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Hunger seen worsening as lean season beckons

ZIMBABWE is projected to experience a heavier decline in cereal production than regional neighbours, with farmers expecting a lower yield while the lean season is seen commencing earlier than usual this year.




ZIMBABWE is projected to experience a heavier decline in cereal production than regional neighbours, with farmers expecting a lower yield while the lean season is seen commencing earlier than usual this year.

This comes amid calls for the development of robust irrigation systems.

The country is reeling under the El Niño-induced drought, which is projected to leave more than eight million people in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

On 23 May, Zimbabwe’s local government minister Daniel Garwe said the country was in need of US$3.3 billion, up from the initial US$2.2 billion announced in April by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, which he said is needed to cater for 60% of the country’s population that will be food insecure until March next year due to the drought.

According to the United States Agency for International Aid’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FewsNet), between 15% and 25% of Zimbabwe’s population will most likely need food assistance.

FewsNet says in Lebanon, Zimbabwe, Haiti, Somalia, and Afghanistan, 15-24% of these countries’ populations will most likely need food assistance by October 2024, with the lean season projected to start as early as September.

Lean season refers to the period between harvests, when food supplies are typically at their lowest.

Regional neighbours Mozambique, Madagascar and Angola are all projected to be affected by the drought, with between 1 million and 2.49 million people projected to be food insecure by October 2024.

Lesotho, however, remains safe, with between 100 000 and 499 000 of its population projected to be food insecure.

The network also expects the number of people in need of humanitarian food assistance to be highest in October this year.

The share of the population that needs humanitarian food assistance is highest in South Sudan and Yemen, where over 50% of each country’s population will most likely need food assistance, followed by Sudan, where over 25% of the country’s population will most likely need food assistance.

Out of the projected total 120-130 million people in need across FewsNet-monitored countries, Yemen, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, and Ethiopia are each expected to contribute over 10% total food assistance needs.

South Sudan is expected to contribute 5-9% of total food assistance needs. In comparison to October of last year, FewsNet said it is forecasting the number of people in need of food assistance to be higher in Sudan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Chad, and Angola.

Cereal harvest

According to a Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) special report, cereal production is projected to dwindle in 2024, with most provinces across Zimbabwe unlikely to harvest at least a tonne of maize per hectare, and this deficit is likely to be filled by exports.

Statistics by the ministry of Lands last year showed that smallholder maize production under the Pfumvudza/Intwasa programme achieved an average yield of 5.3 tonnes per hectare in the 2020/21 season but fell to 1.36 tonnes per hectare in 2021/22 because of drought.

Productivity, which has drastically fallen, was expected to rise to 2.3 tonnes per hectare this marketing season.

“Under the current poor production outlook, while awaiting firmer results and official harvest estimates from ongoing field assessments, cereal imports are expected to increase significantly in the 2024/25 marketing year (generally April/ March) in order to maintain stable consumption levels,” reads the special report.

“This infers reduced domestic supply capacity to bridge the expected shortfalls in 2024 production and further reinforces the need for large import volumes in 2024/25. The most significant increase in maize import requirements is foreseen in Zimbabwe, where a precipitous drop in production is likely.”

“Imports are also forecast to rise markedly in Malawi and Mozambique. Concurrently, exportable supplies of white maize are forecast to decline in southern Africa in 2024/25. In most years, white maize supplies from South Africa and Zambia have been more than sufficient to meet the import demand of neighbouring countries.”


Farming experts say there is a need for increased irrigation programmes in the country to mitigate drought.

The Women in Agriculture Union (WAU) has encouraged farmers to implement sustainable agricultural methods.

“Here are some potential solutions that could help. There is need for irrigation systems,” said Olga Nhari, the WAU director.

“Efficient irrigation systems can help increase crop yields, especially in areas with low rainfall. Promoting the cultivation of drought-resistant crops, such as sorghum and millet, can help farmers adapt to climate change.”

Nhari also said there is a need for conservation agriculture, an approach that reduces soil disturbance, increases soil cover, and incorporates crop rotation, which can improve soil fertility and water retention.

As reported by The NewsHawks, the Zimbabwe Smallholder Organic Farmers’ Forum T his has seen some Zimsoff members surviving the drought.

Ngoni Chikowe, a Zimsoff technical officer based in the Mutoko area of Mashonaland East province, says his organisation has been encouraging water harvesting to promote climate resilience.

“We have been encouraging farmers to use drought-resistant crops that are resilient to drought. We have the likes of finger millet, sorghum, pearl millet and roundnuts,” Chikowe told The NewsHawks.

“These are some of the crops that we are encouraging farmers to grow because climate change is not reversing. It will continue to be even worse. So, with these kinds of crops, you can see that some farmers have a better yield than those who practised traditional farming.”

“On water harvesting, we have a technique on how to harvest water across the country. In Mutoko, we have been trapping water since our area is mountainous. Some of it we have been storing underground. So, we have been encouraging farmers to use such methods to promote resilience.”