Editorial Comment: Let us join hands to cope with drought effects President Mnangagwa has managed to unite Zanu PF resulting in improved performance in urban areas

President Mnangagwa was very clear yesterday when he declared the El Nino-drought a national state of disaster, with more than US$2 billion required to deal with the effects, mostly the need to buy food to aid the vulnerable but also including water supplies and other drought effects.

Zimbabwe can handle this drought, as it has handled other droughts and other emergencies before, but the declaration of a state of disaster is far more than an expression of the urgency and the needs. Under the Civil Protection Act it allows the Government to go beyond the normal laid down procedures and budgets and allocate and reallocate resources specifically to combat the named disaster, in this case a very bad drought.

A great deal needs to be done, as the President outlined when he announced the invocation of his power under the Act. There will be a need to feed a very large number of people, precisely how many is as yet unknown although the names are being gathered in the communities.

But in the 12 months just ended, 2,7 million Zimbabweans required food aid, and the number must be significantly higher over the next 12 months considering the severe losses in the summer grain crops. The Government will shoulder the burden but wants to be backed by the private sector, churches and faith organisations, international partners and aid agencies, and by individual Zimbabweans.

The last time Zimbabwean harvests fell a bit short, in the 2021-2022 season as the result of a long dry spell in the middle of the season, there was enough food in the reserves from the previous good season to mean no imports were required, and the Government had the stocks on hand. 

Despite one of the largest surpluses of food last year, the present drought is so bad that almost 680 000 tonnes of grain will have to be imported, although building up the harvests of winter wheat can pull this number down.

The President stressed the need for a joint effort here, with the private sector finding a large part of the supplies it needs for its large commercial market of mealie meal and other flours. Fortunately the wheat stocks are in surplus, so the flour needed for bread and other wheat products is readily available, and probably just needs some imaginative processing so the whole local wheat harvest is eaten.

The Government will also have to import for its food relief schemes and is already searching, although it will be several months before the imports are needed to supplement the local stocks in the strategic grain reserve. Sadc has had in general a bad year, especially in the central belt of countries and hence the states of disaster in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, normally grain surplus countries.

South Africa, generally enjoying large grain surpluses, has a very modest surplus this year, despite getting more rain than its neighbours, but already Zimbabwe is in consultations to see if it is possible to buy that nearby surplus. There might be surpluses in East Africa, since El Ninos have different effects in southern and eastern Africa, but some of the food will probably have to be imported from outside Africa, so fairly early starts will be needed in this process.

The higher imports, both private sector and Government, will need priority for foreign currency, so exporters need to push volumes, so there is more, and importers and consumers of less essential goods need to think how they can cut back a bit. Even cutting back use of petroleum fuels, our largest single import, by 10 percent could make a major difference.

The President, while making it clear that the Government would ensure no one and no community would go hungry, was also clear that a major national effort was needed, with the private sector, churches and individuals joining the Government in this endeavour, and also hoped for international aid from the United Nations agencies and development and humanitarian partners. 

Everyone needs to think about how they can help out and how they can ensure that they are involved in resource mobilisation. It is not a case of leaving it to others this time.

The scale of the drought disaster can be seen in the major efforts the Government made last year to ensure that Zimbabwean farmers would not only grow enough food at household and national level but that there would be significant surpluses that could be stored for bad years or exports. Generally the mobilisation of resources for inputs was such that a record harvest was expected. 

One of the worst droughts in memory or in the records sank those plans, although they have ensured that significantly more food was grown than will have to be imported. Harvests might be low, but they are there. 

The President also noted that efforts to ensure adequate safe drinking water was available needed to be accelerated, with the Presidential borehole scheme no doubt being adjusted both to drill more and make sure that what boreholes are drilled tend to cluster in the areas that will be most short of water.

Some programmes may well have to be cut back a bit to mobilise the funds for food, but other programmes will need to be maintained at full throttle, including the social programmes to ensure that children from the greater number of vulnerable families continue going to school and the members of these vulnerable families continue to receive medical care.

We need to keep the acceleration of our irrigation systems, not just for this winter’s crops but also to have enough irrigation next summer, and here we need to look at the flexibility required for the 100 percent winter irrigation and the significantly larger area in summer that needs supplementary irrigation, with some rainfall even in a drought year.

We also need to retain the programmes that in a few months will start sourcing the fertilisers and seed we need to plant the maximum possible hectarage next season. We cannot draw back from that. We have our work cut out as a nation now, and the Government has the legal powers with the declaration of disaster to co-ordinate the mobilisation of resources. But we have faced worse and won through, so we can do this again.

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