- Some 5.5 million people in Zimbabwe will require emergency food aid this year and next as prolonged severe shortages of maize - the staple diet - has left many unable to cope, according to a special report by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
- Coping mechanisms are seriously stressed or largely exhausted after the severe shortages of last year, states the report released today based on findings of a joint WFP/FAO mission to Zimbabwe from 21 April to 10 May.
Although national cereal production is considerably up from last year, a combination of erratic rainfall, limited access to seed and farmers newly settled through a land reform programme failing to utilise all the land due to lack of capital have cut cereal production by 51 percent compared to 2001.
Food production in Zimbabwe has fallen by more than 50 percent, measured against a five-year average, due mostly to the current social, economic and political situation and the effects of drought, FAO says.
The situation had been compounded by the marked reduction of the large-scale farm sector, which now produces only about one-tenth of its output in the 1990s. As a result, about half of the Southern Africa regional food deficit of some 2.65 million tonnes was in Zimbabwe.
- The shortfall means that Zimbabwe will need to import almost 1.3 million tonnes of food, either commercially or through food aid, to meet the minimum food needs of its people, says the report. Maize imports alone will account for 980,000 tons.
In the continued absence of private sector imports due to an acute shortage of foreign exchange in Zimbabwe, this would leave a deficit of 610,000 tons of maize to be met by emergency food aid, of which 120,000 tons are in the pipeline, the report says.
The government-controlled price of maize meal was raised almost four-fold in late May, greatly limiting access to available supplies for the most vulnerable people. The WFP/FAO mission estimates that 4.4 million people in rural areas and 1.1 million in urban areas will require food assistance.
According to the latest WFP "Emergency Report", released yesterday, several regions in Zimbabwe are already facing hunger, despite the ongoing harvest. Food insecurity continued in parts of Midlands Province, in Kwekwe and in Matabeleland.
- District authorities in Kwekwe report they receive an average of ten people at their office each day begging for food, the WFP report noted. In drought-struck Matabeleland, the food security situation remained precarious and villagers in Hwange District reportedly were eating tende, a wild plant known to cause joint problems. Also in the provinces of Mashonaland West and Manicaland, "malnutrition is rising."
Zimbabwe's Grain Marketing Board (GMB) depots were reported to have scant supplies, "often delivering about 30 tons of food every other two or three months for one ward with thousands of people."
For those with cash, food availability also remained problematic, the WFP report noted, "as almost nothing is available through formal retail channels. People are relying on the parallel market where prices are up to three times higher."
From 1 to 17 June, WFP and implementing partners had distributed 4,876 tons of food to 387,942 people in Zimbabwe. Beneficiaries included 4,760 malnourished children below the age of five receiving food rations at clinics in Harare and Bulawayo cities.
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