Battling hunger in Zimbabwean cities

Article, 06.07.2022

Urban dwellers are dependent on the cash economy and, therefore, need stable employment and income to put food on their tables. 

Battling hunger in Zimbabwean cities
Urban dwellers are dependent on the cash economy and, therefore, need stable employment and income to put food on their tables. © Embassy of Switzerland in Zimbabwe.

In Zimbabwe, the volatile economic situation — with fluctuations in exchange rates, liquidity challenges and stagnant wages — largely drives food insecurity in cities. This is further exacerbated by tight global markets.

Nyarai Mugarisi, a 43-year-old mother-of-four, reflects on price increases in recent months. She lives in Chiredzi, one of the towns in southern Zimbabwe where the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) with financial support from Switzerland through the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) provides cash-based assistance to vulnerable urban dwellers every month, so they can address their food needs.

“We are going through hard times. First it was COVID-19, followed by drought, inflation and now there is a shortage of cooking oil and flour. We have heard on the radio that there is a war in some far-away country where these food items are produced,” she said.

Since 2019, WFP has been providing monthly cash-based transfers to Zimbabwe’s most vulnerable urban households through its Urban Food Security and Resilience Building Programme. In cities across the country, stagnant and eroded incomes are failing to match price rises. The cost of basic foods increased by an average of 57% over the past year, a situation which is likely to accelerate due to the stress emerging across global markets. It is estimated that approximately half of the urban families in Zimbabwe cannot afford a nutritious diet.

In partnership with the government of Zimbabwe, WFP also invests on labour market opportunities in urban centres. The chances that Mugarisi falls into food insecurity decrease if she has a stable income and is able to manage her resources.

Mugarisi is part of a group that enables women to save, borrow and lend to each other at a low interest rate. “I use the cash I receive to buy food for my family and I am also able to make some money from the little that I have. Recently, I have been able to invest in my hair plaiting business. Prices are on the rise, but I am also casting my survival net wider,” she explained.

Urban residents have high reliance on markets to source their food. Although food in cities is available in many forms, not everyone has equal access to nutritious foods and to safe, diverse, healthy, and affordable diets.

WFP’s Urban Food Security and Resilience Building Programme seeks to meet the urgent food needs of those most vulnerable to food insecurity, including people who are unemployed and/or suffering from chronic illness or disability. WFP also supports vulnerable city dwellers to carry out activities that contribute to both their home food consumption and to generate income for their families.

Over the last year, cash assistance in urban areas has been possible thanks to donors including Switzerland, the European Union’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Department, United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and contributions from private donors.