Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Government must urgently pre-empt the evident 2011-2012 drought.

Government must urgently pre-empt the evident 2011-2012 drought.
*By Takura Zhangazha.

There is probably nothing as forlorn as watching your crops wilt in January and February  2012 for the subsistence communal farmer in Zimbabwe. This is because it is these two months that are most indicative of  whether one will have a successful harvesting season or not. In our country’s instance, the rains have been poor during the 2011 -2012 planting season and the plants have been a disappointment for many a subsistence farmer. This is particularly so for the most drought prone Zimbabwean geo-political provinces of Matebeleland, Masvingo, Midlands and in parts of Manicaland and Mashonaland West. It  is however important to note that it is information relating to such a potential development was available to our government.

The Famine Early Warning System Network (Fewsnet) had already projected that there would be serious resource mobilization challenges for food assistance programmes for those that it refers to as the ‘food insecure population’.  Even though the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Climate Services Center had already indicated that this season’s  majority  rainfall for Zimbabwe would occur between November and December, it is now apparent that the amount that fell to date has been inadequate. It also appears that even the projected outlook for rainfall is low for the period between February and April 2012.

So as it is, it is fairly evident that there is a drought pending in greater parts of Zimbabwe this season. Whereas in some instances the fault for empty domestic silos may be the fault of bad farming techniques by individual farmers, it would be fair to say that for the majority it is the fault of nature. It simply did not rain adequately and therefore even the hardest working subsistence farmers are now vulnerable to the threat of hunger and loss of some sort of income for their livelihoods.

And this is a point that must be made very clear to the inclusive government and other powerful agricultural stakeholders. In the occurrences of droughts over the last ten years, the state has had the wrong approach of seeking to react to the occurrence of the event in its aftermath as opposed to pre-empting and preparing thoroughly as the rainy season progresses. This is regardless of  the fact that there is generally a direct reliance by the government on the assistance of international aid donors to provide food aid in the occurrence of the drought. Whereas the government  has been told to prepare for drought relief and has had a drought relief strategy, its ability implement such programmes has lacked the necessary urgency that would reduce the inhumane trauma of famine.

Further to this, the government has generally suffered from the mistake that sometimes afflicts those with the power and ability to help drought stricken nations and societies. This is the mistake of being too slow to react even in circumstances where the warning signs of a pending famine have been clear. An example of this, though our situation is nowhere near being as dire, is the famine in Somalia which was reported by Oxfam and Save the Children as having been exacerbated by an overall slow response by the international community.  

To make matters worse, recent statements attributed to the provincial governor of Masvingo, Mr Titus Maluleke relating to the banning of, amongst others,  food aid related international non-governmental organizations point to the politicization of drought relief assistance.  Such statements that place politics at the heart of food aid and agricultural/ water reticulation development assistance is as negative as it is most unfortunate. They evidently point to a government that is insensitive to the inhumane and degrading experience that famine or food shortages visit upon all citizens regardless of political affiliation.

Regardless of the politicized nature of food aid during droughts, it is imperative that it be brought to bear on the inclusive government that the issue of drought related hunger is an urgent national matter. Any form of procrastination on it will lead to the needless suffering of the country’s citizens, particularly a population majority whose livelihoods are dependent on subsistence agriculture.  Central, provincial and local governments have to revisit whatever drought mitigation strategies that they have in order to pre-empt the adverse effects of famine in greater parts of Zimbabwe.

This would also include immediate public announcements by relevant ministries and the highest political offices in the land as to the nature and gravity of the drought that has affected the 2011-2012 agricultural season as well as an urgent call for outside help if we do not have adequate food reserves to feed the people of Zimbabwe.

In this it would be particularly important that the inclusive government de-politicizes the drought for selfish political benefit and approach the matter with the fortitude of a leadership that is responsive to the needs of the people it claims to lead.  It would be even more important that all this debate and public acrimony on constitutional reform or elections not be allowed to interfere with drought relief processes. This can be done by setting up an independent Drought Relief Agency to tackle not only this nascent 2011-2012 famine but any such future famines.