JOHANNESBURG, 28 February (IRIN) - An
assessment to determine the number of farmworkers and resettled farmers
in Zimbabwe in need of food aid is currently underway following reports
that this sector may have to be added to the list of at least 7.2 million
people who already need food aid in the country.
"We have concentrated on people in the communal areas but we recognise that there are [food] needs in some of the communal farming areas," World Food Programme (WFP) Zimbabwe country representative Kevin Farrell told IRIN on Friday.
He said he had been informed that "some" farmworkers and resettled farmers in Mashonaland, Matabeleland and Masvingo faced uncertainty about their food security but the numbers of people affected and the extent of their needs was currently being assessed.
"We are conducting surveys to get a handle on the numbers involved and hope to have reliable information soon," Farrell said.
"The issues farmers face now are a result of the past growing season where the country had an unmistakeable drought which affected production in the 2002 season," he explained. "This is the hungry season," he said referring to the period that farmers' stocks from last year were finished while new crops are not yet ready to eat.
He said that in addition, farmers resettled on vacated land, had battled with seed and fertiliser and did not have heavy equipment for ploughing. Some did not even have draught power.
A recent Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) report said that the number of commercial farmworkers affected by the fast-track resettlement programme had increased from about 488,000 in August to about 1 million in December 2002.
This was due to the government's fast track resettlement programme which, the report said, left between 600 and 1,000 commercial farms operational. This was a sharp decrease from about 3,000 farms last year and about 4,400 when the land reform programme started in 2000.
Compounding difficulties associated with the land reform programme has been a drought in many parts of the country and an economic crisis which has increased inflation and made food purchases difficult for families with cash.
Earlier this week FEWS NET urged NGOs, donors and the government, to prepare to extend the current Emergency Operation, which ends in March, for another year, due to worrying indications that the next harvest will not meet the country's food needs.
Current maize imports were coming in at less than half the national demand of about 150,000 mt per month and, combined with poor harvest prospects and anticipated low stock levels, initial estimates suggest that Zimbabwe will need to import between 930,000 mt and 1.3 million mt of maize for 2003/4.
Meanwhile, Farrell and Sir Brian Donnelly, the British High Commissioner, signed an agreement this week for Britain to donate US $8.5 million to WFP.
The money willl contribute to WFP feeing programmes in Zimbabwe until the middle of this year, when a new appeal is expected for the country.
In exchanging the documents with the British High Commissioner, Farrell said: "WFP is very grateful for this extremely generous donation and ongoing support from the United Kingdom."
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