Lynette Manzini
Lynette Manzini

Food Inflation In Zimbabwe: A Tragedy For The Underpaid Teachers

The Russia-Ukraine war that broke out a year ago contributed to price hikes of basic food commodities in Zimbabwe, further compounding the economic challenges the teachers who work in rural areas face.

Rural schools present a variety of difficulties for teachers, such as limited access to financial services, health care, and inadequate pay. Most teachers have families living in urban areas while working in the country's remote parts.

Before the war, Zimbabwe had its share of economic challenges, including high inflation, currency volatility, low-capacity utilization, and high unemployment rates.

The economic challenges in the Southern African country date back to the land reform program, which saw the violent repossession of land from commercial white farmers who were dominating the agricultural sector at the time.

Resultantly, the country was slapped with sanctions for the violent repossessing of land and human rights violations, among others.

Since then, the landlocked country has depended on imports to augment the production disruptions.

The numerous challenges and climate change-induced drought contributed to the Food Early Warning Signs (FEWS) estimated that 3 million Zimbabweans in rural areas were food insecure in late 2022 and 3.8 million were food insecure in early 2023.

Subsequently, the imports of wheat and maize from Russia were interrupted by supply chain disruptions due to the war.

This led to a rise in the price of bread and maize meals by 30 to 50 percent, respectively.  As a result of a low harvest and supply chain disruptions caused by the Russia-Ukraine war.

Bread is a common feature consumed throughout the day. Maize meal is a staple food consumed in Zimbabwe. The imports from Russia augment the deficit from local production.

Teachers Union Bemoans The State Of Welfare

In an interview with Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) secretary-general, Robson Chere said rural teachers were finding it hard to get by.

 “It's no secret that teachers are underpaid in Zimbabwe, and even before the advent of the Russo-Ukraine war, rural teachers were struggling to make ends meet.

 He added that although most government teachers augment their paltry wages with the provision of extra lessons for a fee, the case was not the same for rural teachers who worked in areas dominated by subsistence.

A month before the war broke out, rural teachers of Amalgamated Rural Teachers Association of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) protested over poor working conditions and paltry salaries.

Subsequently, 16 teachers protesting for better wages were arrested and released on bail.

The teacher’s movement in Zimbabwe, representing teachers in rural and urban areas, has demanded that the government restore salaries to the pre-dollarisation era, which amounted to US$540 instead of the current local currency-based remuneration for the lowest paid teacher ranging between US$175 to US$200.

When the government decided to de-dollarize and return to the local currency, teachers did not welcome the development.

This meant the teachers' wages that were already depreciated by inflation were further affected by the cost-push inflation caused by disruption.

According to a report by the World Bank, Zimbabwe tops the list of countries affected by the food inflation at 353% in August 2022 followed by Lebanon at 240%.

Students from Chingwedere Primary School-a rural school- during assembly.
Students from Chingwedere Primary School-a rural school- during assembly.

For 42 year Abigail Mvura (Not her real name), a rural teacher said the disruptions caused by the Russia-Ukraine war negatively affected her buying  power, given that her salary is paid in local currency, which has been battered by pre-existing inflation[1] [2] .

Additionally, the country has been affected by drought.

Mvura narrates how the drought affected her daily food consumption and the availability and price of the staple maize meal.

“We experienced drought last year which meant the scarcity of the staple maize meal and a rise in its price, but the war worsened the situation.

“ As teachers we are already earning very little, which is not enough to care for our families.

“I had to reduce the number of meals I eat in a day, but this obviously affected my performance at work,” said Mvura.

 However, Chere bemoaned the lack of government intervention to buffer the disadvantaged rural teacher, highlighting that food inflation caused by the war was detrimental to the teachers.

“Hence the price hikes exacerbated the sufferings of the teachers since wages and incentives weren't reviewed to match the exorbitant food prices.

 “The consequences of the war were far-reaching, and it is indisputable that teachers bore the brunt of those negative ramifications of the war.

 “So, relating to teachers' wages, the prices shot up, and at the same time, inflation here in Zimbabwe was at its height.

 “Salaries were eroded by inflation, and the government never acted or tried to cushion teachers from these realities. So, our teachers had no option but to wallow in abject poverty.

Financial analyst Explains War's Impact On Food Security

In an interview, Financial Analyst Eben Mabunda acknowledged that the price rise due to the war threatened food security in Zimbabwe.

“The Russo-Ukranian conflict triggered supply chain disruptions globally, whose ripple effects were felt in Zimbabwe.

“The increase in the prices of the 3 Fs: Fuel, Fertilizer and Food ignited inflationary shocks which threatened the productive sectors of Zimbabwe's economy and cast a shadow on Zimbabwe's food security status.

“While Zimbabwe suffered from imported inflation, endogenous macroeconomic challenges which pre-existed the war have weighed on Zimbabwe's inflation to a greater extent,” said Mabunda.

 Furthermore, Mabunda maintains that the consequences of hiked food prices compound food insecurity and increase poverty levels.

 In one of their publications released last year, a socio-economic justice coalition, Zimbabwe Coalition On Debt and Development (Zimcodd) puts forward the claim that food inflation in the country drove skilled labor away.

“Food inflation continues to marginalize vulnerable groups such as the elderly, women, and youth.

“It is a major push factor of poverty and drives away skilled resource persons, negatively affecting human capital,” read the report[1] [2] .

The Russia-Ukraine war has exposed Zimbabwe’s over-dependence on food imports, resulting in cost-push inflation necessitated by production and supply disruptions.

Resultantly, poorly paid teachers are at the receiving end of the economic mishap.

Therefore, the government should review the teacher's salaries and consider paying them in a more stable currency.

Financial Analyst Eben Mabunda
Financial Analyst Eben Mabunda

Pictures below are of students from Chigwedere Primary school in Hwedza. A primary school located in one the rural areas.
Chigwedere Primary school in Hwedza
Chigwedere Primary school in Hwedza
Chigwedere Primary school in Hwedza
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