Drought threat to Zimbabwe economy, 3pc growth ‘hard to achieve’

The current dry spell characterising this farming season could scupper Treasury’s projections of a five percent growth in the agriculture sector and the $165 million fiscal buffer set aside in the 2020 National Budget might not be enough to mitigate the effects of the impending drought.

Zimbabwe has in the past had about one drought in every 10 years and about one mild drought in every three years, thus hampering sustained economic development.

The recurring droughts, according to State media have resulted in Government championing a climate-proofed agriculture sector that is not susceptible to droughts.

However, while efforts are ongoing towards climate proofing the sector, Zimbabwe is now staring in the face of a potentially devastating drought that could derail Treasury’s growth projections this year.

But analysts say forward planning and responsive budgeting could be the panacea to such weather-induced threats to the economy.

Presenting the 2020 National Budget, Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube acknowledged the 2019/2020 season could turn out to be bad for agriculture and had thus set aside $165 million as a fiscal buffer for the importation of grain and other drought mitigating measures.

He said: “Over the years, Zimbabwe has been experiencing severe droughts at a rate of one in 10 years and mild droughts of one in three years. Given that the economy is highly dependent on rainfed agriculture there is an urgent need to drought proofing the sector.

“There are greater chances that the 2019/2020 season will be another bad season. Such developments, if they materialise, may escalate Government expenditures on grain importation, infrastructure rehabilitation and disease control.

“Government is, therefore, creating a fiscal buffer to the tune of $165 million to cater for drought shocks, as well as strengthening the early warning systems,” he said.

Despite Government having managed timeous disbursements of requisite inputs to farmers, evidence on the ground suggests that most of the maize crop has suffered severe moisture stress, while in some cases crops are wilting.

In some areas, farmers are yet to plant as they are yet to receive meaningful rains that can sustain germination.

Livestock has not been spared either and cattle, goats and sheep have succumbed, to the detriment of efforts aimed at rebuilding the national herd and threatening the livelihood of many livestock farmers.

Economic commenters warned Government needs to expedite climate proofing initiatives to insulate the sector from droughts.

Economist and president of the National Business Council of Zimbabwe (NBCZ) Mr Langton Mabhanga said: “We need to immediately focus on maximum optimisation of irrigable land. Support must be given to farmers for off-grid- powered irrigation systems.

“The potential magnitude of the impending drought is unprecedented, the budgeted amount for drought shocks of $165 million might representative barely five to 10 percent of the average requirements to cushion vulnerable households.

“Perhaps the minister might consider a supplementary budget and reach out more to the goodwill of international partners for food aid,” he said.

Another economist, Mr Prosper Chatambura, said the drought had the potential to scupper economic growth in 2020 particularly against the background that Government has abandoned austerity measures in favour of production and economic growth.

“The low rains being experienced can have a very negative impact on the growth of the economy in 2020,” said Mr Chatambura.

“There is a background that we are already facing difficulties in the economy and if you then take the seemingly impending drought into context and imagine agricultural yield being affected, then we are in for serious problems,” he said.

Economist Vince Musewe said Government needs to expedite the irrigation programme and make sure that there is always enough crop to “food secure” the economy.

“As you know, the Zimbabwe economy is largely dependent on agriculture, so if agriculture goes wrong the whole economy basically suffers a ripple effect as you know that 60 percent of our industry inputs come from agriculture,” said Mr Musewe.

“So with the drought coming the projected growth of 3 percent this year is out of the window. Which is a problem with Zimbabwe because we always know that when we have a drought the economy is going to feel the heat . . .

“. . . Zimbabwe has got 11,5 million hectares of arable land, all we need to do is irrigate 200 000 hectares throughout the year and we secure our food and the Ministry of Agriculture needs to surely expedite this,” he said.

Zimbabwe requires at least two million tonnes of cereals to cater for human and livestock needs and due to last year’s drought, there are plans to import at 800 000 tonnes to cover the deficit.