Zimbabwe facing food crisis, UN warns
Estimated 2.2 million people in rural areas will need assistance next year
The UN’S warning that Zimbabwe is facing a “looming food crisis” was seen as a blow to analysts who have argued that Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe’s widely condemned land reform programme was starting to pay dividends. Photograph: Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo
Zimbabwe is facing a “looming food crisis” with one in four people in rural areas at risk of hunger early next year, the highest number in half a decade, the UN has warned.
The gloomy prediction was seen as a blow to analysts who have argued that Robert Mugabe’s widely condemned land reform programme is starting to pay dividends.
It also illustrated the stiff economic challenge facing the 89-year-old president following his hotly disputed victory in recent elections. Memories of hyperinflation and starvation five years ago are still fresh.
The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said an estimated 2.2 million people – a quarter of the rural population – are expected to need food assistance during the pre-harvest period in early 2014. This is the highest since early 2009 when more than half the population required food support.
Dwindling food stocks
The extent of predicted hunger was revealed in the government’s own rural livelihoods report compiled with the support of the UN and other partners.
“Many districts, particularly in the south, harvested very little and people are already trying to stretch out their dwindling food stocks,” said Sory Ouane, country director of the WFP.
“WFP is working closely with the government and partners to respond to the looming food crisis and will start food and cash distributions to the most vulnerable in October.”
The WFP and partners will provide regionally procured cereals as well as imported vegetable oil and pulses, it said. Cash transfers will be used in selected areas to support local markets and distributions will be gradually increased from October until harvest time next March.
The WFP blamed the shortages on various factors including “adverse weather conditions, the unavailability and high cost of agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilisers and projected high cereal prices due to the poor maize harvest”.
Grain prices are 15 per cent higher than this time last year, its research found.
It did not cite Mr Mugabe’s chaotic and often violent programme of farm seizures which began in 2000, justified by him as a necessary step to right colonialist wrongs following “betrayal” by former British prime minister Tony Blair’s government, but blamed by critics for halving agricultural output and ruining the economy.
A 2010 study by Prof Ian Scoones of Sussex University, England, contended that though 6,000 white farmers had been replaced by 245,000 black farmers, agricultural production was returning to its 1990s level.
Critics have argued that Mugabe supporters remain the main beneficiaries while thousands of farm workers lost their jobs.
Vince Musewe, an economist based in Harare, said: “The fundamental problem is that most of the smallholder farmers have changed to farming tobacco. It doesn’t require inputs and it’s the easiest route. We need to get back to producing food. What was the purpose of land reform? It’s to feed ourselves.” – (Guardian service)