March 12, 2006

Lack of food in drought-hit Matabeleland / Wheat stocks dwindling

A drought has devastated Matabeleland South Province, where more than 500.000 people who have not received food supplies since November 2005 are in urgent need of relief aid. "Most people have no access to food because there are virtually no maize supplies from the Grain Marketing Board," said one senior government official who declined to be named. According to him, although provincial leaders had earlier recommended that the province be declared a national disaster, there had been no response from central government.
According to top officials of several non-governmental organisations, the food crisis has worsened during the past two months due to serious shortages of maize-meal. "There is definitely a humanitarian crisis in this region with most people failing to source maize. I believe that the government should be serious about this issue because people are really suffering in most parts of Beitbridge and Gwanda South," said one of the officials.

Village head Durban Pida of Tibeli Village, in Nkalange communal lands, said most villagers were struggling to afford a decent meal a day with most of them surviving on caterpillars and pounded roots of an indigenous tree commonly referred to as mtopi. The situation is the same in Mbuzimbili and Zwabagwamba communal areas in Gwanda South, where village heads have been holding on to more than Zim $48 million for the purchase of maize from the GMB.
Boniface Dube, the village head of Mbuzimbili Village in the Selonga communal lands, said, "We are in serious trouble here because people are starving. They have nowhere to go to source maize-meal. The shops are empty and the GMB does not have maize. Right now, I have over Zim $24 million that was paid by villagers so that we can source maize from the Gwanda GMB depot," Dube said. He indicated that the money was raised during the past three months but efforts to get maize have been in vain.

In the meantime, the consequences of dwindling wheat stocks are being felt over the country as well. "The biggest problem is that the maize-meal price has gone up because the current crop is not yet ready for harvest - it's probably in peak demand right now - and the price has shot up to Zim $500,000 [about US $5] per 20 kg of milled maize," an expert noted. The official Herald newspaper reported that a 10 kg bag of maize meal was selling for up to Zim $600,000 (about $6) on the parallel market. As a result, the staple was priced beyond the reach of a large proportion of the population. "If there's no maize meal around, or people cannot afford it, they will consume bread - it is an important part of the local diet - but, again because of the shortages of wheat, the price has gone up to Zim $70,000 [$0.70 cents] for a loaf. It used to be around Zim $35,000 [$0.35 cents]," the expert explained.
Although bread was available in shops, it too had become relatively unaffordable to the millions of Zimbabweans struggling to make ends meet as the country's economic meltdown continues. "We are struggling; we missed an opportunity this [planting] season to become self-sufficient. We could have produced well in excess of our [consumption] requirements had there been the inputs available for farmers to plant, as we had a very good season in terms of rain," he commented. (The Standard, Zimbabwe / Rts)

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