Zimbabwe is currently facing its worst food shortage in over a decade, leaving almost 8 million people food-insecure. The country, once the region’s breadbasket and rich in fertile crops, is currently plagued by widespread drought and flooding. Women and children are most vulnerable to this crisis, being the ones least likely to have access to the health and education services needed. A UN study into the accessibility of food in Zimbabwe noted that many children were often fainting in class and severely malnourished, leading to an increase in school dropouts. For mothers, the shortage has led many into increasingly vulnerable environments, often causing child marriages, sexual exploitation and domestic violence. While the effects of being food insecure have affected the majority of the nation, it is particularly acute for women, highlighting the need for increased attention and support.
The Agriculture Minister for Zimbabwe, Perrance Shiri, stated that the country had less than 100,000 tonnes of grain in storage, despite the fact that the state consumes 80,000 tonnes in a month. United Nations Special Reporter, Hilal Elver, noted that food shortages were highly likely to cause political instability as families became increasingly unable to meet basic human needs. World Food Programme Director, Eddie Rowe, argued that the country was highly reliant on food imports and highly likely that 2020 would present another failed harvest for the nation.
The current crisis in Zimbabwe serves to highlight the importance of ensuring mechanisms are in place for self-sufficiency. With food shortages arising as a result of flooding and drought, prices for food escalate rapidly, leaving groups vulnerable to exploitation. The government’s approach has currently been largely dependent upon imported grains. While this may alleviate some short-term problems around food supplies, unless money is invested into supporting local farmers and growers, little is likely to change in the future. The nation should look towards rapid investment in alternative wheat or plants which thrive well in the changing climate conditions, as well as providing support systems for local communities. Projects such as those conducted by the World Food Programme that build resilience and mitigate impacts of climate change should be encouraged and expanded. For vulnerable groups, aid programs must be developed specifically to target exploitation and provide assistance and education.
Food crises are not only concerned about limited access to sustenance. The issue also leads to high unemployment, a lack of purchasing power and the increased exploitation of women. When prices rise, other purchases often have to be foregone, including sanitary pads and medicine. This in turn has implications on healthcare, meaning individuals are left with fewer resources to maintain safe levels of health, as well as reduced access to healthcare services when they become ill. An estimated 1.1 million people are currently facing acute malnutrition, with many others still undiagnosed. For women, these impacts can be keenly felt, especially as many remain breadwinners for their families and play primary roles in providing for children.
Despite the 2020 UN Development Goals, access to safe and affordable food is still a challenge that needs addressing. Largely ignored by the mainstream media, food insecurity in Zimbabwe has serious implications. Food security is state security. Nations must step up and further support self-sufficient farming practices, encouraging local growers. A heavy reliance on imports from wealthy nations is unsustainable in the long term, being both expensive and insufficient. Local support systems must be initiated to assist women in both accessing food and gaining increased purchasing power through education and skilled work. Food shortages are unlikely to disappear in the long term, only highlighting the need to address it now.
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