Zimbabwe’s Climate Change Induced Food Shortage

As Zimbabwe’s maize production halved on Wednesday, the World Food Program predicted that 1.5 million Zimbabweans, amounting to 16% of the population, will require food aid by January 2016.

Despite a GDP growth projection of 2.8 per cent by the IMF, Zimbabwe’s mining, agriculture, and manufacturing sectors have suffered a downturn in recent times. Due to an uncertain political and regulatory climate, coupled with falling mineral prices, the mining sector of Zimbabwe is crumbling. Throw in a foreign debt of $9 billion, and the economy is not expected to recover anytime soon.

For over five years, the country has been struggling to recover from a disastrous economic recession marked by a billion per cent hyperinflation and extensive food shortages. As a result of a recurrent drought that has lasted the better half of the year, crop failure rates are at 60 per cent, and thousands of small scale farmers fear that they will go hungry this year.

Although Zimbabwe’s situation is aggravated by its current economic state, the impact of climate change on African economies can no longer be ignored. According to the Climate Change and Vulnerability Index for 2015, Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents to Climate Change. Although African countries have some of the lowest overall and per capita emissions in the world, they are also likely to suffer the worst consequences of climate change.


Zambia and South Africa report dramatically lower yields, which translate to a 21 per cent and 50 per cent loss in crop production respectively. In Malawi, the World Food program estimated the number of hungry people at 600,000, after crops were washed away by flooding.  Between July 2011 and mid-2012, a severe drought affected the entire East Africa region and was said to be “the worst drought in 60 years”.

The World Food Program (WFP) intends to provide assistance to countries in need. “We are looking at bringing food assistance during the lean season, which begins earlier than usual this year,” David Orr, the spokesman for WFP says. “We’re not going to be able to reach all 1.5 million in need. Our aim is about half that number. We are nowhere near fully funded; in fact we are still desperately in need of funding.”

If climate change continues, the continent could be looking at an aggravated impact on weather patterns manifested in everything from erratic and extreme weather patterns that affect agriculture to national security concerns caused by food shortages and forced migration.

For a continent suffering from high levels of poverty and malnutrition, it is understandable that the priority for many African countries is improving the economic welfare of their people. However, as the current drought induced food shortage in Zimbabwe indicates, the focus needs to include preparing for the impact of climate change on already difficult economic conditions.

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