Once known as the breadbasket of the Southern African region, landlocked Zimbabwe is now characterized by chronic food insecurity and is heavily dependent on international aid, particularly food aid. Zimbabwean agriculture has always been dualistic with a few thousand large commercial farms (so called A2 scheme
) producing cash and export crops like tobacco and a majority of subsistence smallholdings (A1 scheme
) growing staple food, in particular with a mixed maize crop system.
An estimated 3 million Zimbabweans (1 out of five) have left the country since the late 1990s. A political crisis combined with the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (forced redistribution of white-owned commercial farmland to black smallholder farmers), hyperinflation, capital constraints and government controls on markets, led to sharp falls in production and a collapse of the rural market economy. Zimbabwe's real GDP declined by more than 71% between 2000 and 2008, with overall agricultural production declining by 30% over the same period.
Since 2009, relative political stability has helped in the partial recovery of the agriculture sector. With Robert Mugabe’s recent re-election and "indigenization" policies, the future is quite uncertain.
There are significant differences in poverty rates among the provinces. Matabeleland North has the highest poverty rate in the country, with 70 per cent of its inhabitants classified as poor or extremely poor. Poverty is also concentrated in the south-eastern provinces of Manicaland and Masvingo, which are among the driest and least productive areas in the country.
Importance of agriculture sector
Agriculture contributes about 20% of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). About 7.6 million people live in rural areas and depend mainly on agriculture.
Maize is the fundamental staple crop, representing up to 70% of the total dietary energy supply but dryland cereals, sorghum, pearl millet (mhunga) and finger millet (rapoko), less affected by government controlled prices, have seen a steady increase during the 2000s.
Zimbabwe, located between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers, has five agro-ecological regions that are based on the rainfall regime, soil quality and vegetation among other factors. The South and West of Zimbabwe (Matabeleland and Masvingo) have less fertile soil and a drier climate.
Agricultural production in general has suffered as a result of weak support services, lack of credit, and acute shortages of essential inputs such as seeds, fertilizer and fuel. In drier areas, water scarcity is a major challenge for farmers. Agriculture depends a lot on inputs and credit from aid programmes such as the Protracted Relief Programme (PRP) ). Both government and donors have to shift from an assistance-aid approach to a developmental one, such as the use of a voucher approach.