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Hunger doesn’t respect propaganda



GOVERNMENT’S unsophisticated propaganda that Zimbabwe had attained food security has been exposed by the biting hunger crisis which compelled President Emmerson Mnangagwa to declare the El Niño-induced drought a state of national disaster on Wednesday.


The whole of last year, President Mnangagwa repeatedly boasted that Zimbabwe had attained food security and as early as last month when there was an official opening of a grain milling plant co-owned by his younger brother Patrick Mnangagwa and businessman Douglas Kwande, the government maintained its position that Zimbabwe was food secure.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines food security as existing when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

There are four main dimensions to food security, namely that the food must be physically available, the food must be economically affordable to all people, the food must be nutritionally balanced, and these three must be stable over a period of time.

In his campaign speeches ahead of last year’s general elections, Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe was on course to achieving food security to the extent that non-governmental organisations distributing food aid would be rendered redundant.

“In spite of sanctions imposed on us by some Western countries, Zimbabwe has been the fastest-growing economy in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) for the past three years. All sectors — mining, construction, manufacturing, and tourism are all growing,” Mnangagwa told a Harare rally on 9 August.

He added that his agricultural policy called Pfumvudza/Intwasa had succeeded.

“We are confident that in spite of climate change, we will be food secure because we have built dams and are promoting irrigation to give us enough food each year,” he said.

But a day before his Harare rally, the WFP representative and country director Francesca Erdelmann had warned that Zimbabwe’s poor population still suffered from food insecurity.

“While the country celebrates the availability of adequate cereal stocks to meet the overall national requirements, we also acknowledge that many poor households struggle to meet their food needs,” Erdelmann said.

On 29 July 2023, Mnangagwa was also quoted as saying: “Forget about the maize surplus. We have that alright. Forget about the fiscal surplus. That’s no longer breaking news. For the first time ever, we have a wheat surplus of 40 000 metric tonnes. How about that? Does anyone still doubt these results that speak for themselves?”

Agriculture minister Anxious Masuka, whom Mnangagwa rated as the best in his cabinet for two consecutive years on several occasions, also misled the nation that Zimbabwe was food secure.

Continuing with the unstrategic propaganda, last month the acting leader of government business in Parliament and Skills Audit minister Paul Mavima maintained that the country was food secure. He pushed back on repeated questions by legislators after their visit to grain silos in Banket showed that the state granaries were empty and with no reserves as claimed by government officials.

However, in an embarrassing somersault, Mnangagwa on Wednesday pleaded with various sectors including donors, churches and foreign-based citizens to help Zimbabwe with food he estimated at US$2 billion.

“By this declaration, I also call upon all Zimbabweans of goodwill, including those in the diaspora, the international community, United Nations agencies, development and humanitarian partners, international financial institutions, the private sector, churches and other faith-based organisations, as well as individuals, to generously donate towards ameliorating this state of national disaster,” he said.

According to the WFP, up to a third of Zimbabweans in urban areas are unable to afford a nutritious diet, and programmes by the European Union, WFP and other development programmes have been assisting vulnerable communities to be food secure through mobile money stipends, agricultural support programmes and food handouts.

Speaking to The NewsHawks on Thursday this week, a renowned food expert said: “In reality, Zimbabwe is far from attaining a semblance of food security. You can check the annual hunger statistics, from the likes of ZimStat, ZimVac, World Food Programme and the World Bank. Government has failed to: sufficiently develop Zimbabwe’s irrigation capacity; implement agricultural policies that place farmers (particularly small-scale farmers) at the centre of the food security agenda; incentivise farmers to expand the production of drought-tolerant small grains like sorghum and millet; tackle corruption in the agriculture value chain, for instance Command Agriculture looters went scot-free. Propaganda has its limits; what is needed in the food security discourse is honest and pragmatic leadership.”

According to fresh figures from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, the cost of food in Zimbabwe increased 84.4% in February of 2024 over the same month in the previous year.

Last year, the World Bank confirmed that Zimbabwe had the highest food price inflation in the world. But the country has seen more shocking prices after the turn of the millennium.

Food price inflation averaged 1540753.44% from 2003 until 2024, reaching an all-time high of 353131459.30% in July of 2008 and a record low of -15.1% in December of 2009.

According to the World Bank’s February 2024 update on food inflation, Zimbabwe led the pack in Africa, with food inflation at a staggering 26% year-on-year, followed closely by Egypt at 18% and Guinea at 7%.

The statistics showed that Zimbabwe, Egypt, and Malawi are on the top 10 list of food inflation hardest-hit nations globally.

Speaking to The NewsHawks, National Consumer Rights Association (NACORA) coordinator Effie Ncube said it is a pity that the government all along told the nation that the country was food secure when apparently it was not.

He said from the FAO definition of food security, it is clear that Zimbabwe has not been food secure for decades now.

“This is not cyclical food inadequacy that follows a poor harvest or some adverse weather conditions here and there. We call this chronic food insecurity.

“The grain in farms, regardless of how plentiful it is, does not amount to food security. To be of any meaning, it must be available and affordable to all people at all times. Therefore people who are too poor to buy food can never be deemed food secure just because the farms hold plentiful harvest,” he said.

Ncube also pointed out that it is always important for the government to share the accurate picture with citizens so that they can prepare accordingly, adding that misleading information is completely unhelpful and eats into the credibility of public officials.

“Next time the government talks about roads or the new currency, people won’t trust what they are being told. They will think that it is another false story. Investors too want truthful information from public officials as it is on the strength of the information given that they make decisions to invest. Once investors discover that the government does not always tell the truth, they begin to doubt everything coming from it,” he said.

“Besides, truthful information is crucial for democratic governance. Propaganda is for authoritarian societies that are frightened of informed citizens. In advanced democracies, which unfortunately Zimbabwe is not, public officials who give misleading information are held accountable. We must move in that direction.”

Ncube stressed that the declaration of national disaster should have come earlier.

“Coming months late, we have already lost thousands of livestock. That said, we should now utilise the opportunity presented by the declaration of a national disaster to mobilise local and international resources for an effective response.

“We must save people and the remaining livestock. However, beyond this disaster, we must work our economy so that people have stable and adequate incomes for their households. Incomes have been declining for a long time now.

“Many households are not on three meals a day. We must stop this and rebuild. Poverty should be addressed and ensure long-term food security that is resilient to seasonal droughts. We also need currency stability as the volatility of prices and exchange rates affects the food security of millions of people,” he said.

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