BULAWAYO - Crisis-hit Zimbabwe faces its worst food shortages yet with this year's harvest expected to meet only 30 to 50 percent of national requirement, according to the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET).
FEWSNET is a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) network for monitoring hunger, food availability and shortages across the globe.
In its latest food outlook report on Zimbabwe covering the period from March to July 2007, the network said widespread crop failure caused by poor rainfall and a long running economic crisis had combined to drastically slash food production in the southern African country.
"Moderate and severe levels of food insecurity will occur in many households throughout the country, but especially in the south, and emergency assistance will be required from about July for an unspecified number of beneficiaries countrywide," the report reads in part.
FEWSNET said about 1.5 million people out of the 12 million Zimbabweans were in need of urgent food aid and said the number of hungry people would rise in the coming months and peak around early 2008 when the network said food shortages would worsen to levels not seen in recent years.
Relief agencies led by the Zimbabwe Red Cross reported at the beginning of the year that they were feeding 1.3 million Zimbabweans.
President Robert Mugabe's government has already declared 2007 a drought year but the cash-strapped Harare-administration has not made a formal appeal to the United Nations for the world body to institute an international appeal for food for Zimbabwe.
However, neighbouring Malawi last week announced it had agreed a deal to sell 400 000 tonnes of maize to Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe, which also had one of the most vibrant economies in Africa, was a regional breadbasket but has had to survive largely on handouts from international food agencies since Mugabe began seizing commercial farms from whites for redistribution to landless blacks.
Failure by the government to provide resources and skills training for black villagers resettled on white farms saw agricultural production plummeting by about 30 percent, causing food shortages and also crippling Zimbabwe's manufacturing sector that largely depended on the farming sector for inputs.
FEWSNET said: "Deteriorating macro economic conditions have further exacerbated food insecurity as households are unable to access adequate amounts of food.
"The situation is not expected to improve much in the drier south of the country as this year's harvests have mostly failed due to the poor rains. The most affected provinces include Masvingo, Midlands and North and South Matabeleland."
Zimbabwe requires about two million tonnes of maize for annual consumption but estimates show that this year's harvest will total a mere 400 000 tonnes maize, the country's main staple food.
Apart from food shortages, Zimbabweans also have to contend with inflation of 2 200 percent and the highest in the world, unemployment above 80 percent and shortages of essential medicines, electricity, fuel and hard cash.