Zimbabwe

UN agency to halve Zimbabwe food aid

By Cris Chinaka

ZAMBEZI VALLEY, Zimbabwe, April 17 (Reuters) - The United Nations World Food Programme will halve its aid to Zimbabwe in May and June because some recipients have grown enough crops to feed themselves for a time, a spokesman said on Thursday.

Nearly half of the southern African country's 14 million people have survived on food aid in the past year amid severe shortages caused by drought and a chaotic programme of farm seizures by President Robert Mugabe's government.

The WFP has been feeding an average 4.6 million people a month in one of its largest humanitarian programmes in a region where over 14 million people have been facing starvation.

Production used to far exceed consumption, but average farming output fell by about 75 percent last year.

WFP Harare spokesman Luis Clemens told reporters in the poor northeastern Dande district in the Zambezi Valley that the cut did not mean Zimbabwe's food crisis was over, just that assistance would only go to those in real need.

"We are not pulling out,'' he said, explaining food provision would roughly halve to 30,000 tonnes a month in May and June.

"We are going to carry out a thorough assessment of what the food aid needs are going to be, but for now we believe that up to half of those who have been benefiting from the WFP can survive on their own for two or so months,'' Clemens added.

France's ambassador to Zimbabwe Didier Ferrand, accompanying a WFP team to the dry Dande district, said it was clear Zimbabwe would still need international aid.

"From here, you can see that some parts of the country still need help,'' he said as he surveyed hundreds of villagers who had walked miles to a distribution point to collect bags of the staple maize meal. Others had come in ox-drawn carts.

Mugabe's government has not yet released official 2002/03 harvest forecasts, but some officials say current estimates vary between 500,000 tonnes and 1.3 million tonnes of maize.

Aid agencies say the delay in estimating the crop could affect badly needed food inflows later in the year.

Zimbabwe's government-owned Herald newspaper said a 1.3 million tonne maize harvest would meet two-thirds of the country's consumption needs.

Farming officials say only between 600 and 800 out of 4,500 white commercial farmers are actively farming.

Mugabe says the land seizures are meant to correct colonial imbalances that left 70 percent of the country's best farmland in the hands of the minority white population.

(Reporting by Cris Chinaka, editing by Janet McBride; Reuters messaging: cris.chinaka.reuters.com+reuters.net; Harare newsroom +2634 799 112-5; cris.chinaka+reuters.com)

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