April 28, 2005

1.2 million tonnes of maize to be imported / Zimbabwe turns to wildlife as food source

Zimbabwe's government will import 1.2 million tonnes of the staple maize grain in the coming months to make up for a shortfall in national output as the country faces food shortages, state media have announced. According to aid agencies, around 4 million people, a third of the population, would need food aid that year after a poor harvest due to drought and a collapse in commercial farming. But analysts say the government would require more than $250 million to import the maize at a time when it faces shortages of foreign exchange. "We have put in place a package where we are going to have over 1.2 million tonnes coming into the country over the next few months," Samuel Muvuti, chief executive of state-run Grain Marketing Board (GMB), told the Herald newspaper.
Before the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said Zimbabwe had virtually run out of maize and urged Mugabe's government to appeal for foreign aid. Renson Gasela, MDC shadow agriculture minister, said the party estimated maize output from the just ended crop season at about 500.000 tonnes against domestic requirements of 1.8 million tonnes. Muvuti denied MDC charges that the country had run out of food, saying grain imports had already started being delivered to areas ravaged by drought. The opposition claims the government had no foreign currency for food imports and that it will be hard to lure back aid agencies after Mugabe stopped donors from distributing food, arguing that the country could feed itself. The United Nations World Food Programme also announced that at least 80.000 tonnes of maize would be needed in six southern African countries including Zimbabwe between April and June after drought reduced output, but that only 27.000 tonnes was available.
In the meantime, government has directed national parks officials to kill animals in state-owned conservation areas to feed hungry rural peasants - a move that could wipe out what remains of Zimbabwe's impalas, kudus, giraffes, elephants and other species. The directive is a major blow to efforts by conservationists to try to rehabilitate the wildlife sector. Because of the general abundance of certain species of wildlife in southern Zimbabwe and the establishment of the trans-frontier park, which allows animals from Mozambique and South Africa's world-famous Kruger National Park to move freely into and out of Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou (home of the elephants) National Park, there have been high hopes among conservationists that Zimbabwe's wildlife sector could be restored to its former diversity.
This now appears highly unlikely as Zimbabwe's department of national parks and wildlife management has been given the green light to work with rural district councils to kill animals.
National Parks officials say many of the peasants living in areas bordering National Parks have already been venturing into these parks to hunt and kill animals using snares. But they said the impact of snare hunting by the villagers was limited compared to what would happen if armed National Parks rangers were allowed to enter conservation areas to kill for meat to feed the hungry peasants. "Killing of animals for any reasons other than conservation can be very disastrous," said one National Parks official. "The politicians think we have enough animals to feed people without wiping out different species. We as professionals don't think so. We are talking to them and we hope we will reach consensus on protecting our wildlife heritage." (Rts / Pretoria News)

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