June 5th, 2007 09:26 EST
Over one third of Zimbabweans face food shortages
Over 4 million people in Zimbabwe – or one third of the Southern African nation’s population – will need food aid by early next year due to the combined effects of drought and economic decline spurred in part by Government policies, two United Nations agencies said today.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) blamed poor harvests in the southern provinces and rising poverty in both rural and urban areas, predicting that out of Zimbabwe’s total estimated population of 11.8 million, 2.1 million will face critical food shortages later this year.
This number is expected to surge to 4.1 early next year, according to a new report by the two agencies.
“Zimbabwe’s looming food crisis is the result of another poor harvest, exacerbated by the country’s unprecedented economic decline, extremely high unemployment, and the impact of HIV/AIDS,” said Amir Abdulla, WFP’s Regional Director for Southern Africa.
Henri Josserand, FAO’s Chief of Global Information and Early Warning System, said the most important factor was that “uneconomic prices set by the Government have discouraged many farmers from producing surplus cereals for sale.”
Drought devastated crops in many areas, but Zimbabwe’s overall production “was also hampered by insufficient fertilizer, fuel and tractors, and by the country’s crumbling irrigation system,” he said.
The “Crop and Food Supply Assessment” report is based on a joint mission to the country from 25 April to 18 May. Over 350,000 tonnes of cereals and 90,000 tonnes of other food items will be required to feed Zimbabweans.
This year’s harvest marked a 44 per cent decline from last year’s, with many families in the worst-affected provinces of Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North and Midlands harvesting nothing.
“Hyperinflation, currently over 3,700 per cent per annum, and the ever plummeting Zimbabwe dollar have drastically reduced people’s purchasing power, greatly limiting access to available food supplies for low and middle income people, particularly in urban areas,” observed Kisan Gunjal, who lead the two agencies’ mission to the country.
The FAO and WFP approximately that 1 million people in urban areas will not have sufficient food in the next few months.
The report made suggestions to bolster the nation’s food supply and improve the harvest next year, calling for farmers to be supplied with quality seeds and fertilizer in a timely manner and urging the Government and the international community to work in tandem to improve food security through such means as providing tractors to farmers and implementing better irrigation systems.
In addition, the report welcomes Zimbabwe’s goal to switching to a market-based economy, which could potentially usher in a lifting on restricting on cross-border trade, the removal of a ban on private sector imports and allowing farmers to sell grain to each other.
Meanwhile, in another report released by FAO today, the agency observed that most rural households across the world, due to limited skills they possess because of a deficit in training and means, still derive significant portions of their livelihoods from agricultural activities.
The global study, entitled “Rural Income Generating Activities: A Cross Country Comparison,” noted that although the fraction of rural families’ income generated by non-farm pursuits – including commerce, the providing of services and remittances – is growing, 90 per cent of these households still depend on earnings from agriculture.
Kostas Stamoulis, the Chief of FAO’s Agricultural Sector in Economic Development Service, said the poorest households often lack the education, capital and credit needed to participate in non-farm work.
The new report, issued at a seminar on rural incomes, is based on a newly-developed database of household surveys, which incorporates different categories of rural income and access to assets. The data was compiled by FAO, along with the World Bank and American University in Washington, DC.
“This systematic study of the sources of rural household income will fill some of the gaps that exist in our understanding of who has access to what type of income and such information could be very helpful to policy-makers looking for ways to reduce poverty,” Mr. Stamoulis noted.