Zimbabwe has long been known for its rich agricultural potential. However, multiple shocks over the past three years, including widespread rainfall deficits, the impact of HIV/AIDS and political turmoil have resulted in a livelihoods crisis for the majority of the countrys rural and urban poor. Since 2002, the Consortium for Southern Africa Food Security Emergency (C-SAFE) has been addressing acute food security problems in Zimbabwe and other southern African countries. In addition to food aid interventions, C-SAFE has also piloted and implemented a market intervention programme, one of the first of its kind in an emergency context.
The Market Assistance Programme
Over the past three years, the availability and price of many foods, including the major staple, maize, have fluctuated significantly. Urban households have faced rising prices and declining wages, and rural households have had to supplement their meagre harvests with market purchases, often using cash that would otherwise go towards meeting other basic needs, such as health and education.
Following a successful pilot scheme by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in 2003, World Vision embarked on a commodity-substitution programme in 2004 in Bulawayo. The Market Assistance Programme (MAP)s main objective is to fill the cereal gap in the local market by making sorghum meal a less-preferred alternative to maize available to low-income households. Sorghum is bought outside Zimbabwe and transported to World Vision-managed warehouses in Bulawayo. Once millers and vendors have been identified, the process of milling and packaging into 5kg bags begins. Bags are then delivered to vendors, who retain 15% of the sale price.
The two main objectives of MAP are to 1) maximise the availability and affordability of sorghum meal for the urban low income population; and 2) stimulate market activity.
MAP, through targeted food assistance, provides a safety net in an urban context. MAPs main mechanism is to fill the cereal gap created in the market. Sales fluctuations of sorghum meal from month to month correspond to the availability of maize meal in the retail network. Currently, maize is supplied to the market by the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), a governmental entity holding a monopoly over maize imports and prices. The GMB also subsidises and regulates the price of maize meal in the retail network. Due to severe drought over the last few years, local production of maize is very low, and the bulk of the countrys demand has had to be satisfied by imported grain, which has not met local requirements.
The MAP approach
In order to reach the target population (urban low-income families living in high-density areas of selected towns), the food product (sorghum) is distributed through a carefully selected retail network, based on viability, vulnerability and feasibility. Potential product leakage out of the targeted locations is strictly controlled and monitored on an ongoing basis. In order to respond to the vulnerability and food insecurity in the targeted area, the subsidised price of the product is monitored and adjusted regularly.
Pricing the sorghum meal
The main criterion here is affordability. We take the average target households monthly cereal budget and divide it by the number of kilos of cereal needed by the average target household for a month. However, the price is not fixed: because the price of the sorghum is always set at levels below the price of alternative cereals and bread, it is adjusted according to the availability and price of these alternatives on the market. Prices also take into account wider economic factors, such as inflation and government policies related to staple food.
Selecting commercial partners
On receipt of the commodity, and in order to ensure that the process of selecting commercial partners is transparent, all commercial contracts for millers and distributors are awarded through an open tender process on a competitive basis. Due to inflation and the generally capricious economic context, all tenders are valid for only two days. In order to ensure that the programme receives competitive offers from the private sector, and to enable it to follow market trends, commercial contracts are granted in small lots (up to a maximum of 1,000 tons), and tenders are announced on a regular basis.
The main criteria when selecting commercial partners are:
- Millers: milling fee charged; quality of the meal produced; extraction rates; storage capacity and quality; general hygiene condition of the plant; reputation of the company; record-keeping and reporting capabilities.
- Distributors: distribution fee charged; availability of vehicles needed for smooth and timely distribution; loading and offloading expertise; record of previous distribution services; reputation of the company; record-keeping and reporting capabilities. (It is possible that millers provide distribution services as well, if they meet all the requirements.)
- By-product sales partners (bran and screenings): price offered at the tender; amount of by-product demanded; timeliness of commodity collection and payment; reputation of the company.
- Retailers: geographical location (shops should be within the targeted area); satisfactory conditions for handling the meal.
Stimulating market activity
All of the sorghum grain is donated by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). It is milled and sold through retail outlets in the targeted area at a subsidised price, thereby generating income for the parties involved in processing, distribution and retailing. Milling by-products are sold to local cattle food processors, generating additional income.
MAP is one of the biggest clients of the grain processing and distribution industry in Bulawayo, and its appearance on the market has forced commercial enterprises to increase their operational capacity and enhance the quality of their product. This in turn has increased the number of people employed in the industry. In total, 4 billion Zimbabwean dollars ($412,500, at the official exchange rate) has been paid to MAPs commercial partners throughout 2005. Since 2004, 5,390 tons of sorghum have been processed and channelled through the retail network. Through geographical expansion of the MAP, the retail chain supplying the MAP product increased from 100 to 180 shops.
Targeting the poor
MAP is a model of self-targeting assistance in the urban and peri-urban context. On average, 35% of Bulawayos poor residents (75% of the total population) regularly consumed the MAP product between August 2004 and December 2005. This translates into an average of 177,000 beneficiaries on a monthly basis. Changes over the period related mainly to the availability of maize meal which, as the main staple food in Zimbabwe, is consumers first choice. Customers decide to buy sorghum based on the price of the commodity and the perceived difference between the two substitute grain meals on offer (maize and sorghum).
About 80% of the population from every income group have tried MAP sorghum at least once, but very poor and poor households buy more than non-poor ones on a regular/continuous basis.
About 80% of the population from both categories have tried MAP sorghum at least once, but households with a chronically ill member tend to make more purchases than those without, and are more regular consumers. MAP purchases have been extremely important for households with chronically ill members, with almost 40% buying MAP sorghum in the 30 days prior to the survey. Less than 25% of households without chronically ill members bought sorghum over the same period. Half of all households with a chronically ill member reported continued purchases of sorghum meal over the lifetime of the programme.
A similar, though less marked, pattern emerges in the case of households hosting orphans.
All evidence suggests that the MAP is self-targeting towards households that are food-insecure and that, as a market-based food intervention, the programme is effective in providing an alternative means of coping with food shortages.
Future plans and sustainability
From October 2006, the MAP will start to expand into other urban centres (Gwanda, Plumtree, Mutare and Beitbridge). The programme also expects to continue to invite international and local experts to assist in the conceptualisation and development of a new concept, MAP Link. This aims to encourage sorghum growing among local small-scale farmers, and to use their product in MAP programmes. The World Vision Agricultural Team is currently working on the promotion of sorghum among small-scale farmers as demand within the internal market has been created through MAP. World Vision also plans to pilot a subsidised sales programme in Matobo area in 2006, to determine the viability of such a programme in rural settings. The agency is currently looking for funding.
Outcomes and best practice
Through the MAP, a nutritious and accessible substitute commodity for maize-based products (sorghum meal) was made available in the urban market, at prices that poor urban households could afford. The programme also stimulated market activity among millers and vendors. By using an existing retail network, the MAP took advantage of well-established distribution channels to implement the programme. On average, 380 tons of sorghum meal were delivered every month to the targeted locations. By providing a less-preferred staple, the MAP was self-targeting to poorer households, while timely monitoring and evaluation provided information to enable managers to make changes to the programme, for instance adjusting the price of the sorghum meal, addressing leakages or identifying potential further areas for programme implementation.
Giorgi Devidze is Urban Programs Manager with World Vision Zimbabwe. His email address is: Giorgi_Devidze@wvi.org.