19 July 2001

ZIMBABWE: Donors may helpavert food crisis

As the Zimbabwe government slowly begins to face the reality that in six months time the country could run out of food, UNDP told IRIN that donors might support a UN-administered food aid initiative. "A food aid project in which UNDP is the sole distributor in Zimbabwe could be the sort of solution that international donors would consider," Mkuleko Hikwa of UNDP in Harare said.

A recent WFP/FAO report on Zimbabwe estimated that the country would need to import 579,000 mts of grain to avoid a major food crisis in coming months. The report highlighted the fact that due to the substantial decline in gold production and the tobacco harvest, and the lack of foreign currency earnings, the government's ability to import maize is extremely limited.

Experts said that shortages would begin to be felt in the first half of 2002. A government admission two weeks ago that it may have to ask for food aid was rapidly followed by an announcement that an inter-ministerial food security task force would be established to address the looming crisis.

But UNDP said that no special request for food aid had been received from President Robert Mugabe's government or from any other organisation. "We're still talking to the government and we're facilitating negotiations between them and donor countries and organisations," Hikwa told IRIN.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) last week called for food aid to be adminstered by NGOs and not by the government, who could use it politically in the run-up to next year's presidential elections. "We know ZANU-PF has been using food relief for political purposes," said MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai at a press conference. "If you want food relief you buy a ZANU-PF card."

But some analysts told IRIN that keeping the government out of administering and distributing food aid nationwide would be impossible. "There's no reason to suppose the government will not play the food card in next year's election, but whether that would be decisive remains to be seen," one economist said.

The WFP/FAO report suggests that bilateral food aid may be the answer to Zimbabwe's woes - to help ensure an adequate grain supply at affordable prices in deficit areas, both rural and urban. (IRIN)

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