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DEVELOPMENT-ZIMBABWE: Food a Political Tool?

Davison Makanga

HARARE, Jun 25 2007 (IPS) - Zimbabwe’s escalating food crisis comes amid resurgent accusations that food aid is being abused as a political tool.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have said that more than 2,1 million Zimbabweans in both rural and urban areas will be in dire need of food aid in the third quarter of this year.

The figure is set to escalate to 4,1 million by early 2008, more than a third of Zimbabwe’s population. The organisations estimate a 44 percent decline in tonnage from last year’s harvest to this year.

Zimbabwe has suffered poor harvests since the government started its chaotic land reform programme in 2000. Over a number of years the ministry of agriculture’s predictions of a ‘‘bumper harvest’’ have come to nought.

‘‘Zimbabwe’s looming food crisis is the result of another poor harvest, exacerbated by the country’s unprecedented economic decline, extremely high unemployment, and the impact of HIV/AIDS,’’ said Amir Abdulla, WFP’s regional director for Southern Africa.

‘‘This year’s crisis is partly caused by the drought but we cannot deny the fact that the economic crisis and poor planning are the major causes,’’ emphasised Vincent Gwaradzimba, secretary for agriculture in the opposition political party the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Furthermore, at the height of the 2006/7 cropping season, the government bungled by purchasing sub-standard fertiliser from South Africa. The fertiliser boob did not only cost the treasury but also impacted on the harvest.

The FAO/WFP report says perennial drought regions such as Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North, Midlands, Manicaland and Masvingo have reached the red light stage with many families having harvested nothing. They could run out of food as early as next month.

‘‘It is not even true to say that we will only start starving by July. The facts on the ground show that there is no food in the granaries. Pupils are staying away from school because of this,’’ a primary school teacher in Masvingo province told IPS.

‘‘We only received maize two weeks ago when Zanu PF was campaigning for a parliamentary by-election,’’ the teacher added on condition of remaining anonymous.

Moreover, some senior government officials are reportedly threatening relief agencies. Manicaland province governor Tineyi Chigudu was quoted lashing out at the WFP’s implementing partners for working ‘‘in cahoots’’ with the MDC.

In Matebeleland South, ruling ZANU PF member of parliament Abednigo Ncube threatened to close World Vision Zimbabwe. Ironically, these are provinces hardest hit by food shortages.

The accusations have led National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO) to again refute ZANU PF members’ allegations that it is pursuing the MDC’s agenda.

‘‘To the best of our knowledge, there are no non-governmental organisations that seek to buttress opposition politics. NGOs are there to implement government plans to develop communities,’’ said Fambai Ngirande, NANGO spokesperson.

President Robert Mugabe announced that the government will institute a mechanisation programme aimed at providing agricultural equipment to promising new farmers, regardless of political affiliation.

‘‘It is a national event… the realisation is important that there must be occasions when we must be together. After all, we eat together,’’ Mugabe was quoted as saying in the state media.

Experts from the FAO and WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission (CFSAM) have cautioned that the urban areas are equally affected by the food crisis. They estimate that around one million people in urban areas will face food shortages over the coming months and could need food assistance.

The government of Zimbabwe has entered into a contract to receive 400,000 tons of maize from Malawi and is expected to import a further 239,000 tons of wheat and rice.

Another estimated 61,000 tonnes of maize could be brought into the country through informal cross-border trade and remittances in kind, especially from South Africa. This leaves a gap of 352,000 tons of cereals to be met by food aid.

Meanwhile, the climate change office in the ministry of environment and tourism has pointed to global warming as being the cause of erratic climate trends in Zimbabwe. Washington Zhakata, the coordinator of the office, said a number of factors linked to global warming are affecting the country.

‘‘We have realised that of late there is less rainfall and more drought, so we are going to be affected by this trend,’’ said Zhakata.

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