Because of crop failures in southern provinces and escalating poverty in both rural and urban areas, around 2.1 million people will face serious food shortages as early as the third quarter of 2007. The number of people at risk will peak at 4.1 million in the first three months of 2008 - more than a third of Zimbabwe's estimated population of 11.8 million.
An estimated 352 000 tonnes of cereals and 90 000 tonnes of other food assistance will be required to meet their basic food needs, according to the Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission (CFSAM) report, based on a joint mission to Zimbabwe by the two UN agencies from 25 April - 18 May.
"While drought devastated crops in many areas, Zimbabwe's overall production was also hampered by insufficient fertilizer, fuel and tractors, and by the country's crumbling irrigation system," said Henri Josserand, Chief of FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System.
"Most importantly, uneconomic prices set by the government have discouraged many farmers from producing surplus cereals for sale."
These factors resulted in a 6 percent decrease in the amount of land planted with cereals compared with last year, and a substantial reduction in the average yield per hectare. Overall, the mission estimates that the April/May 2007 harvest in Zimbabwe is just 925 000 tonnes of cereals, including 799 000 tonnes of maize and 126 000 tonnes of sorghum and millet - a 44 percent decline from last year's official estimated output.
The worst-affected provinces are Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North, and Midlands, where many families harvested nothing and could run out of food as early as July. Cereal harvest in Manicaland and Masvingo was also about half last year's.
"Zimbabwe's looming food crisis is the result of another poor harvest, exacerbated by the country's unprecedented economic decline, extremely high unemployment, and the impact of HIV/AIDS," said Amir Abdulla, WFP's Regional Director for Southern Africa.
"Hyperinflation, currently over 3 700 percent per annum, and the ever plummeting Zimbabwe dollar have drastically reduced people's purchasing power, greatly limiting access to available food supplies for low and middle income people, particularly in urban areas," added Kisan Gunjal, Joint CFSAM Mission Leader.
The report estimates that around 1 million people in urban areas will face food shortages over the coming months and could need food assistance; however, additional assessments are required to refine these figures.
Taking into consideration the forthcoming October wheat crop and current stocks, the report estimated that domestic cereal availability is around 1.29 million tonnes against a total national utilization of 2.34 million tonnes - leaving over a million tonnes to be imported.
The government has already contracted for 400 000 tonnes of maize from Malawiand is expected to import a further 239 000 tonnes of wheat and rice, despite the scarcity of foreign reserves. In addition, it is estimated that 61 000 tonnes of maize could be brought into the country through informal cross-border trade and in-kind remittances, especially from South Africa- leaving a gap of 352 000 tonnes of cereals to be met by food aid.
Along with its call for substantial food assistance, the report makes recommendations to improve next year's harvest and national food supply. These would include an adequate and timely supply to farmers of good quality seeds and fertilizer ahead of the next cropping season. It also urges the government and the international community to work jointly on improving food security by investing in farm mechanization and infrastructure, including tractors and rehabilitated irrigation systems.
Finally, the report supports the government's newly stated goal of moving to a market based economy. Specific measures could include a reassessment of producer price controls, allowing farmer-to-farmer grain sales, lifting the ban on private sector imports, and removing restrictions on cross-border trade.
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