Food security improves in Mash, Matebeleland still down

The food security situation in Mashonaland continued to improve while that in Matebeleland and parts of Midlands and Masvingo, which had already experienced three consecutive years of poor harvests, was worsening, the food security report of the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNet) for the period ending May says.

It says the price of maize in Mashonaland had therefore dropped from a range of $280-$560 a kg to around $148 a kg while that in Matebeleland remained at around $440 a kg.

The report says though figures for this year's crop production had not yet been released, it was estimated that the country would produce between 800 000 and 900 000 tonnes of maize leaving a national cereal deficit of around 1 million tonnes of which about 700 000 tonnes would be maize.

Even if the outstanding commercial imports of 160000 tonnes of maize by the Grain Marketing Board and food aid imports of 80 000 tonnes were brought in, the cereal gap would still be 725 000 tonnes, 580 000 tonnes being maize.

The situation was particularly bad for urban areas because of the escalating cost of living. According to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, a family of six required $140 000 a month in May to meet its basic food requirements. This was a 30 percent increase from the April figure of $120 000.

Most workers had to work for six months to afford one month's basic food requirements. Even the new minimum wage of $47 696 announced by the government met only 35 percent of the basic food basket. Prospects for the winter wheat crop and the summer crop for 2003-2004 were also bleak.

Preliminary assessments had indicated that there were inadequate wheat seed supplies. Fertiliser requirements could not be met from local production alone and there was not enough foreign currency to import the amount needed. Irrigation equipment that had been vandalised had not been fully restored.

The producer price of wheat was also not attractive. Most farmers were likely to switch to barley whose price was not controlled. Seed and fertiliser were also in short supply for the main season. Only half of the required inputs could be supplied by local fertiliser and seed companies.

The report, however, says the removal of seed and fertiliser from the controlled list, which saw the price of fertilizer increase by between 114 and 150 percent could stimulate fertiliser production, but at the same time it could also price some farmers out of the market.

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