Zimbabwe: Government sets up task force to tackle food shortages

JOHANNESBURG, 11 July (IRIN) - The Zimbabwean government has set up an inter-ministerial task force to ensure food security in the country and to advise the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) on the way forward, the official newspaper 'The Herald' reported on Wednesday. The newspaper also announced the second bread price increase in two months, of between 15 and 20 percent. A loaf of bread now costs between 35 and 45 Zimbabwe dollars (US $0.60 and US $0.80).
Analysts told IRIN that the task force indicated that President Robert Mugabe's government was at last acknowledging that the country faced an impending food crisis. "It's an admission that there's a huge problem, it was not addressed before, largely I think to stop hoarding," a Harare-based economist said. The government admitted last Thursday for the first time that the country faced food shortages later this year and may need international aid.

The task force has been set up as part of ongoing measures to streamline the operations of the GMB and to strengthen its capacity to effectively manage grain reserves in line with the projected shortages, information minister Jonathan Moyo was quoted as saying in a statement issued on Tuesday night. Economists believe that along with the establishment of the task force will come legislation enforcing monopoly pricing of grain. "At the moment those with an option are selling their grain privately. That may soon be stopped and it will drive down the price producers get. This will lead to less grain on the market and less planting next season, aggravating the shortages," IRIN was told.

The task force includes Land and Agriculture Minister Joseph Made, Transport Minister Swithun Mombeshora, and Minister of Finance Simba Makoni. Moyo said the task force would liase with other actors and stakeholders in both the public and private sectors and recommend measures to ensure food security in the country. Zimbabwe is currently facing a maize shortfall of over 500,000 mt after a production of 1.57 million mt this year.

Meanwhile Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said on Wednesday his party was seeking help to avert food shortages that could compound social unrest in the country as the price of bread rose again. Speaking at a press conference, Tsvangirai said his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had approached aid organisations "to ensure that there is actually some strategic humanitarian relief in place".

Around 80 percent of Zimbabwe's workers stayed at home last week to protest a hike in the price of fuel that has sent commuter fares and food prices soaring. Tsvangirai added that the crisis stemmed from the government's failure to purchase maize from the country's small-scale farmers, coupled with disruptions on commercial farms by land invasions. Tsvangirai warned donors to guard against food aid being hijacked for political gains by the ruling party.

He said that in their canvassing of donor organisations, his party had made it clear they did not want the ruling ZANU-PF government to be responsible for distributing relief food. "We know ZANU-PF has been using food relief for political purposes," claimed Tsvangirai. "If you want food relief you buy a ZANU-PF card." But analysts told IRIN that it would be very difficult to organise food aid to Zimbabweans in the huge quantities required without involving government. "Humanitarian aid is going to have to come in, but there are no distribution structures that are free of government," one analyst said.

"The government is running out of places to borrow money, all it can really do is increase the money captured from exporters, but that source is rapidly dwindling," an economist said. "The government now has very few options, as there is no foreign currency to buy-in grain, this could turn very easily into a political crisis later this year and early next," the economist added.


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