The cash strapped Zimbabwe government has admitted that it faces a daunting task of feeding half a million citizens ahead of the traditional May harvest after 500 000 hectares of planted maize was written off countrywide.
Erratic rain — too much in some areas and too little in others — has damaged maize fields, the main staple food across the southern African nation. Agriculture and Mechanisation Minister Joseph Made from President Mugabe’s Zanu PF told parliament that hundreds of thousands of people face starvation and urgent interventions were required to avert starvation.
But Made’s admission could be late as already millions of people in the south-western parts of the country are battling for survival due to food shortages. “According to the final crop assessment by the government, this past farming season 160 0000 hectares of the maize crop was planted, but, because of lack of rain, 50 0000 hectares is a write-off,” he said.
“The planted crops suffered moisture stress because of the prolonged dry spell. We face hunger as a result and urgent measures are needed to avert deaths due to starvation. The rains really let us down.”
The failure of the 500 000 hectare of maize crop leaves Zimbabwe with only 1100 000 hectares of the planted crop, which would result in a serious shortfall as the national requirement for maize is two million tones. As a result, Zimbabwe needs to import maize.
The crisis is aggravated by reports that 55 000 tonnes of maize worth about $6 million was damaged due to poor storage at 44 Grain Marketing Board depots and silos. Commercial Farmers Union president Charles Taffs said the nation should brace itself for a big disaster this year.
“About 247 000 hectares had been planted by 31 December and using an average yield of 1,4 tonnes per hectare, we can expect to harvest about 346 000 tonnes,” Taffs said. “We consume two million tonnes, so how are we going to address the shortfall?”
He said the humanitarian situation was aggravated by the fact that South Africa was also importing maize and wheat, while Malawi was experiencing economic problems, which had affected its agriculture resulting in the country suspending exports. Zambia was expecting a reduced harvest and has stopped grain exports to build its reserves.
The latest crisis has been exacerbated by warring political parties who rarely speak of the crisis as their primary focus is on elections. In February, a regional governor from Mugabe’s party, unilaterally banned 50 non-government organisations from distributing food in drought affected Masvingo saying they were regime change agents.
Humanitarian groups saved most Zimbabweans from dying from starvation during a decade of the economic meltdown and hyperinflation prior to 2009. Critics of longtime ruler Mugabe still blame the often violent seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms since 2000 for the economic crisis that disrupted the agriculture-based economy.
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Country profile: ZIMBABWE
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