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UN warns over Zimbabwe

13 September 2013


Appellant: Nolbert Kunonga (left) leaves the Cathedral of St Mary and All Saints, in central Harare, on Wednesday of last week

Appellant: Nolbert Kunonga (left) leaves the Cathedral of St Mary and All Saints, in central Harare, on Wednesday of last week

HUNGER is "looming" over Zimbabwe, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) warned last week. One in four of the rural population is expected to need help next year.

A study led by the Government, with support from the UN, predicts that 2.2 million people will require food assistance early next year - the highest level since early 2009.

"Many districts, particularly in the south, harvested very little, and people are already trying to stretch out their dwindling food-stocks," the country director of the WFP, Sory Ouane, said on Tuesday of last week.

From next month, the WFP and its partners will provide cereals, procured from the region, as well as imported vegetable oil and pulses. Cash transfers will be used in some areas, helping to prop up local markets. The support will be given until March next year, when the harvest will begin.

The WFP attributes the incipient crisis to various factors, including adverse weather, the unavailability and high cost of seeds and fertilisers, and projected high cereal prices due to a poor harvest of maize.

On Friday of last week, the country programme manager for Christian Aid Zimbabwe, Miriam Machaya, said that the situation was "dire, especially in the arid and marginalised Matabeleland provinces where Christian Aid and our local partner organisations work".

Besides poor rains and drought, she highlighted "widespread poverty, constraining even basic farming investment; the late or total unavailability of government-funded seeds and fertilisers; damaging farming methods; and pest outbreaks".

She also suggested that the situation had been compounded by the country's "souring international-donor relations", owing to the recent election outcome and President Mugabe's policies.

Although the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission pronounced President Mugabe the victor in last month's national elections, concerns were raised about the conduct of the vote (News, 9 August), and the cabinet was not announced until Tuesday.

Ms Machaya was "fairly confident" that the situation would improve, through local and international organisations' supporting farmers in improving their production, and providing women with access to tools.

On Monday, she said that President Mugabe's policy of land reform had "definitely" had an impact. The country, which once enjoyed a surplus of food, was now importing food.

The results of land reform in the country, under which 6000 white farmers have been replaced by 245,000 black farmers, remain highly contested. A visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, Joseph Hanlon, told The Guardian on Wednesday of last week: "All the evidence . . . is that it takes two decades for new farmers to reach maximum production, so we cannot expect the 2000 land-reform farmers to be there yet. So, in a bad rainfall year, Zimbabwe will be importing maize - it always has. No surprise there."


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