Zimbabwe still facing food shortage - UN

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Harare - Zimbabweans continue to face serious food shortages despite a significant improvement in the maize harvest this year and the filling up of shop shelves since the formation of a unity government, the United Nations (UN) said.

"High food insecurity persists in Zimbabwe in spite of improvements in agricultural production and a more liberal import policy this year," said a report released by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and World Food Programme.

According to the report, Zimbabwe's maize production is estimated to have risen to 1.14 million tonnes following a good rainy season this year, more than double the country's maize production in the previous year.

The unity government between President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has, according to the report, also had positive impact on an economy in free-fall over the past decade.

It has arrested runaway inflation through the use of hard currencies and food products have returned to supermarket shelves at significantly reduced prices.

"Liberalisation of the grain market is the most important change in a decade for the improvement of the agriculture sector in Zimbabwe," said FAO economist Kisan Gunjal.

"But the full impact of the reform on production next season remains to be seen, especially in light of financial liquidity constraints and other problems of economic transition," he said.

Many people without access to foreign currency continue to face serious problems finding basic foods.

"This year's improved harvest comes after two consecutive years of poor production," said WFP's Jan Delbaere, a co-leader of a UN mission to Zimbabwe in early May that produced the report.

"Having depleted their food stocks and sold livestock and other assets to cope with the effects of recent crises, many rural households are still struggling to survive," he said.

The report estimates that about 2.8 million people will face food shortages in the 2009/10 marketing year (April/March) and will require some 228 000 tonnes of food assistance, including 190 000 of cereals.

FAO forecast the production of winter-season wheat of only about 12 000 tonnes, the lowest ever, reflecting the high cost of fertilisers and quality seeds, farmers' lack of financial liquidity and uncertain electricity supply for irrigation.

Poor performance in the mainstay agricultural sector has also had far reaching consequences as hundreds of thousands of people have lost jobs while the manufacturing sector, starved of inputs from the sector, is operating below 15 percent of capacity.

The unity government formed in February after a power sharing agreement last September is pushing to revive the economy although it has to date failed to ensure law and order in the mainstay agricultural sector.