Harsh hunger season ahead — WFP

HARARE - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is scaling up aid operations in Zimbabwe to feed 1,6 million people who have lost crops and livestock to a severe drought.

Poor rainfall and failure by new farmers to access farming inputs such as seed and fertiliser have combined to cause one of the worst agriculture seasons, which has forced government to slash its projected economic growth from 9,4 percent of GDP to four percent.

This year’s 1 million tonne cereal harvest was a third of the previous season, the lowest grain harvest in the three years since the formation of the inclusive government in 2009.

Some 1,6 million vulnerable people — one in five of the rural population — are facing food shortages in Zimbabwe in an unfolding catastrophe that has also hit Malawi and Lesotho.

The food crisis in Zimbabwe is expected to grow dramatically in the months into the lean season running from December to March and young children are under threat from malnutrition.

“Large numbers of smallholder farmers and their families are in the grip of what is set to be one of the harshest hunger seasons of recent years,” says Brenda Barton, WFP deputy regional director for southern Africa.

“With the help of governments, donors and regional organisations, we are mobilising resources to help the most vulnerable, not only with food distributions but also with innovative solutions like cash transfers through mobile phones so people can buy their own food.”

Erratic rainfall during the last planting season means harvests in many areas have been insufficient to sustain the nutritional needs of farming communities this year and, even where food is available in local markets, it is often too expensive for the poorest households, WFP said.

The UN agency did not state the cost of the expanded operation but at the moment it is barely funded adequately.

While most of the rural folk are being assisted through food distributions, some 300 000 people are receiving cash to enable them buy their own cereals from local markets.

WFP said the Zimbabwe government was finalising a sizeable donation of maize from the strategic grain reserve to be used for a joint humanitarian response.

The remaining cereals being distributed by WFP have been procured in the region.

While some food can be bought from neighbouring countries, it takes two or three months to deliver food procured further afield amid reports government could be importing food from as far as Brazil under the “Food for Africa” initiative.

The UN agency was frantically looking for urgent and immediate cash contributions from donors, warning the coming months will be “critical”.

The WFP’s appeal follows early warnings that southern Zimbabwe, southern Malawi and the southern highlands of Lesotho face particularly severe food shortages. - Gift Phiri, Politics Editor

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