Zimbabwe: Marching towards starvation
World Food Programme steps up resilience building in Zimbabwe as country stands on the brink of a major food crisis
“People are marching towards starvation if we are not here to help them,” said the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Executive Director, David Beasley, after concluding a recent trip to Zimbabwe. “We are facing a drought unlike any that we have seen in a long time,” he added.
Extreme drought is exacerbating the effects of the unprecedentedly strong cyclone that hit the country in March and an ongoing economic crisis that has pushed inflation over 175 percent in June, making prices of staple foods out of reach for 2.5 million Zimbabweans. As a result, more than 5.5 million people, or a third of the population, will be in need of humanitarian assistance by next year. To respond to this emergency situation, WFP needs US$173 million to provide assistance during the lean season.
Zimbabwe’s high climatic variability results in frequent drought years as well as flood events, both of which have hit the country in 2019. Higher temperatures in the future are projected to threaten crop harvests and water availability, making it essential for farmers and communities to adapt to and manage increasing risks to their food production and income.
One of the ways in which WFP is trying to avert the worst and make sure people have enough to eat is to build their ability to withstand climate-related shocks. Starting in 2018, WFP began implementing an integrated resilience approach in Masvingo District, which combines activities that reduce farmers’ vulnerability to climate shocks, such as building soil and water conservation infrastructure at the watershed level, establishing nutrition gardens, and training in conservation agriculture practices that increase yields, reduce land degradation and promote the use of drought-tolerant seeds.
WFP is expanding the scope of this initiative this year to assist over 2,000 families in the district in managing their climate risks. Each community will be supported over a period of three years, and this integrated approach has become a blueprint for further expansion in other areas of Zimbabwe.
Like many of his fellow community members, 49-year-old Andrias, a farmer from Chebvute, has been hit hard by the drought. He is enthusiastic about the nutrition garden: “We are selling these vegetables to schools and we are looking forward to expanding this garden so that we can have bigger profits”.
Through their work on asset creation, farmers also receive weather index insurance policies that protect them from their biggest threat — drought. These policies provide financial payouts when rainfall drops to levels that correspond with extreme drought conditions and resulting crop losses, ensuring that the investments farmers made on their plots do not go to waste.
“We are not the same people we used to be”
The integrated approach also incentivizes farmers to build up savings through community savings and loans schemes. This ensures that they can cope with other shocks unrelated to drought and crop failure, and will eventually be able to afford the insurance premiums on their own, without assistance from WFP. This is a key component to creating a thriving insurance market and lasting impact for smallholder farmers.
The savings groups have had a multiplier effect on the other activities, especially for women. “Through the WFP intervention, I learned life skills. (…) We are not the same people we were in the past. We feel empowered,” says Praise Chipare, a member of a saving group in Masvingo.
People receive trainings on how to turn their farms into a business, together with support on getting their crops to markets. Thanks to all these efforts, just after one year of implementation, WFP has been able to purchase more than 6.5 metric tons of white sorghum from the farmers.
“Because of this project, these communities will no longer need our help,” said David Beasley when he visited Masvingo. “We are now even buying food fromthem to feed other communities in Zimbabwe.”
Through increasing the number of smallholder farmers protected from the threat of drought, Zimbabwe will be more prepared for future climate shocks, hopefully avoiding them leading to new food crises.
WFP is expanding the integrated approach in Zimbabwe through funding from the Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency (SDC), USAID, and thanks to a grant awarded by the Green Climate Fund, a multilateral fund established by the UN Framework Convention on Climate to assist developing countries in adaptation and mitigation practices that counter climate change.