Poverty Reduction in Zimbabwe
Extreme poverty in Zimbabwe has gotten worse over the last decade due to agricultural industry failures and changing weather patterns. Still, the government’s strategy of Pfumvudza, introduced in 2020, is helping poverty reduction in Zimbabwe. When set against a background of progress in non-income poverty metrics, indicators show Zimbabwe should progress in the battle against extreme poverty over the next decade.

Agricultural Industry Failures

Due to heavy investment in agriculture during the Mugabe administration, up to two-thirds of Zimbabweans worked in agriculture and many Zimbabweans relied directly on the domestic agriculture industry for food security. Incomes from the agriculture industry are the lowest in the country due to low productivity and changing weather patterns causing long droughts, which have increased in frequency and intensity over the last 20 years. For example, “maize production in 2019 was only 36% of its 2017 level.” These two key factors have resulted in plummeting agricultural output and, therefore, losses in income for two-thirds of Zimbabwe’s workers.

The failing agricultural industry has pushed more Zimbabweans into extreme poverty. The U.N. defines extreme poverty as living on less than $1.90 per day, a rate that has increased in Zimbabwe from 21.4% in 2011 to 39.5% in 2021. This is deeply concerning as the extreme poverty rate for the whole of sub-Saharan Africa stood at 45.8% in 2011 and 39.7% in 2021, according to the World Bank.

Battling Extreme Poverty

The Zimbabwean government has attempted to battle the rise in extreme poverty linked to the agricultural sector by boosting agricultural productivity and reducing climate challenges in farming. To do this, it introduced a program called Pfumvudza, a name derived from the Zimbabwean phrase meaning “the blooming of new leaves during the farming season.”

Pfumvudza is a form of conservation agriculture focused on crop rotation, mulching and minimum tillage, which increased crop yields in areas where it was tried. Before the implementation of Pfumvudza in specific areas, about 92% of households relied on food aid from NGOs and the U.N. In the same areas, after the implementation, this rate fell to 43%.

By improving agricultural output, Pfumvudza helps poverty reduction in Zimbabwe, improving work conditions and pay for workers in the agricultural industry and food security for the whole country. The government has expanded the Pfumvudza scheme to 4.6 million plots in the 2022/23 season. This indicates that Zimbabwe’s extreme poverty rate could fall as the agricultural sector develops under the Pfumvudza strategy.

Progress in Non-Income Dimensions of Poverty

Unlike monetary measurements of poverty, Zimbabwe has performed well on the non-income dimensions of poverty. Infant mortality, maternal mortality and life expectancy rates have all improved significantly over the last decade and at a higher rate than the average for sub-Saharan African countries. Infant mortality decreased from 57 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2007 to 36 in 2021. Zimbabwe saw 579 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2000, which reduced to 458 in 2017. Furthermore, life expectancy rose from 45 in 2000 to 61 in 2020.

Education provision quality and quantity have boomed over the 2010s, with spending on primary and secondary education quadrupling between 2009 and 2014. More than 90% of adults are literate and more than 90% of boys and girls finish primary school, according to a World Bank report. Education provision is key to poverty reduction in Zimbabwe because it allows individuals to improve their economic circumstances, so this increase in education provision could lead to poverty reduction in Zimbabwe in the long run.

With continued efforts to reduce conditions of poverty, Zimbabwe will see further progress and improvements on quality of life indicators.

– John Cordner
Photo: Flickr