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UN: Grain Shortage Could Affect Much of Africa – VOA Learning English

A leader of the United Nations Food and Agriculture program (FAO) said an already existing food crisis in Africa is getting worse.

Abebe Haile-Gabriel is assistant director of the program. He said the war in Ukraine is to blame.

“We have a very grim outlook going forward,” he said of the food supplies in some African countries. He noted that about half of the continent’s 54 countries depend on Russia and Ukraine for wheat. And over 11 of the countries import fertilizer from Russia.

Even before the war in Eastern Europe started in February, food prices in Africa were rising. The FAO said the cost of food staples rose 23 percent last year. That is faster than any year of the last 10.

Many African nations depend on supplies from the World Food Program. Tomson Phiri of the WFP said the costs for the program are rising as more people need aid.

The cost of grain in North Africa is increasing because those nations import a lot from Ukraine and Russia. In other parts of Africa, people can no longer easily buy cooking oils made from soy, corn and sunflower seeds.

For Edwin Dapi of Zimbabwe, it is getting hard to feed his wife and four children.

Dapi looked for vegetable oil at a food store in Harare. The 2-liter bottle costs about $2.76. His job pays him about $50 per month.

A 2-kilogram bag of flour costs more than $1, Reuters reported.

As he looked at the prices, Dapi said “I keep hearing it’s because of Ukraine but I don’t know what that has to do with us.”

Existing food crisis

Africa already has a food shortage, experts say, because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, military conflicts and bad growing conditions because of climate change.

Zimbabwe is one of the African nations having trouble feeding its people, along with East African countries Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan. In West Africa, military conflicts in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria have created a food crisis. The western nations are also dealing with floods and droughts.

For a short time, Kenya felt safe from rising prices because it made food deals with several countries last year. Kenya made the change when Russia increased export taxes. Kennedy Nyaga of Kenya’s United Grain Miller’s Association said Kenya should have enough wheat to last until September. But it already ran out of maize, also called corn.

Maxwell Hwayo, 52, shops at a grocery store in Harare, Zimbabwe, March 17, 2022. (REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo)

Maxwell Hwayo, 52, shops at a grocery store in Harare, Zimbabwe, March 17, 2022. (REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo)

The association is asking the Kenyan government for permission to import 360,000 tons of maize without paying import taxes, or duty. The group said the price of maize went up about 60 percent since December.

Zimbabwe up close

A closer look at Zimbabwe shows the potential for a long-term food crisis, as it is not as well prepared as Kenya. Food production has gone down over the last 20 years due to changes in farm ownership, economic problems such as inflation and drought.

The people there are already poor, as the country’s National Statistics Agency says about half of its 15 million survive on less than $2 per day. They are struggling even more since March when the country’s grain millers raised prices for wheat flour and maize by 15 percent, noting increased food prices because of the war in Ukraine.

The FAO said Zimbabwe receives about 20 percent of its wheat supply from Russia and Ukraine.

While the government says there is enough maize and wheat for this year, the miller’s association approved another price increase in April. The group said it is looking for more grain so there can be enough until the harvest in October.

The increase in grain and fuel prices is being passed on to regular people in Zimbabwe who see it as inflation.

People shop at a grocery store in Harare, Zimbabwe, March 17, 2022. (REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo)

People shop at a grocery store in Harare, Zimbabwe, March 17, 2022. (REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo)

During the growing season, Zimbabwe’s farmers depend on fertilizer for a healthy crop. But the price of fertilizer is about 30 percent higher than last year.

The World Food Program’s Maria Gallar Sanchez said if fertilizer costs remain high it will reduce production in Zimbabwe this year.

A company that sells fertilizer throughout Africa said its costs have increased between 200 and 400 percent since January 2021.

Boniface Mutize is a farmer near Harare. He said many farmers are trying to make their own fertilizer using animal waste. But it does not work as well as chemical fertilizers.

He said many small farms will not be able to grow their own food next year.

I’m Dan Friedell.

Dan Friedell adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by the Associated Press.

Write to us in the Comments Section and visit our Facebook page.

Words in This Story

grim – adj. causing feelings of sadness or worry

staple n. an important food that is eaten widely

drought – n. extremely dry conditions affecting an area

miller – n. a person or company that makes flour from grain

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43% of micro to medium businesses in wholesale and retail, 5% in ICT and manufacturing. – Technology Zimbabwe

The SIVIO Institute released a report on financial inclusion of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Zimbabwe and there are a lot of nuggets into the real situation on the ground in it.

One of the first things that caught my attention was the industry representation of the businesses surveyed. 

We find that 22% of all MSMEs are in the retail and wholesale business whilst a further 21% are vending. Vending includes tuck-shops and flea markets. 

That means 43% of MSMEs in Zimbabwe are selling stuff as opposed to making stuff. So, you ask, how many are actually making stuff? Only 3% are in manufacturing whilst 11% are in agriculture. 

All this does not paint a good picture. See, it is these MSMEs that are the biggest employer in Zimbabwe. This means whatever these companies are doing is what most Zimbabweans are actually doing.

When we calculate our gross domestic product we include retail but that’s not really the kind of production we need to lift this country. We need more people to make the stuff that retailers sell. 

On the ground we find that many such MSME retailers/vendors are selling imported goods. They are not villains for doing this, they would source their inventory locally if they could get the required quantities at the right prices.

However, each and every import means forex bleed. The official statistics say that we exported more than we imported in Q1 2022 but the fact remains we are importing way more than we should. 

Worse still we mostly import goods ready for consumption rather than for production. Also, if we could account for the goods that are smuggled in, our imports would be much higher than the stats say.

How does this compare to the whole economy?

Manufacturing contributed 18.43% to Zimbabwe’s GDP in 2020. This means large companies are responsible for most of the manufacturing in this country as they should. Manufacturing is capital intensive after all.

Wholesale and retail contributed 19.24% that same year but bundled in that figure were repairs of motor vehicles and motorcycles. So, we can comfortably say that manufacturing contributed more than retail.

I know these are not like-for-like comparisons. I will hazard a guess that although manufacturing contributed 18.43% to GDP, the total number of companies in manufacturing is much less than 18% of all companies in the country. 

This means the 3% of MSMEs in manufacturing may indeed contribute more to GDP than the 43% in retail. However, I still think 3% is too low. Not all manufacturing is capital intensive. 

Especially when we consider that a medium sized company has at least 75 employees and an annual turnover of at least US$1 million. We need there to be more companies in manufacturing.


Only 2% of MSMEs are in the Information and Communication Technology sector whilst an additional 2% are in Graphics, Technical Design, Computer Software and Printing.

This does not reflect the amount of tech MSMEs are using in their operations. A manufacturer using high tech equipment would still count as a manufacturing company.

That doesn’t change the fact that only 2% of MSMEs are in ICT. 

The government really should be using tools like tax breaks and the like to incentivise businesses to enter the ICT and manufacturing sectors.

Earlier this year we noted how the national budget does not prioritise ICT. Only 0.36% of the total national budget went to ICT. That shows how low the government’s hopes for ICT are.

Steering innovation

I mentioned tax breaks when talking about what the govt could do to steer investment in certain sectors. There’s a whole lot more they can do, chief of which is radically transforming the regulatory framework to make it easy for entrepreneurs to ply their trade. 

The financial services sector should also step up and start lending to entrepreneurs in the ICT and manufacturing sectors. Again, the govt should make it worthwhile for banks to lend more to these sectors.

The reason why most MSMEs enter the retail sector is that there is a low barrier to entry. Armed with only US$10, a vendor can get a few snacks and sweets and try to work from there. If that works the hope is to graduate to being able to go to South Africa for stocks.

For as long as half our companies are in the business of selling what they didn’t make our economy will not thrive. 

ICT represents the opportunity to come up with solutions to Zim specific problems, whether it be in manufacturing, agriculture or even financial services. 

ICT helps businesses improve efficiency and effectiveness and the situation on the ground right now is that businesses have to import ICT solutions or develop their own. 

It is difficult for a business whose competencies are in say medicine manufacture to develop bespoke ICT solutions themselves.

We saw the Justice Service Commission award an American company a US$3 million tender for an electronic case management system. ZIMDEF was recently in the news over a scandalous million dollar tender for the supply of SAP software.

Are there no local solutions these organisations could have used instead? Maybe there aren’t but is the govt being proactive in making sure those solutions come from within our borders in the future? No.

What’s the biggest hurdle?

I know most of you love tech and have been acquiring skills over the years. What is the biggest hurdle preventing you from starting that ICT business that’s been in your heart all this time?

If you could sit down with the decision makers what would you ask them to look at if more of you are to run successful businesses?

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Farming with variability: Mobilising responses to drought uncertainties in Zim – NewsDay

Ian Scoones

BY Ian Scoones 
Climate change is generating greater variability within and across seasons. This is requiring new responses among farmers in Masvingo province, Zimbabwe. Today, farmers must adapt, be flexible and agile and respond to uncertain seasons as they unfold. This requires new skills and approaches; not just from farmers, but also from development agencies who are hoping to assist rural people cope with drought.

Shifting responses, changing droughts

There are strong memories of drought (or rather nzara, see previous blog) among farmers in Masvingo. During our visits earlier in the year many recalled past events. The 1991-92 drought was firmly etched on their memories, while older people recalled the droughts of 1982-84. These days the memories of 1947 (associated with the distribution of “kenya” yellow maize) are disappearing, but drought is a recurrent phenomenon central to how histories are recalled in rural areas, as we explored in our book Hazards and Opportunities over 25 years ago.

But how people have responded over time and how different “droughts” have been experienced is highly contrasting. Some droughts are recalled as ones affecting cattle, but not people; others are the opposite. Some affected everyone all over the area, meaning real shortages of food and dependence on hand-outs, while others were quite localised and food could be purchased in nearby districts. As discussed in last week’s blog, drought is not a singular phenomenon.

One thing people mentioned again and again was that droughts today are so varied. It is not just a simple failure of “the rains“, but the problem of increasing variability. Sometimes there is very heavy rain, then nothing for weeks. In the “old days” rain — if it came — would be steady and continuous, soaking the land, they say. This is much more effective for crops than the rains today, when heavy rains can destroy crops through waterlogging and wind and rain damage.

As many climatologists have argued, it is not the absolute amount of rain that is changing with climate change, but its variability. This is certainly the experience in our Masvingo study areas.

Land reform and resilience

We were discussing with farmers in our A1 resettlement area study sites across Masvingo province, from the very dry south to the relatively wetter northern parts of the area. One of the common narratives that we heard was that today we don’t suffer from drought as much as we did before. This seemed to run counter to the arguments about climate change and the frequency of events that were recalled. Why was this?

The answer of course was that land reform has created a buffer against the effects of drought by providing more land with better soils and the ability to accumulate assets that can be used to improve agriculture and weather a lean period. Land reform was thus an impressive boost to resilience, although of course not usually discussed in those terms. This applies to nearly everyone as even those who have not managed to accumulate from agriculture significantly are able to gain farm employment from others.

However, even with larger areas of land and accumulated farm assets, small-holder farmers in the land reform areas must still learn to cope with the high levels of rainfall variability in order to avoid hunger. This requires skill and aptitude and some well-honed practices.

From prediction to performance

In the past, rainfall patterns were more predictable, forecasts for the season were sometimes reasonably good. There was a standard movement of the ‘inter-tropical convergence zone’ southwards and the nightly bulletins on TV would document its position. More broadly, historical analysis of climate records show a cyclical pattern of wetter and drier periods over around seven years over many decades that seem to suggest some type of pattern. This is no longer the case.

In our discussions, farmers pointed to their own forms of prediction that had been used in the past: certain types of birds being present, with certain calls,  the flowering of particular trees,  the formations of certain clouds,  or the strength and direction of wind. These would provide short-term predictions of what might happen in the next days,  but even these local prediction mechanisms frequently seem to fail these days.

As we sat in one farmer’s compound, the rain was pouring down only a kilometre away, but right there it was completely dry. This variability means a different response. Farmers were unanimous in their rejection of formal predictions, as being useless today — whether from the Met Department or from prophets or priests. “This is ‘fake news’, someone proclaimed, continuing, if you follow it, you can make a serious error.”

What’s the alternative to following predictions?

The answer nearly everyone gave was “planning”, being ready for any contingency. Having your seeds and fertilizer available, making sure you have a fit span of animals for ploughing, working out how you can divert if the rains failed — say from investing lots of effort in the “outfield” to more focused, intensive gardening, where you can manage the soil, irrigate and so on.

During our discussions, lots of examples were given of how, during a highly variable season like the one being experienced, different strategies were pursued. This required flexibility, and of course resources (labour, inputs and so on) to be able to switch between options. This is the farming “performance” that everyone must follow, where there are diverse scripts and different players.

This is very different to the standard packages or the technocratic solutions of “climate-smart” agriculture. Even when these are useful, they must be adapted. The fertilizer recommendations from the extension workers must be changed to fit the season, even the micro-plot. As discussed in a recent blog, the no-till practice Pfumvudza must equally be changed, bigger or smaller pits, more or less mulch, extra ridges to divert water if there is too much.

In the uncertain world of today, no one size fits all. Coping with drought and avoiding hunger requires much skill, and careful contingency planning.

Embracing uncertainty

As farmers have had to do over the last decades in Masvingo, a shift in support more attuned to uncertainty rather than predictive risk will require new ways of doing things, as we highlighted in a paper on rethinking humanitarian and social assistance in “crisis” situations. Unfortunately, as discussed in the next blog, this is not yet happening.

As I discussed in a recent book chapter, perhaps these practices — centred on embracing uncertainty, living with and from variability — are the future, not the frequently rigid and standardised forms of humanitarian and social protection responses we see offered by the State or aid agencies, development agencies.

  • This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

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Rethinking Water for Sustainable Development in Africa – Modern Ghana

Alexander Ayertey OdonkorAlexander Ayertey Odonkor

23.05.2022 LISTEN

On the eve of 22 March, 2022 which is the World Water Day, the United Nations released its first-ever assessment of water security in Africa – the study relied on 10 indicators: access to drinking water, access to sanitation, hygiene and health, water availability, efficiency of water use, water infrastructure, water quality, water governance, water disaster risks and physiography, to quantify water security in 54 African countries. Just as other reports have shown in recent years, this comprehensive assessment also unveils the dire water situation on the continent.

Categorised in five stages of water security: Emerging (a score of 0-45), Slight (45-60), Modest (60-75), Effective (75-90) and Model (90-100) – surprisingly, not a single country or subregion in Africa attained the highest level of ‘Model (90-100)’ or even the reasonably high ‘Effective (75-90)’ stages of national water security. Even though Botswana, Egypt, Gabon, Mauritius and Tunisia are the five most water-secured countries in the region, apart from Egypt, all the other 53 countries obtained scores lower than 70, making the north-African country the most water-secured on the continent.

Furthermore, the intricacies of the assessment reveals that out of the 54 African countries, only 13 achieved ‘Modest (60-75)’ levels of water security while more than a third have the lowest water security – sadly, in the last three to five years, as many as 25 countries in the region have not made any significant progress in water security. With this worrying trend, which is being exacerbated by Africa’s bulging population, economic growth and climate change, one may ask; can Africa achieve sustainable development? Obviously, the simple answer to this important question is no; it will be quite impossible to accomplish sustainable development under this current condition. In fact, water is at the core of sustainable development – As an essential resource, water plays an indispensable role in maintaining healthy ecosystems which support biodiversity. Again, by underpinning human survival, thus mitigating the baleful impact of diseases, improving health and bolstering productivity, water is crucial for advancing social and economic development.

Therefore for Africa to achieve sustainable development, it is imperative for the development community and governments across the continent to provide sustainable solutions to the challenges that impede water security in the region – adopting strategies that leverages technical expertise and technological innovations to improve water resources management – a goal that could be realized by forging cooperation with countries and organizations with proven expertise in tackling a challenge of this magnitude, that have also demonstrated genuine interest to offer immediate assistance to African countries.

Evidently, some of these unique arrangements are already yielding desirable outcomes – there are several success stories across the African continent. For example, cooperation with China, Africa’s largest investor to improve water security in the region has been rewarding and commendable. In Southern Africa, the cooperationbetween Zimbabwe and China has led to the construction of 1,000 boreholes in water-deprived rural communities across the country’s six provinces. Through the China-Zimbabwe cooperation, these 1,000 boreholes which are funded by the Chinese government are improving lives as they have enhanced access to clean water in the Southern African country; local residents including children do not walk long distances to fetch water again, children no longer fetch water from distant locations when they are in school and rural residents are no more using contaminated water.

Overall the 1,000 boreholes have benefited 400,000 local residents, representing about 3 percent of the country’s total population. Similarly, in Eastern Africa, Rwanda’s cooperation with China has also led to the drilling of 150 wells, a provision which has improved access to water in the country’s rural communities – It is worth noting that these are not the only African countries benefiting from the borehole project. Rural communities in other African countries such as Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Tanzania, Malawi, Senegal and Mozambique are all benefiting enormously from China’s borehole project.

Again, in Egypt, the continent’s most water-secured country, China’s water resource management footprints are evident – In December 2018, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation of Egypt cooperated in developing agricultural technology and saline agriculture methods. By tapping into China’s expertise in water-efficient agriculture, desalination, recycling wastewater for agriculture purposes and using saline water to improve irrigation on farmlands, Egypt will not only gain substantial inroads towards sustainable agriculture but also make significant progress in effectively managing water resources, which could eventually improve water security in the country – a major step towards promoting sustainable economic growth and development.

In a similar fashion, other African countries could also benefit immensely from China’s unique expertise in this field – leveraging China’s vast technical experience to strengthen water resources management capacity and increase the region’s forest cover, which has been depleting at an alarming rate for decades. Forests perform a distinctive role in the water cycle; they regulate the quality, timing and quantity of water – forests control rainfall patterns – In addition to this function, forests also serve as a protective cover against soil erosion and flooding which protects water bodies. In brief, African countries will be on course to achieve water security if they seek to increase the region’s forest cover – an objective that could be realized by tapping into China’s rich expertise in forest management. China accounts for almost one-third of the world’s entire planted forest growth and close to two-thirds of Asia’s planted forest growth from 1990 to 2020.

With this outstanding performance in forest management, certainly, Africa’s cooperation with China is a step in the right direction, an arrangement that could address forest loss on the continent. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s Global Forest Resources Assessment report (2020) shows that Africa had the world’s highest annual rate of net forest loss from 2010 to 2020, at 3.9 million hectares – the continent’s rate of net forest loss has increased in each of the last three decades since 1990. At this pace of forest loss, it is obvious that Africa’s water situation will continue to worsen and sustainable development will definitely be a mirage. This calls for immediate and concerted actions across the African continent, to avert the impending doom –strengthening cooperation with China and other relevant stakeholders in a problem-solving process that will put Africa on track to achieve water security for sustainable development.

About the Author

Alexander Ayertey Odonkor is an economic consultant, chartered economist and a chartered financial analyst with a master’s degree in finance and a bachelor’s degree in economics and finance – together with a stellar experience from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Alexander holds postgraduate certificates from Harvard University, New York Institute of Finance, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Adelaide, Curtin University and Delft University of Technology. Alexander is also an author and columnist for the China Global Television Network (CGTN), The Brussels Times, The World Financial Review, China Daily, The Diplomat, The Business Standard (Bangladesh), Pakistan Today, The People’s Daily, Daily News (Sri Lanka), Modern Ghana and the Business and Financial Times (B&FT). Some of his articles have also appeared in NTS Bulletin(Nanyang Technological University), NextBillion (University of Michigan), and several other top-notch publications.

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