Zimbabwe's Mugabe declares state of emergency over drought

Drought and high temperatures have wreaked havoc on the maize crop in Zimbabwe
Drought and high temperatures have wreaked havoc on the maize crop in Zimbabwe Alexander Joe / AFP

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has declared a state of disaster after a drought hit rural parts of the country. The European Union urged Mugabe to make the declaration because it helps donors raise funds for food aid, which is currently needed by 2.4 million people in Zimbabwe more than a quarter of the country’s population.


Audio report

Zimbabwe had extremely low rainfall starting last year. The drought, which has affected neighbouring countries, has been exacerbated by the effects of El Nino.

“Supplies in Zimbabwe are already low because of last year’s situation,” said Jan Vossen, the country director for Oxfam International in Zimbabwe.

The drought has wreaked havoc on the agricultural sector, especially in the south of the country, which is already dry.

“The people that are in trouble are predominantly livestock producers and cattle farmers,” said Hendrik Oliver, the director of the Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe. “Maize farmers have also been affected”.

Maize is Zimbabwe’s most important crop. The situation is already unstable and the drought will cripple next year’s harvest.

“Only 40 percent of the farmers have actually been planting maize,” Vossen told RFI. “And where they have planted, we see that the crops are just not coming. So the harvest will be a great failure.”

The livestock industry is also suffering.

 “It’s not just about food for the people, it’s about food for the livestock as well," Vossen said. "We’re seeing farmers using thatch from their roofs to feed their animals”.

Thousands of cattle have already died. When people run out of food for their animals, Vossen says they are often forced to sell.

“They have to sell these animals for a very, very low price between 30 and 50 US dollars, when normally they could get 300 dollars for the animals,” Vossen said.

Compounded issues

Zimbabwe used to be a called the breadbasket of Africa. In the year 2000, President Mugabe enacted a series of controversial land reforms that many say destabilised the sector and flogged the country’s economy. Colonial policy had allowed white farmers to monopolise the agricultural sector, but in 2000, Mugabe broke up about 4,000 farms belonging to established white farmers and re-distributed the land to black farmers, most of whom did not have the same level of expertise as the white farmers.

Even Mugabe himself has admitted to errors in the reform. Oliver of the Commercial Farmers Union agrees.

“This year, we can talk about a drought but the problems have also compounded,” Oliver said. “Part of the problem has been a political problem in terms of the land reform program. The infrastructure and facilities were damaged.”

Many of Zimbabwe’s small-scale farmers don’t have irrigation systems, making them susceptible to weather patterns.

Despite the announcement about the state of emergency, the Zimbabwean government has urged people not to panic and assured them that authorities would import enough food. Yet the drought has hit the whole region, and the United Nations World Food Programme has said some 14 million people face hunger in southern Africa.

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