'Majority of Zimbabweans living in abject poverty'

HARARE - At least six out of every 10 households in Zimbabwe are living in dire poverty, a report by a government statistics agency has revealed.

A recently released poverty assessment report by Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat) shows poverty is deeper in rural and farming areas where economic activity is low and droughts have been recurrent.

“The key finding is that poverty is more widespread and prevalent in the rural areas where 62,6 percent of households are deemed poor while 16,2 percent are in extreme poverty,” reads the report.

The results also indicate that at least three households out of every ten in rural areas are extremely poor compared to five out of every 10 in urban areas.

Matabeleland North Province, one of the country’s driest places, recorded the highest poverty prevalence rates with eight out of every 10 households wallowing in poverty.

“Poor households in Zimbabwe are characterised by high dependency ratios and on average older heads of households are associated with higher prevalence of poverty than younger heads. The prevalence of poverty among male-headed and female-headed households is almost the same at 62,9 and 62 percent respectively,” notes the report, adding that access to employment for the household head is closely associated with household poverty status.

The ZimStat report comes amid reports that Zimbabwe’s food situation is dire.

According to recent agency reports, grain reserves are running dangerously low ahead of new but poor harvests caused by erratic rain.

Quoting the African Development Bank, the reports said the strategic reserves have become so depleted that commercial millers have been stopped from buying supplies from the State.

The shortage of the staple maize has also raised prices of food as 1,6 million Zimbabweans already depend on food aid.

The nation has 92 000 tonnes in store, the bank said in its latest economic bulletin, but imports of another 150 000 tonnes are needed to meet consumer demand before the new harvest lands on the market.

In one province, three-fourths of planted corn was written off after a prolonged dry spell and other areas reported having had too much rain.

State grain marketing agency the Grain Marketing Board, sells locally grown maize to milling companies that is about $110 cheaper than imports for each tonne.

The bank said the reserve stock was now only being used for distribution paid for by the government to needy communities. But it said these supplies were “erratic and in consistent”.

The United Nations World Food Programme said in a separate statement that the peak hunger period before the next harvests posed “the highest level of food insecurity” seen in the past three years.

It said aside from weather patterns, the recent planting season was hit by shortages of seed and fertiliser. Less farmland was also planted with maize as more small scale growers turned to tobacco and other cash crops with quicker and better financial returns, the UN food agency reported.

Farmers’ organisations have forecast total grain harvests this year of about 1,2 million tonnes. Annual consumption by the population of nearly 13 million is 2,2 million tonnes.

Zimbabwe’s Finance ministry, controlled by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party in a shaky coalition with President Robert Mugabe, says it can not raise enough money to import the shortfall for distribution by the Grain Marketing Board, the State grain sales monopoly, and wants private enterprises to share the burden.

Mugabe’s party insists private importers are driven by profit that puts food basics out of the reach of ordinary Zimbabweans who live on about $1.50 a day.

In the troubled economy, many families survive on a single meal a day. Before the often violent seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms began in 2000, Zimbabwe exported its maize surplus and was seen as a regional breadbasket. - Tarisai Machakaire

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