Food security support needs rethink

Mrs Winnie Chisi in her maize field that was affected by low rain and excessive heat in Zaka recently. — (Picture by Beauty Muchakazi)

Mrs Winnie Chisi in her maize field that was affected by low rain and excessive heat in Zaka recently. — (Picture by Beauty Muchakazi)

Stanely Mushava Features  Correspondent
The sustained duration of searing temperatures has levelled a double-barrelled assault on the livelihood of Chiwara villagers in Gutu. Like many smallholder farmers in the district, they can only watch in dismay as yellow maize stalks hunch lifelessly onto the ground.

It is no easy test for Gutu peasants, and smallholder farmers in Masvingo, particularly Chivi, Mwenezi, Chiredzi and Zaka, whose livelihood — or rather lifeblood — is primarily in the annual crop.

For some, it is not yet clear how much longer their livestock can hold in there. Hollow bellows from struggling oxen report issues of dust and dying pastures.

Cattle are now going for a few bags of maize while at least kicking, lest farmers process the final catastrophe of exchanging a dead beast for maize scarcely the value of $50.

Oxfam Zimbabwe director Jan Vossen called on Government and its humanitarian partners to target vulnerable households whose agricultural efforts are handicapped by bad weather in drought-prone areas during a contingency planning workshop hosted by the organisation in Masvingo last week.

“If we look at Zimbabwe, we see that poverty is persistent and structural. The data from the ZIMVAC study in 2015 confirm that structurally in Zimbabwe there are around 700 000 people who are food insecure,” Vossen said.

He stressed the need for Government and its partners to provide both structural and developmental support to natural and man-made crises and guarantee food security for the vulnerable.

Vossen pointed out the need to utilise platforms such as COP 21, SADC Council of Ministers, AU and the One Programme approach to mobilise support for inclusive and sustainable development.

Much of the humanitarian support has previously come in the form of season-bound food assistance which has not empowered farmers sustainably to thrive in adverse conditions.

This cropping season, El Nino has disturbed rainfall distribution, causing many crops to fail mid-season while others are holding on their last life.

Smallholder farmers have, in the main, proven incapable of coping given that they rely solely on rain-fed production, with irrigation and knowledge of how to abide climactic adversity sparsely in evidence.

Vossen said the structural impact of humanitarian interventions has been previously limited and sometimes flawed by the application of the right methods in the wrong context.

“In some cases, it has come with a downside, considering the environmental degradation associated with crop production in dry land areas better suited to livestock and other context-appropriate livelihoods strategies,” he said.

“The idea of food self-sufficiency for rural households has spurred some of this, which upon careful consideration of domestic, regional and international market capacity can be seen as neither a realistic nor desirable food security objective,” he added.

Vossen observed that the extremely vulnerable need a range of services and support tailored to their own capacities and limitations.

“Ensuring that we differentiate between the needs of the extremely vulnerable and what is needed to grow the agricultural sector will make a huge difference in building the resilience of both,” Vossen said.

Oxfam and its partners’ field efforts include the Limpopo Water Governance Programme which aims to find structural solutions to the water problems in the Limpopo River Catchment Area.

Some smallholder farmers in Natural Regions 4 and 5 have made a second go at the season after the failure of the initial maize crop, while others are taking chances with the recent rains and only beginning to plant.

Wells have also run dry in many pockets of Masvingo and Matabeleland North and South, forcing villagers to wake up in the deep orange of the morning and travel up to three kilometres to access the few enduring wells and boreholes.

Oxfam Zimbabwe humanitarian programmes co-ordinator Joel Musarurwa said there is need to reduce the impact of adverse climate conditions on vulnerable communities by building on their inside strength.

Musarurwa said food security could be ensured through the use of early warning systems, food reserves, social protection systems and community-based resilience.

“We need to link our response with development, risk analysis approaches, livelihood and market analysis and improved contingency planning,” Musarurwa said.

Oxfam has forecast that risk from disasters will increase in many countries as more people are exposed to extreme weather conditions, economic shocks on the poorest and new compound risks.

The group’s report calls for better understanding and addressing complexity of risks and taking into account the specific vulnerabilities and capacities of communities instead of using one-size-fits-all approaches.

Community-based resilience is the ability of a group of people to anticipate, absorb and recover from shocks with little or no external help, despite changes that take place over a longer time period.

In Zimbabwe’s context, this involves moving away from reliance on rain-fed production and empowering communities to pursue options that fit their environment.

Matabeleland North districts, particularly Lupane and Nkayi, have been partnered by Government and its development partners to set up infrastructure which will help them commercialise livestock production, including feed lots, sale pens and dip tanks.

Musarurwa called for a market-based approach to humanitarian assistance as shaped by existing market systems.

Such an approach aims to promote fair access to markets and to strengthen stakeholder capacity.

“Development partners need to progressively become market-based, to better understand market dynamics and work with the private sector,” Musarurwa said.

He explored the possibility of moving away from special emphasis on food aid to cash-transfer programming.

He said this will avert the risk of disrupting existing financial ecosystem of the communities, an approach that equates digging a pit to fill another.

“Markets are essential for providing people access to basic goods and services, for people’s livelihoods – and for economic development.

“Disrupting or ignoring markets during an emergency will potentially destroy or delay the ability of people to return to their livelihoods,” explains an Oxfam report on the market-based approach.

“Following an emergency, market analysis must start at the extent at which the market can still provide access to essential goods and services for target populations. Market analysis can also map opportunities for reinforcing livelihood opportunities for actors in the market chain,” the report says.

The contingency planning workshop also featured discussions on disaster preparedness.

Department of Civil Protection representative GR Nyoni said while it was the primary responsibility of Government to avert and fight natural disasters and disturbances, all citizens are equally mandated to protect their communities.

“The national policy for civil protection states that ‘every citizen of Zimbabwe should assist where possible to avert or limit the effects of a disaster’,” Nyoni emphasised.

“Central Government initiates disaster preparedness programmes through the relevant sector ministries with local administration taking the responsibilities for implementing and maintaining its effectiveness,” he said.

Farmers are currently on the ground to mitigate the impact of El Nino, with some planting anew with every fresh respite.

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