May 29, 2024

Zimbabwe’s food security ambitions in the crosshairs of El Niño

Zimbabwe's food security ambitions in the crosshairs of El Niño


Zimbabwe is enjoying a wave of assurances about food security after authorities described a record grain harvest last year, but recent El Niño forecasts could test the country’s agricultural production ambitions.

The devastating phenomenon could further underscore Zimbabwe’s disaster preparedness, as the country has received early warnings of impending climate-related humanitarian crises over the years but has found them insufficient.

While landlocked South Africa has invested heavily in agricultural mechanization and irrigation, there are concerns that the looming El Niño will test whether these interventions will help support food production, while humanitarians say more people will need help this year (2024).

In the 2022/23 season, Zimbabwe recorded its highest grain harvest in recent years and the Ministry of Agriculture announced that the country would not import food in the short term. But new concerns about climate uncertainty are raising concerns about the self-sufficiency of the country, where thousands of small farmers, the main producer of maize, depend on rain for their farming activities.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 70% of Zimbabwe’s population depends on rain-fed agriculture, highlighting the threat to food security in the event of an El Niño. In its July update, FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System listed Zimbabwe as one of the southern African countries that had prepared a so-called “drought forecast protocol” ahead of the El Niño event.

Officials from the Ministry of Climate Change said El Niño had affected agricultural production in the past and stressed that there was still much to be done to counter its devastating effects. It comes as the World Food Program says more people will need food aid during the traditional lean season early next year, which has already been exacerbated by the El Niño phenomenon.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the last time El Niño hit Zimbabwe was in 2016, leaving 40 million people in southern Africa in need of food aid. It is not yet clear what preparations the country’s grain reserves will have in case of another drought caused by the El Nino phenomenon.

Amid this expected decline in food production, Zimbabwe’s 2023 grain harvest will be a real test of the country’s grain statistics, which some analysts have questioned. For now, with a potentially devastating El Niño drought looming, small farmers would be no wiser to count their losses if measures are not taken to mitigate the effects of climate change.