ZIMBABWE: Food security forecast to worsen

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A combination of post election turmoil and arid weather conditions are presenting a bleak scenario for food security in Zimbabwe.

The UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) said in a statement on 10 April that "extreme dry weather in several provinces of Zimbabwe is likely to cause serious damage to the main 2008 maize harvest. This could aggravate an already precarious food security situation in the country."

The new year ushered in widespread flooding in low lying areas, FAO said, and this gave way "to prolonged dry spells since February. This will affect maize growth and yields to be harvested in May/June."

Zimbabwe's stagnating economy suffers the world's highest inflation rate of more than 100,000 percent and this had resulted in farmers being unable to source key inputs, such as fertilizer, seed and fuel.
"The food security situation in Zimbabwe is critical," FAO said. "Of the estimated 1.03 million tonnes of cereal import requirement for 2007/08, some 839,000mt, or about 81 percent of the total, have reportedly been imported so far."

"With dwindling foreign exchange reserves and shrinking purchasing power, another year of low cereal production would severely affect the food security condition for a significant part of the population unless substantial assistance is provided," the UN agency said.

About one third of Zimbabwe's about 12 million population is currently receiving emergency food aid.

Farm invasions

In the aftermath of the March 29 presidential and parliamentary poll, in which President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party lost control of parliament for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980, veterans of Zimbabwe's liberation war have reportedly begun evictions of the country's last remaining white farmers.

The opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has also claimed victory for their leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the presidential poll. The official results have yet to be released.

South Africa's Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad reportedly said on 10 April, following a meeting last week by South African diplomats with the Zimbabwean Commercial Farmers' Union president Trevor Gifford, that "The problem here...is that most of the farmers are about to harvest their crops and as a result Zimbabwe is at risk of losing food worth millions of dollars."

The South African government had sent a diplomatic note to the Zimbabwean Ministry of Foreign Affairs after war veterans had allegedly forced two South Africans nationals from their land. "[The note was] to plead for the protection of our farmers in Zimbabwe," Pahad said.

Gifford reportedly told international media that veterans loyal to Mugabe had evicted about 60 farmers since the results of the parliamentary elections, including a black commercial farmer for his alleged support of the MDC, from their farms.

In 2000, war veterans loyal to ZANU-PF, were at the forefront of Zimbabwe's fast track land reform programme that saw white commercial farmland redistributed to landless blacks.

Eight years ago there were about 4,500 white owned farms in Zimbabwe, currently there are about 300 white commercial farmers remaining on their farms.