vests this year were re­ally poor. And this was on the back of a bad sea­son last year. This means that stocks are low and funds cir­cu­lat­ing in the lo­cal, ru­ral econ­omy lim­ited.

I do not want to ques­tion for a minute the sever­ity of the sit­u­a­tion, but I do want to chal­lenge the way it is be­ing por­trayed, and ask whether this al­lows for the most ef­fec­tive tar­get­ing of those re­ally in need.

For Zim­babwe the ba­sic data comes from the an­nual ZimVac re­port, com­ple­mented by var­i­ous crop sur­veys.

ZimVac is a ma­jor sur­vey based on a sam­ple of 14 434 ru­ral house­holds across 60 districts.

Enu­mer­a­tion ar­eas are cho­sen across districts and sam­ples se­lected based on pop­u­la­tion den­sity es­ti­mates from the most re­cent pop­u­la­tion cen­sus.

It as­sesses food pro­duc­tion, cash in­come, livestock and so on, and comes up with a food ac­cess es­ti­mate, based on a daily 2 100 k Calo­rie in­take re­quire­ment dur­ing the con­sump­tion year to 31 March.

Those un­able to meet food needs through a range of sources are deemed to be in deficit and in need of sup­port.

This is where the 4.1 mil­lion fig­ure comes from — the num­ber of peo­ple es­ti­mated to be in this sit­u­a­tion at the end of March 2017 (even if just for a day).

But these es­ti­mates may miss out on cer­tain as­pects.

For ex­am­ple, in April, when vis­it­ing field sites in some ar­eas hit badly by drought, I was sur­prised how much maize was be­ing pro­duced in home gar­dens and around set­tle­ments this year.

While the main field crop had failed, more in­ten­sive pro­duc­tion near the home some­times in­volv­ing sup­ple­men­tary ir­ri­ga­tion, and cer­tainly higher in­puts of or­ganic fer­tiliser, home gar­den ar­eas were pro­duc­ing maize, in­clud­ing sub­stan­tial quan­ti­ties of green mealies.

These crops rarely get no­ticed in the larger cen­suses as they fo­cus on the main field crop, but added up these can be sig­nif­i­cant, al­though of course to­tals are way down on other years.

The other miss­ing story re­lates to livestock. This year there were ma­jor con­cerns that the El Niño drought would dec­i­mate livestock.

There were sig­nif­i­cant die-offs early on, but thank­fully spo­radic rains fell in Fe­bru­ary. This was too late for most crops, but it did re­plen­ish grass and wa­ter sources in many parts of the coun­try, in­clud­ing those drought prone ar­eas of Masvingo and Mata­bele­land that were suf­fer­ing livestock mor­tal­i­ties.

This turn-around will have had ma­jor im­pacts on food pro­vi­sion­ing in these ar­eas in the ab­sence of har­vests. There were en­trepreneurs buy­ing up an­i­mals in num­bers and this was a ready source of cash for many.

Many livestock were moved to re­set­tle­ment ar­eas where there is more plen­ti­ful grass due to (cur­rently) lower pop­u­la­tion den­si­ties. The high livestock pop­u­la­tions in re­set­tle­ment ar­eas, par­tic­u­larly in south­ern districts, adds to their food se­cu­rity re­silience.

Livestock and their move­ment is of­ten for­got­ten in food se­cu­rity as­sess­ments (ZimVac cov­ers el­e­ments of this, but it’s com­plex, and dif­fi­cult to cap­ture in large sur­veys).

Along with the im­por­tance of green mealies, other “famine” crops, and the range of (of­ten il­le­gal) cop­ing strate­gies that peo­ple em­ploy mean that suc­cess­ful food pro­vi­sion­ing is far more ex­ten­sive than the UN agen­cies sug­gest.

While the data is bro­ken down by dis­trict, it is not dif­fer­en­ti­ated by the type land ten­ure and use.

We do not get a sense of the dif­fer­en­tial vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of, for ex­am­ple, com­mu­nal area dwellers, those with A1 or A2 farms, vil­lagised or self-con­tained, nor work­ers linked to such ru­ral house­holds.

We know from ex­ten­sive re­search that ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties are highly dif­fer­en­ti­ated, both within and be­tween sites. At the mo­ment we get a very blunt assess­ment, dis­trict by dis­trict.

The re­port lists the ten best-off and worse­off districts, for ex­am­ple. Some of the districts where we work, where there was more land re­dis­tri­bu­tion, both in the high­veld and fur­ther south, are in the bet­ter-off ar­eas.

Does this mean land re­form ar­eas are less food in­se­cure? We can­not tell from ZimVac data as pre­sented.

There are hints though that a more com­plex pat­tern sits below the ag­gre­gate num­bers. The ZimVac sum­mary re­port (page 150) shows that na­tion­ally only 11 per­cent of house­holds will be food se­cure this year based on their own ce­real crop pro­duc­tion.

This is even lower in drought-prone ar­eas, such as Masvingo, for ex­am­ple. On ag­gre­gate 58 per­cent of the na­tional ru­ral pop­u­la­tion will be food se­cure through the con­sump­tion sea­son, but this is made up through ac­cess to in­come from a va­ri­ety of sources, not just food pro­duc­tion.

How do these ag­gre­gate fig­ures match up with data from the new re­set­tle­ment ar­eas?

We’ve been track­ing food pro­duc­tion in our study ar­eas in Masvingo for some years. In our sites in Masvingo and Gutu districts, for ex­am­ple, across the har­vest sea­sons from 2003 to 2013, be­tween 44 per­cent and 69 per­cent of house­holds pro­duced enough for house­hold con­sump­tion (es­ti­mated at one met­ric tonne).

In the Won­dezo ex­ten­sion A1 site in Masvingo, farm­ers pro­duced on av­er­age two met­ric tonnes in 2014 and over six met­ric tonnes in 2015, with 85 per­cent and 89 per­cent pro­duc­ing suf­fi­cient from maize alone for house­hold con­sump­tion in those years.

In our A1 re­set­tle­ment sites in Ma­zowe, over five years be­tween 2010 and 2014 sea­sons the av­er­age house­hold maize pro­duc­tion was 3,5 met­ric tonnes, de­clin­ing over time as to­bacco pro­duc­tion in­creased.

This means that on av­er­age 78 per­cent of house­holds pro­duced more than a tonne of maize in each year, and were food se­cure from own-farm pro­duc­tion alone.

This of course does not ac­count for the sig­nif­i­cant cash in­come from to­bacco in Ma­zowe (re­al­is­ing nearly $3 000 per house­hold on av­er­age across A1 farms be­tween 2010 and 2014), or veg­etable pro­duc­tion and livestock in Masvingo, along with other sources of in­come.

In other words, the ZimVac sam­ple must be very dif­fer­ent. Eleven per­cent this year (and higher but still low fig­ures in other years) hav­ing suf­fi­cient food from own pro­duc­tion is way lower than in our ad­mit­tedly much smaller sam­ples in the re­set­tle­ments.

In our ar­eas, con­sis­tently over time and across sites, we do not see the level of food in­se­cu­rity recorded by the ZimVac sur­veys — al­though of course it ex­ists in pock­ets, among cer­tain vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple.

There are of course com­mu­nal ar­eas nearby our A1 sites where the sit­u­a­tion is quite dif­fer­ent, and it is prob­a­bly from here that the ZimVac data de­rives.

Our com­par­isons with com­mu­nal ar­eas showed the con­trasts, with re­set­tle­ment ar­eas out­per­form­ing com­mu­nal ar­eas across the board.

But with­out any dif­fer­en­ti­ated na­tional food se­cu­rity data, it is dif­fi­cult to make sense of the ag­gre­gates gen­er­ated by stan­dard crop as­sess­ments and liveli­hood sur­veys.

This food se­cu­rity cri­sis there­fore is not the re­sult of land re­form as some would have it. Other coun­tries in the re­gion have suf­fered badly from the same drought, and Zim­babwe has be­fore, long be­fore the post 2000 land re­form.

In fact, land re­form ar­eas are an im­por­tant part of why the ac­tual un­der­ly­ing sit­u­a­tion is bet­ter than it might be.

My hunch — still not tested de­spite much en­cour­age­ment — is that ZimVac’s sam­pling frame (ap­pro­pri­ately for a na­tional sam­ple that is pro­por­tional to pop­u­la­tion den­sity) is fo­cused on com­mu­nal ar­eas.

This means that the dy­nam­ics of the new re­set­tle­ments in the food econ­omy are be­ing missed out on.

As re­ported many times, we see sig­nif­i­cant flows of food and other fi­nance com­ing from the A1 re­set­tle­ment ar­eas, both to com­mu­nal ar­eas and to ur­ban cen­tres, through kin net­works and labour mi­grancy.

This is un­recorded and there­fore not ac­counted for.

My guess is that it is re­ally sig­nif­i­cant in the over­all food se­cu­rity story in the coun­try, and tak­ing ac­count of land re­form in the wider assess­ment would al­low a re­di­rect­ion of ef­fort by hu­man­i­tar­ian and de­vel­op­ment agen­cies to sup­port pro­duc­tion for boost­ing lo­cal food se­cu­rity and economies, in­vest­ing where the po­ten­tial lies.

There is no rea­son for com­pla­cency though. Things could and should be much bet­ter, with proper in­vest­ment.

For ex­am­ple, the lack of ir­ri­ga­tion in­fra­struc­ture (and its state of re­pair, and its poor func­tion­ing due to in­ter­mit­tent elec­tric­ity sup­plies) is a cause for ma­jor con­cern, and un­der­mines re­silience.

Food aid is of course is highly po­lit­i­cal. It al­ways has been, and ac­cu­sa­tions of par­ti­san al­lo­ca­tions have oc­curred again this year.

Many are happy not to rely on the obli­ga­tions and pa­tron­age that food aid im­plies — whether to the party-state or NGOs — and seek their own way.

But there are some who are re­ally des­ti­tute, with­out the net­works that pro­vide sup­port. They are re­ally needy and in­clude a lot of peo­ple. They in­clude wid­ows or older par­ents with­out liv­ing chil­dren, child-headed house­holds, farm labour­ers, those with ill­ness and dis­abil­ity, for ex­am­ple.

They all need help, as ex­ist­ing pro­vi­sion­ing and cop­ing strate­gies are in­suf­fi­cient. They are scat­tered all across the coun­try — in­clud­ing in the high po­ten­tial, richer ar­eas within com­mu­ni­ties who are oth­er­wise pros­per­ing, and are dif­fi­cult to find.

These are the peo­ple who need food, and would be a bet­ter fo­cus for a more so­phis­ti­cated, tar­geted ap­proach to re­lief, which could com­bine with a more strate­gic de­vel­op­men­tal ap­proach to in­crease pro­duc­tion and mar­ket led eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment across com­mu­nal, re­set­tle­ment and ur­ban ar­eas.

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