Zimbabwe’s Poor Starve in the Midst of Plenty

By Vimbai Kamoyo
CENTENARY – A cartoon in a high school geography textbook depicts an obese man, with a plate of chicken by his side, sitting in front of the television watching malnourished people. The caption of the cartoon reads,” Some die from too much and others from too little.”

The irony may surely have been lost on the viewer that while he was feeling sorry for those without enough to eat, he also was dying from overeating.

Zimbabwe is currently in a similar situation. The shops are full of food, which the majority cannot afford due to the shortage of cash as a result of high unemployment and low salaries. However, for the rich, there is plenty to feast on.

Theresa Danda (not her real name) who works on Goromokwa farm in Centenary is an example of those who are struggling to make ends meet. “We are suffering here as we have no money to buy food and other basics,” she said. “ The situation has improved from the 2003 to early 2009 years when shops were virtually empty but one needs money to buy the goods.”

Her cash challenge is the result of being paid poorly, “We earn one US dollar per day of hard labour. However, we try to supplement our meagre wages by growing maize on the small plots that our employer gave us,” she said.
The cash problem has not only affected the rural folk who, before the turn of the millennium, grew enough to feed themselves. It has also caught up with their urban compatriots who are finding it difficult to cope since the government replaced the useless Zimbabwe dollar with multiple currencies especially the United States dollar, the South African rand and the Botswana pula in 2009.
A squatter - who only gave his name as Kudzi - who lives behind Avondale shopping centre survives by selling flowerpots and dry flowers. He said he is finding it hard to make ends meet. “The US dollar is difficult to come by. However, the advantage with it is that you can budget; something you could not do during the Zimbabwe dollar era. Right now I am living in a make-shift tent because I cannot afford the rent and the rates as well as the transport fares.” However, he noted that not everyone was struggling, “The most painful thing is that the rich can afford whatever they want. Have you seen how they fill trolleys in the nearby supermarkets?” he asked.
Those who are formally employed are not doing any better. The cost of the monthly expenditure basket for a low-income urban household of six is around US$500 but the majority of civil servants earn an average of $200 per month. This makes it extremely difficult for them to fend for their families.
Besides the cash crunch there are many other reasons why there is hunger in the country. According to a recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) there has been a reduction in the production of maize, the main staple food, over the last fifteen years. The reasons for the reduced production include the gradual switch by the large-scale farmers from maize to other crops such as tobacco, lack of support for the farmers and the decline of the economy over the last decade. Other experts argue that factors such as persistent droughts have also contributed.
The FAO/WFP report adds that production of other crops has fallen as well. It notes that wheat production has declined dramatically since the mid-1990s. High input costs, lack of cash and unreliable electricity supplies to power irrigation pumps have all contributed towards reduced wheat harvests.
The Member of House of Assembly for Muzarabani South constituency-where Danda lives- Edward Raradza says he would soon unveil a project aimed at helping farmers increase their harvest. “I am well aware of the challenges our farmers are facing. This is a facility for everyone including farm workers as long as they are capable of producing results.”
He added he had approached a number of organizations to help, “Together with the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Development Company (ZFDC) – a subsidiary of Farmers’ World Holdings – we are going to give out 900 heard of cattle for draught power. We will also help 300 households with agricultural inputs. We are looking to identify serious farmers as we don’t want our investment to go down the drain.”
The Zimbabwe government has also done its bit to ease hunger among the financially challenged particularly those from areas that receive less rainfall.
In September the government launched the Food Deficit Mitigation Strategy to offset food shortages in Masvingo, Matebeleland South and Matebeleland North.
Matebeleland South governor Angeline Masuku aptly described the situation obtaining in the country while launching a food programme when she observed that food was plenty in the shops but people just do not have the money to buy it.
Said Masuku:”The problem is that people in the communities do not have the money to buy the grain. As a result many families have no food, not because food is not available but because they cannot afford it.”

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