June 20, 2003

5.5 million people will need food aid, says UN report

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 United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (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 utilize all the land due to lack of capital have cut cereal production by 51 per cent compared to 2001. The large-scale commercial sector now produces only about one-tenth of its output in the 1990s.

The Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) has forecast this year's winter crop production at around 25% of average annual planting because of continued vandalism and looting of equipment on farms. Commercial farmers used to put between 65 000 and 80 000 hectares of land under winter crop, producing up to 280 000 tonnes of wheat. "Existing irrigation schemes for winter cereals were 65 000 hectares but these have been looted and damaged and we estimate that only 15 000 hectares are still operational," the CFU said. "As poverty and unemployment increase, theft of assets increases, making it difficult for farmers to continue their operations," the CFU said.

Cereal import requirement for 2003-2004 is estimated at 1.287 million tons, of which maize accounts 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 mission estimates that 4.4 million people in rural areas and 1.1 million in urban areas will require food assistance.

In the meantime, Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was on Friday, June 20, awarded bail and freed after two weeks in custody. Tsvangirai was arrested on 6 June on a second round of treason charges, this time related to the party's anti-government week-long stayaway at the beginning of the month. (United Nations, New York / Zimbabwe Independent, Harare)

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