Rural poverty on the rise

Rural poverty on the rise in Zim

The Zimbabwe Independent - by Wongai Zhangazha

12 September 2014

RURAL poverty has increased to 76% this year from 63% in 2013 as most rural households fail to produce enough food to meet their needs, the World Food Programme (WFP) has said.

In an overview on Zimbabwe, the WFP said 72% of the country's population lives below the national poverty line or less than US$1,25 a day, while some 30% of the rural poor are considered to be "food poor" or "extremely poor".

The WFP described Zimbabwe as a low-income and food-deficit country, which was ranked 156 out of 187 countries by the 2013 UNDP Human Development Index. The report said a number of rural people still struggled to meet their daily food needs.

The report comes as the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVac), led by government with support from various partners and WFP, recently published the 2014 rural livelihoods assessment report indicating 6% of the rural population, equivalent to 565 000 people, will need of food assistance at the height of the lean season between January and March 2015.

This estimate is down from the 2,2 million food insecure people who needed assistance during the same period this year.

The ZimVac report covers and provides updates on pertinent rural household livelihoods issues such as education, food and income sources and levels, expenditure patterns, crop and livestock production, food security, child nutrition, water and sanitation, crop post-harvest management.

Using a sample size of 10 782 households and 879 community key interviews in the country's eight provinces, excluding Harare and Bulawayo, the report said generally food security has improved compared to last year.

Household food security status was determined by measuring the household's potential access to adequate food to give each member a minimum of 2 100 kilocalories per day in the consumption period April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015.

According to the report Matabeleland North with 9%, Matabeleland South (8,3%) and Mashonaland West (7,7%) were projected to have the highest proportions of food insecure households.

Manicaland and Masvingo provinces were projected to have the least proportions of food insecure households.

ZimVac states that increases in food crop production as well as overall increases in household incomes and livestock prices relative to grain prices, contributed to improving households' access to food this year.

The proportion of households consuming a poor diet fell from 11% to 6% between April 2013 and April 2014, while households consuming an acceptable diet increased from 57% to 68% over the same period.

However, despite these improvements from the previous years and a decrease in food insecure people, WFP, in its overview, says that food and nutrition security remains fragile and subject to natural and economic shocks in Zimbabwe, with chronic and persistent rates of undernourishment.

"Rural poverty has increased from 63% in 2003 to 76% in 2014. Most households in the rural areas are net food buyers: they do not (for a number of reasons) produce enough food to meet their needs through to the next harvest season.

"Consequently, they rely on markets and other non-farm sources such as casual labour to bridge the food gap to the next season. As such, a number of people in rural areas will struggle to meet their daily food needs," states WFP.

The international organisation adds that one-third of Zimbabwe's children are stunted or short for their age and weight.

"Additionally, the country continues to face economic stress with implications on food security, especially for vulnerable groups in rural areas. Due to deflation, household incomes are likely to remain low and liquidity challenges affect aggregate demand for goods and services, especially for poor households.

"Barter will be a common form of exchange. In the case that grain is used for such transactions, household food stocks are likely to get exhausted at a faster rate," notes WFP.

Apart from the improvement, ZimVac reports that small grains and localized production continue to be constrained by the absence of effective and affordable processing equipment.

Whereas 88% of rural households grew maize during the 2013-14 season, only 21% produced sorghum (9% pearl millet and 6% finger millet).

Over 70% of households that sell maize, wheat, sorghum and millets do so in their local markets, mainly to other households.

Though this is desirable to reduce grain prices at the local level, initiatives must be developed so farmers can also access the best possible market returns.

About 60% of rural households do not own cattle and a similar proportion do not own goats, barring the enormous capacity for providing household nutrition and building overall resilience.

The report also notes that only 22% of the rural wards have irrigation schemes and about 44% of these were functional in May 2014.