Zimbabwe: Experts call for new assessment to determine food shortages

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

JOHANNESBURG, 29 Apr 2005 (IRIN) - Agricultural experts have called for an "objective" assessment of crop production in Zimbabwe, as preliminary forecasts point to yet another year of widespread food shortages.

"There is consensus around the view that food production in the 2004/05 agricultural season will be poor, and not nearly enough to satisfy the needs of the country in the next consumption year. However, objective and transparent assessments need to be undertaken in order to determine the magnitude and geographic spread of the production shortfall," the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) cautioned in its latest food security update.

Last week IRIN reported that Zimbabwe had turned to Zambia, Uganda and Tanzania for grain imports as the state Grain Marketing Board (GMB) sought to restock dwindling maize and wheat holdings. Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Nicholas Goche confirmed that over the past month about 150,000 mt of grain had been received from South Africa, the major supplier.

Since last year Zimbabwe has been involved in a war of figures with international donor agencies on the country's projected harvest for 2004/05. The main growing season usually runs from October to March.

The GMB recently reported to the National Taskforce on Food Security that, rather than government's harvest estimate of 2,4 million mt, only 600,000 mt of grain had been delivered to its silos after the 2004/05 harvest. The country needs 1,8 million mt of grain annually to meet domestic consumption requirements.

FEWS NET warned in March 2005 that up to 4.5 million people were in need of immediate food aid, compared to government estimates that 1.5 million would require some kind of assistance.

The early warning system stressed that assessments were critical to establish "the 2004/05 food crop production prospects, current levels of national food stocks, the government's import capacity and, ultimately, the national 2005/06 consumption year food deficit".

"Such assessments will help the government of Zimbabwe to determine whether they will need outside assistance to close the food gap, and how much assistance may be required," FEWS NET pointed out.

The major food security problem remains the inability of a significant proportion of poor households to generate enough income to buy the food they need.

Although the annual rate of inflation has maintained a downward trend, from 505 percent in April 2004 to 123.7 percent in March 2005, household incomes continue to trail general price increases, the early warning system observed.


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