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Mnangagwa’s food security is a delusion



THESE days, social media platforms are awash with heart-rending pictures and videos of parched desert-like farm fields showing the frightening extent to which the summer crop has been devastated by El Niño’s scorching heat.

The visuals are distressing. When you see a sorghum crop succumbing to heat, you must know that maize will stand no chance.

The situation is that dire. In one video, a knackered farmer trudges into his maize field, falls to his knees in supplication and launches into a desperate prayer for divine intervention. There is not a cloud in the sky.

Rural folks are now resigned to fate, and the conclusion is that 2024 is a year of hunger. Comparisons evoke the painful memories of 1992 when a catastrophic drought swept across the motherland, unleashing hunger, poverty and unmitigated despair. Swathes of southern Africa are in the clutches of the relentless El Niño phenomenon. The rains are below normal, erratic and too little to sustain crops.

Temperatures are soaring, decimating what remains of the doomed summer crop. Affected countries like Zimbabwe can take mitigatory measures to lessen the impact of El Niño and ensure food security.

 We need to understand what we are dealing with. In the lexicon of 21st century climatology, we no longer talk of climate change but climate crisis or climate catastrophe. El Niño events, characterised by warming of the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, are having significant impacts on weather patterns across the globe, including southern Africa.

 The resultant drought poses existential threats by way of hunger, malnutrition and extreme poverty. Countries like Zimbabwe, which are often hard hit by these phenomena, can employ several strategies to mitigate the effects of El Niño and safeguard food security. The importance of drought-resilient crop varieties must be taken seriously.

Crops which require less water have a better chance of survival in harsh conditions, ensuring food production despite the drought. Indeed, we must even ask ourselves whether Zimbabwe’s food security needs will continue to be best served by a staple maize crop that is highly vulnerable to rainfall variability.

Small grains offer a better value proposition in terms of nutrition, disease tolerance and climatic adaptability. Sorghum and millet are superior to maize, but most people in this country are not ready for that conversation.

Prudent water management and irrigation have been discussed for decades, but Zimbabwe remains vulnerable.

At any given time, this country is only one drought away from starvation. Zimbabwe is among the top five countries by dam capacity per capita in the world.

 On paper, this sounds remarkable.

 In reality, however, it is yet another reminder of missed opportunities. It is unthinkable that a country with abundant dams and plenty of sunshine can scrounge for food.

If we had a government worth its name, solar-powered irrigation schemes would be dotted across the country. But good crop varieties and impactful irrigation schemes can only make a difference in a country that upholds sustainable agricultural practices such as conservation farming, including agro-ecology, crop rotation and maintenance of good soil health.

Viable agricultural policy also goes a long way in ensuring that strategic food reserves are built up diligently. Grain reserves can provide a buffer in times of food scarcity. These reserves can help stabilise food prices and supply during periods of drought.

For years, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has not missed an opportunity to boast that Zimbabwe has attained food self-sufficiency. The reality on the ground does not buttress his self-serving narrative.

For a long time, Zimbabwe has had the highest food price inflation in the world. War-torn countries like Syria, Ukraine and Sudan have better food prices than Zimbabwe.

 This government needs to understand a simple fact: there can be no food security when prices are unaffordable, the currency is worthless, unemployment is high, pensioners live in penury, and there are no social safety nets.

 Zimbabwe urgently requires social safety nets, including food assistance programmes and cash transfers, to help protect citizens from the effects of drought and the runaway cost of living. Building resilience against the climate crisis will need the adoption of comprehensive strategies.

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