Africa, Development & Aid, Food and Agriculture, Headlines, Poverty & SDGs

ZIMBABWE: Food Crisis Worsens

Davison Makanga

CAPE TOWN, Oct 16 2008 (IPS) - Zimbabwe's agricultural production has been hit by a long list of difficulties – several rounds of severe drought, a collapsed currency that has made fertiliser and other farm inputs very expensive, ill-considered land redistribution, and brutal pre- and post- election violence by the ruling ZANU-PF that has hurt rural populations most.


"Generally in Zimbabwe people are living from hand to mouth, there is no food in the shops; those who had farmed didn't produce enough for themselves and also for the nation. The general population is starving. There is no food. People can not even get food to buy, so it's a difficult situation people of Zimbabwe find themselves in," said Lovemore Chinoputsa, a civil rights activist.

In the arid south-western provinces of Matebeleland, some desperate villagers are eating inedible wild fruits or unripe mangoes to survive. The aid agency Save The Children in September reported that "many people in the Zambezi Valley, the poorest and driest area, were now surviving on a vile-tasting, fibrous root called makuri."

Wilson Khumbula, leader of a minority opposition party, ZANU-Ndonga, told IPS that poor families in south-eastern parts of the country and rural Masvingo are begging for grain door to door. "People have now resorted to begging and some are marrying off their young daughters to privileged families in exchange of grain. This is how dire the situation has gone."

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) has described the situation as a national crisis and appealed for 140 million dollars to feed 3.75 million people it expects will be in need of food aid by January next year.

"The situation is already critical in many rural areas, particularly in the worst affected southern districts but also in some districts in the east, centre and northwest of the country. A large number of farmers harvested very little this year and have now exhausted their meagre stocks," said WFP spokesperson Richard Lee.

Zimbabwe's food situation was worsened by a three-month ban on relief work imposed by government in June this year. The ban was lifted at the end August, but non-governmental organizations are yet to resume full-scale operations.

Political interference during food distribution continues in some parts of the country. ZANU-PF officials are demanding that only their supporters get food under the government-initiated subsidy programme, the Basic Commodity Supply Side Intervention. Alois Chaumba, chairman of Zimbabwe Peace Project, a civic organisation that promotes tolerance told IPS that rural Manicaland and Midlands provinces are the most affected.

Hope for a better harvest next year is fading; experts have warned that Zimbabwe's food crisis is set to claw into 2009 due to ill preparation.

The government portfolio for agricultural support, the Resource Mobilisation and Utilisation Committee, headed by Dr Mariyawanda Nzuwa is battling to cope with farmers needs. The department is now giving inputs to selected farmers with a 'track record' of good farming skills. However, minister of Information and Publicity Dr Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told IPS that his government is ready for the farming season. He says farmers in the country have been provided inputs under the government-sponsored 'Farm Mechanisation program'.

"The plan from the government is that no one should suffer from hunger in the country. We are restoring Zimbabwe into the breadbasket of the region because of this preparedness. We only hope to God that we have good rains," said Dr Ndlovu.

Renson Gasela, a food security expert and former head of the state parastatal Grain Marketing Board differs with Ndlovu. He says there are no signs of preparation on the ground.

"It's already too late to make any meaningful impact as far as the food situation is concerned because we are only three to four weeks away from rainfall and yet there isn't anything that has been prepared, we read a lot of what is being done but on the ground there is nothing," explained Gasela.

Henrick Olivier, chief executive officer of the Commercial Farmers Union, says the impending season is a 'disaster' before it even starts. He says in addition to continuing eviction of white commercial farmers, inputs are in short supply. He points out that only 40,000 tonnes of fertiliser and 9000 tonnes of maize seed is available.

"This coming season… before it even started, it's been a disaster, there is no inputs, there is no fuel, fertiliser, chemicals or seed available and whatever is available is in short supply. There is no preparations whatsoever. It's not a good season that's lying ahead of us," said Olivier

According to Gasela, Zimbabwe requires an annual total of one million tonnes of grain for human consumption and 400,000 tonnes for industrial use, but with haphazard preparations way behind schedule, a harvest that size might be a distant dream for the country.

Relief aid organizations have reacted swiftly to distribute emergency food in worst affected areas, but the task is overwhelming. Some families are accusing relief aid groups of selective assistance. The aid agencies are targeting only poor families, leaving out those deemed to be privileged and vetting is at the discretion of humanitarian workers.

"There is no food in the country, so these NGOs should help everyone, we are in the same situation as everyone," said a distraught Masvingo villager who was left off the beneficiary list.

However, humanitarian organisations say beneficiaries will be increased once they resume full-scale operations, but for now, as WFP points out, the immediate task is to address the funding shortfall.

"Over the last five years we have had a fantastic response from the international community," said the WFP's Lee. "The donors have been remarkably generous, providing us with hundreds of millions of dollars, but unfortunately we do still need more, and we urgently need those donations so that we can get food to the people who need it in Zimbabwe.

"At the moment we will run out of stocks in January, just as the crisis is reaching its peak, so we really need extra resources now so that we can make sure we get enough food into Zimbabwe and it out to the people who need it most."

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