Zimbabwe's economy is surprisingly larger than previously estimated, according to data compiled with the help of the Strategic Economic Research and Analysis Program (SERA), a USAID-funded project managed by Nathan Associates. And government policy toward one critical sector for national wealth, mining, could be revised at least in part because of work through a Nathan subcontractor, IBI International.
According to data produced in September 2013 by ZIMSTAT, the national statistics agency, Zimbabwe's gross domestic product was US$9.4 billion in 2010, up 27 percent from the previous official estimate years earlier. GDP was provisionally estimated at $12.4 billion in 2012. The 2012 figure mean per capita income was probably $953, compared with the International Monetary Fund's estimate of $756.
"What 'everyone knows' about the GDP is wrong,'' said Bruce Bolnick, who led SERA until his retirement in October. Bolnick presented observations on the Zimbabwean economy during an informal presentation at Nathan's home office in Arlington, Virginia.
Many observers in Zimbabwe concluded that the numbers were manipulated for political reasons after Robert Mugabe was re-elected president and his ZANU-PF party won a majority in parliament in July. Instead, the higher figures reflect far better data collection in the 2011/2012 Poverty, Income, and Consumption Expenditure Survey. SERA supported the yearlong survey of more than 32,000 households. The last such survey was conducted in 2003.
SERA has also reviewed mining policy. The reviewers, led by the South African expert Paul Jourdan, concluded in 2012 that the economy would benefit from auctioning mining rights and from development of related industries. The latest of many signs that SERA-supported research is having an impact was that the new Minister of Mines invited Jourdan to a mining conference in September. As Bolnick said, this shows that solid economics research ''can change the dialogue.''
SERA began in October 2011 under the Government of National Unity, a coalition that governed from 2009 through July 2013. Its purpose is to help further the recovery that began in 2009 after a decade-long crisis in which hyperinflation ravaged the economy. In 2014, SERA will support ZIMSTAT as it refines GDP estimates and will provide direct support to the Ministry of Finance and other partner organizations. SERA will end in September 2015.
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