Zimbabwe rural areas run out of food

By Farisai Gonye

HARARE - Food aid is urgently required in some parts of rural Zimbabwe where some families have completely run out of food and have to go for days without eating, according to a draft report by World Vision International.

The report, that has not yet been officially released to the public but was shown to ZimOnline on Wednesday, was prepared following a survey last May by World Vision in the districts of Beitbridge, Bubi, Bulilima, Chiredzi, Gwanda, Insiza, Lupane and Mangwe in hunger-prone south-western Zimbabwe.

The northern districts of Mt Darwin, Rushinga and Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe were also covered in the survey.

The report titled "Rapid Food Assessment Draft Report" says all the districts surveyed recorded poor yields in the just ended farming season harvesting enough food to last "between 0-3 months."

"Generally all the wards are food insecure such that food assistance is required urgently . . . some households have even resorted to restricting consumption by adults so that children may eat more meals. Households often take risky strategies of skipping entire days without eating and some have resorted to begging," the report reads in part.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) had issued an earlier warning last month that a third of Zimbabwe's 12 million people will face serious food shortages by early next year.

The FAO and WFP who visited Zimbabwe in April at the invitation of the government to assess food availability said crop failure exacerbated by an unprecedented economic meltdown would leave more than four million Zimbabweans in need of food aid.

The World Vision report makes the same point, noting that the unavailability and inaccessibility of food from retailers and other sources would worsen hunger in Zimbabwe with even those families able to raise cash to buy food still unable to feed themselves because there would be no food in the shops.

Zimbabwe is in the midst of a deep recession seen in the world's highest inflation of nearly 5 000 percent, widespread poverty and joblessness.

However, Agriculture Minister Rugare Gumbo downplayed the latest warning of hunger by World Vision as well as the earlier one issued by the FAO and WFP, saying there was no need to panic because the cash-strapped Harare administration was importing maize from neighbouring countries.

Gumbo said the government, which has declared 2007 a drought year, would invite international relief agencies to help feed the wider population only if it "really needed" their assistance.

"We are importing grain from neighbouring countries. We are aware of the situation. We only invite NGOs (non-governmental organisations) once we are satisfied we really need them," said Gumbo.

For now, NGOs have mostly focused on giving food aid to the marginalised groups in communities such as orphans, the elderly, widows and people living with HIV/AIDS.

Critics blame Zimbabwe's food crisis directly on Mugabe's haphazard fast-track land reform exercise that displaced established white commercial farmers and replaced them with either incompetent or inadequately funded black farmers.

Food production plunged by about 60 percent as a result while chaos in the mainstay agriculture sector because of farm seizures also hit hard Zimbabwe's once impressive manufacturing sector that had depended on a robust farming sector for orders and inputs.

Most of Zimbabwe's factories have since the beginning of farm seizures in 2000 either closed completely or scaled down operations to below 30 percent of capacity, in a country where unemployment is more than 80 percent.