Zimbabwe crops fail, hunger looms
September 10th, 2012
10:28 AM ET

Zimbabwe crops fail, hunger looms

By John Campbell, CFR

Editor's note: John Campbell is a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria and Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Africa in Transition originally appeared here.

Of Zimbabwe’s almost 13 million people, 1.6 million of them will require food aid, and the number is likely to grow. An estimated 1.8 million tons of maize, the staple crop, is necessary to feed Zimbabwe. But farmers unions are saying that the harvest is likely to be 1.1 million tons short. The ministry of agriculture is saying that about one third of all planted crops have failed due to the lack of irrigation and 45 percent of the maize crop must be written off. The World Food Program is preparing for a big increase in need. But the WFP’s Zimbabwe program budget of $119 million faces a shortfall of about $85 million.

Why is Zimbabwe once again facing food shortages? According to Zimbabwe’s acting president, Joice Mujuru, the answer is drought related to climate change. She is calling for the development of drought-resistant maize, and last month she introduced one such variety developed by the Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre in Harare.

It’s certainly true that there is a shortage of rain in most parts of the country. According to the Meteorological Service Department, rains have started late and were below normal in the first half of the growing season.

But, the cause of hunger is more than drought. According to the media, banks have been financing the production of cotton and tobacco rather than maize. Charles Taffs, the president of the Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe, argues that a major contributing factor is government agricultural policy. He specifically cites the planting of maize in areas that are unsuitable for the crop.

Hunger, agriculture, and land also continue to have a racial subtext in Zimbabwe. Taffs is white and the Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe is associated with white farmers, a diminishing group as land invasions continue. (Whites are now less than 1 percent of Zimbabwe’s population.) For many – perhaps most – of the remaining whites and many others as well, Zimbabwean hunger’s root cause is Robert Mugabe’s seizure without compensation of white owned commercial farms, ostensibly for distribution to poor peasants, but very often also to his political cronies and allies.

Certainly there is drought in Zimbabwe. But official government policy probably has turned an agricultural challenge into a disaster.

It is too soon to say what the impact of hunger will be on Zimbabwe’s currently stalemated politics. But, if elections come soon, as Robert Mugabe wants, hunger could be the backdrop. Elections in Zimbabwe have been characterized by violence. That in conjunction with hunger could again set off refugee flows, especially to South Africa.

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Topics: Africa

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Hunger Games

    Let the games begin!

    September 10, 2012 at 11:18 am | Reply
  2. Expat2

    Of course Joice Mujuru is blaming climate change... takes away responsibility from the mess the ruling ZANU-PF party has made of Zimbabwe. My heart bleeds for the ordinary Zimbabwean. Nothing will change until this country divests itself of corrupt politicians who will sell the grandmother, let alone their country for power and wealth.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Reply
  3. allthingsgeography1

    Reblogged this on All Things Geography.

    September 10, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Reply
  4. j. von hettlingen

    this site is jammed.

    September 11, 2012 at 4:10 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Mugabe knows all the problems his country faces and tries to persuade the EU to lift a travel ban and sanctions against him and his entourage.

      September 11, 2012 at 4:11 am | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        His wife Joyce, a "Lady Macbeth" might succeed him one day. She helps him decide in national issues and runs the country like a family business.

        September 11, 2012 at 4:17 am |
    • deniz boro

      Jamming occurs occasionaly although I have not managed to spot the source which closes the lid of the jam. Wish somebody would come out and state the list of preservatives so we can keep organic. However in the present seasonal trend I realy can not know which fruit would be safe. It may be because the jammers are as lost as we are or the mixture of various jammings may bring out a realy bad tasting jam.

      October 10, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Reply
  5. Greg

    Zim has always had droughts. My uncles used to farm there. They often had droughts even when it was "The Breadbasket of Africa". They dealt with them through planning and contingency plans.

    September 12, 2012 at 10:13 am | Reply
  6. deniz boro

    After the wikileaks and various ciber attacks, most organisations using the web came to realise the importance of ciber protection. Naturaly some solutions were hastily produced. While these solutions may be perfactly viable they call for EDUCATED OPERATORS to decide on what is right and what is wrong. The infrastructur, definitions and instructions or even a simple manual has not been formed. E.G.: Say a government wants to censor a news on a specific plane and you are watching BBC-Int. all news on BBC including a flying thing (say a butterfly) can become your GRANDMA'S best strawberry jam. Give our jammers some time. They have good intentions but just not the experiance and the infrastructure. Treat them kindly :) In no time they will serve the best jam session.

    October 10, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Reply

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