May 23, 2002

Food shortage expected to worsen

Families in southern and western Zambia are expecting the worst in coming months, if the current drought conditions continue, according to a report by CARE International. The survey noted that eight out of 10 farmers reported maize crop failure in the range of 76-100 percent of anticipated yields. Given the lack of fully-grown crops, many households have begun eating green maize but more distressing is that five people have already died from eating wild roots.

CARE sector coordinator for agriculture, John Siame, told IRIN: "People who are starving will eat whatever they can get their hands on. Wild roots should be cooked for hours before consumed, many people do not realise this." Over 80 percent of households in a survey of six districts in southern and western Zambia said their maize supplies will run out by June.

"The rainfall was very poor this season. We had less than half of what we had last year. It rained for a few days and the rain was unevenly distributed. Farmers were expecting to harvest in March, but there was nothing to harvest," he added.

Siame added that conditions for some families had deteriorated rapidly, forcing them to reduce the number of daily meals.

"Almost 25 percent of families surveyed only eat once a day while close to 60 percent have had to manage on two meals," he said.

The report said those who still enjoyed three meals a day would be reduced to a meal a day by September.

The current crisis was worsened by the late delivery of government assistance, Siame said. He said that government subsidised fertiliser had not arrived in time for the sowing period which meant that many farmers had to wait to begin planting their seeds. (IRIN)

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