Drought declared a disaster: Mnangagwa sets out food plan, says response will need US$2bn

Zimbabwe faces its worst drought in years (pic: Cynthia Matonhodze/Bloomberg)

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has declared a national disaster after the worst drought in many years, laying out a plan to roll out food aid and expand the winter crop.

Zimbabwe witnessed the driest February in 40 years, according to the World Food Programme’s seasonal monitor. A Ministry of Agriculture crop report says maize output would fall by 70% to its worst level in nearly a decade. Mnangagwa told reporters Wednesday that the number of people needing aid has surged past the 2.7 million estimated in an earlier assessment.

The country’s strategic grain reserve holds 189,568 tonnes of cereals. Of this, the country has just 145,604 tonnes of maize in reserve.

“My administration has decided to allocate 138,905 tonnes of surplus wheat towards our grain reserve, giving a total of 365,000 tonnes of cereals in the strategic grain reserve,” he said. “We expect 868,273 tonnes of grain this season, hence our nation faces a cereal deficit of nearly 680,000 tonnes of grain. This deficit will be bridged by imports. Measures to encourage private sector participation are in place.”

Mnangagwa’s plan is based on importing grain, seeking aid, and expanding irrigation to plant a bigger winter crop. In total, these drought response measures will cost up to US$2 billion, he said. His estimate bill is about half the national budget.

Buying more grain

Since the maize market was liberalised, removing the Grain Marketing Board’s monopoly, farmers are allowed to sell their own maize to other buyers. To respond to the crisis, Mnangagwa says government plans to buy more grain from farmers, at market prices.

“All available grain in the country will be secured through competitive prices and prompt payments to encourage farmers to release available grain, including to the GMB,” he says. Zimbabwe will also import grain and encourage private importers to bring in more, he said.

Winter crop expansion

Mnangagwa says Zimbabwe will move some of the excess wheat it produced over the past two seasons, in which farmers produced record harvests. Zimbabwe is also cancelling earlier plans to export some wheat. Said Mnangagwa: “The winter crop programme for 2024, now assumes added urgency and importance. The shift to wheat-based food security means the land we put under wheat must expand to cover all available irrigable land with water sources. Equally, winter maize projects in areas such as Muzarabani, Chiredzi and Binga must be activated.”

National disaster, food aid

Mnangagwa said declaring the drought a disaster, under the Civil Protection Act, allows government to “mobilise resources” towards grain and seek aid. “Preliminary assessments show that Zimbabwe requires in excess of US$2 billion towards various interventions we envisage in the spectrum of our national response,” Mnangagwa added.

Maize outlook

An outlook report by the Ministry recently projected that Zimbabwe would produce about 696,116 tonnes of maize, a sharp 70% fall from the 2.3 million tonnes estimated for 2023. This would be the smallest harvest since 2015. An earlier report by government said maize hectarage fell by 12% this season as farmers planted less.

In the region, Zambia and Malawi have declared national disasters after the drought. Malawi has called for US$200 million in aid to feed over two million households.

ALSO READ | Report: Zimbabwe expects maize harvest to fall 70% to lowest levels in nearly a decade