Food insecurities of Zimbabwean migrants in South Africa

Our latest AFSUN policy paper, by Jonathan Crush and Godfrey Tawodzera, examines the food security status of Zimbabwean migrant households in the poorer areas of two major South African cities, Johannesburg and Cape Town.

The vast majority were food insecure in terms of the amount of food to which they had access and the quality and diversity of their diet. What seems clear is that Zimbabwean migrants are significantly more food insecure than other low-income households in the areas of the South African cities in which they congregate. At the same time, they are significantly less food insecure than households that have remained in Zimbabwe. The primary reason for the higher levels of food insecurity appears to lie in a set of pressures that include remittances of cash and goods back to family in Zimbabwe.

The small literature on the impact of migrant remittances on food security tends to look only at the recipients and how their situation is improved. It does not look at the impact of remitting on those who send remittances. Most Zimbabwean migrants in South Africa feel a strong obligation to remit but, in order to do so, must make choices because of their limited and unpredictable income. Food, though a necessity, is one of the first things to be sacrificed. Quantities decline, fewer meals are eaten, cheaper foods are preferred, and dietary quality and diversity inevitably suffer.

While this study found that migrants were generally dissatisfied with the shrinking job market in South Africa, most argued that the economic situation in Zimbabwe had not stabilized sufficiently to warrant return and that a return would worsen their household’s food security situation. In other words, while food insecurity in Zimbabwe is a major driver of migration to South Africa, food insecurity in South Africa is unlikely to encourage many to return.

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