Small-scale farmers to feed the nation

Zimbabwe’s Global Hunger Index is at its lowest yet, according to this year’s report, and with continued investment in small-scale farmers and the government’s commitment to national social protection, it could continue to decrease.

A small-scale farmer who has reaped the rewards of conservation farming techniques.
A small-scale farmer who has reaped the rewards of conservation farming techniques.

The report was jointly published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, Concern Worldwide, and Welthungerhilfe. Ranked 46 out of 81 countries where data was gathered, Zimbabwe has shown a promising reduction in its GHI score from 21.3 in 2001 to 17.7 in 2011. The index is designed to measure and track global hunger and it uses three indicators: undernourishment, child underweight and child mortality. It ranks countries on a 100-point scale where zero is the best and 100 is the worst. The countries are then listed from ‘low’ to ‘extremely alarming’. Because of Zimbabwe’s decrease it is now ranked as ‘serious’ and not ‘alarming’ as it was in 2001.

Although the calculation is limited by the data collection of governments and international agencies, and the current figures only reflect information collected between 2004 and 2009, it does reveal an alarming trend in Sub-Saharan Africa where the level of hunger is highest.

Gaining ground

In spite of Zimbabwe’s decrease, it still ranks above countries such as Namibia, Botswana, Nigeria and Swaziland. However, in light of the changes that occurred in the period between 2004 and 2009 when the economy spiralled out of control and the controversial land reform programme was in full swing, it is encouraging to see Zimbabwe gaining ground.

The 2011 report focuses on the issue of food price spikes and volatility, which have played a large role in the global food crises of the last decade.

“Many poor people already spend large shares of their incomes on food, and surges in food prices leave them unable to pay for the food, healthcare, housing, education, and other goods and services they need,” the report states.

Before the dollarization of the economy, people found it almost impossible to keep pace with rising food prices. The massive reduction in food being produced from the commercial farms meant a greater reliance on imported food stuffs which the financially crippled government could not afford. The shop shelves were empty and the poor were the worst affected, with some forced to supplement their diets with wild berries and tree roots.

Govt commitment

In recent years, the amount of foreign direct investment in agriculture in developing countries has increased. However, the efforts to increase production must be coupled with the government’s obligation to national food security and development strategies. This has been called into question during election periods when non-governmental organisations have been targeted by Zanu (PF) in an attempt to monopolise food distribution for political purposes.

“There are a number of hurdles to overcome in increasing agricultural production, including land and water constraints, underinvestment in agricultural innovation, deficient agricultural banking, extreme weather events and climate change, and declining investment in agricultural research. Overcoming these hurdles requires research and innovation, increased yields, and guaranteed access to markets,” the report states.

Concern’s work in the area of conservation farming was hailed as an example of how farm yields can increase when modern farming techniques are employed and farmers have access to inputs, fertilisers and an assured place in the market.


In 2008, the organisation ran a project to improve a local community’s access to food by offering training programmes and providing the necessary seed, fertiliser and herbicides. 1,120 farmers participated in the initiative.

One of the findings of the project was that farmers went from being production-deficit households to production-surplus households. They embraced the new techniques and eagerly adopted the communal-based, conservation farming.

Some recommendations made in this year’s GHI report include establishing national social protection systems, improving emergency plans and investing in small-scale farming initiatives and climate-adaptive agriculture.

“As long as the extreme poor face the prospect of recurrent devastating shocks with little protection, they will continue to be excluded from sustainable development,” states the report.

It goes on to outline the coping strategies that families are forced to employ in light of food shortages such as removing children from school, engaging in commercial sex work and crime. This exposes households to disease, violence, social exclusion and ultimately death.

“Social protection has the potential to support improvements in maternal and early childhood nutrition, especially when linked with complementary services. Non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations have an important role to play in these activities,” states the report.

In terms of emergency policies, the government and NGOs may respond to national disasters, but they are not good at reacting to slow-onset disasters such as food price crises.

“Global, regional, and national agencies need to be fully engaged, establish triggers that will activate responses under crises, invest more in preparedness, and mobilize their capabilities to monitor and assist the most vulnerable people,” states the report.

Farming potential

Following the land re-distribution exercise and the increase of small-scale farmers nationwide, it is necessary to adapt agricultural practices and develop strategies that support these men and women. They should be equipped to contribute to national food and nutrition security and the government and donors should look at ways of reducing their vulnerability and tapping into their potential.

“To improve resilience, farmers need access to inputs backed by appropriate financing channels, knowledge transfer through extension services, support for crop diversification, natural resource management, and improved rural and regional market infrastructure,” states the report.

With many organisations countrywide responding to this call to invest in community-based farming, there is hope that these enterprising farmers will be able to contribute to a further decrease in Zimbabwe’s GHI ranking in the years to come.

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